English Language Arts

English Language Arts


The English Language Arts curriculum presents what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do, articulated in a learning progression that begins in Kindergarten and continues through Grade 12. It includes a focus on the joy of reading a variety of materials, including story and informational text, and on First Peoples content, worldviews, and Principles of Learning.

The curriculum is designed to empower students by providing them with strong communication skills, an understanding and appreciation of language and literature, and the capacity to engage fully as literate and responsible citizens in a digital age. Students are guided in their learning to think critically, creatively, and reflectively; to construct a sense of personal and cultural identity; and to be respectful of a range of perspectives and worldviews. The English Language Arts curriculum is a foundational component of education in British Columbia schools.

Features of the English Language Arts curriculum

There is a common English Language Arts curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 9. In Grades 10 through 12, students may take courses in English 10-12 or English First Peoples 10-12. All courses satisfy the English Language Arts requirements and all are considered academically equivalent.

Flexible teaching and learning

The components of the curriculum work together in a dynamic and flexible way to support deeper learning. Within each grade, there is no single or “correct” way to combine pieces from each of the curriculum components. Rather, the structure allows for a great deal of choice in the ways in which the pieces can be combined to create lessons, units, and learning experiences.

The curriculum also remains flexible in its accommodation of a variety of program structures, as well as school and community contexts. The open design promotes the creation of instructional approaches that combine two or more areas of learning, without mandating any particular form of interdisciplinary learning.

An integrated approach to learning

The curriculum represents an integrated and holistic approach to teaching and learning. In the English Language Arts curriculum, the six language arts elements (reading, listening, viewing, writing, speaking, and representing) are inextricably interconnected. The development of competency in one element supports the development of competency in another, often simultaneously.

The curriculum retains the organization of Curricular Competencies into the two modes of language use: “receptive,” represented by the Curricular Competencies listed under Comprehend and connect, and “expressive,” represented by the Curricular Competencies under Create and communicate.

First Peoples Principles of Learning

The First Peoples Principles of Learning have been affirmed within First Peoples societies to guide the teaching and learning of provincial curricula. Because these principles of learning represent an attempt to identify common elements in the varied teaching and learning approaches that prevail within particular First Peoples societies, it must be recognized that they do not capture the full reality of the approach used in any single First Peoples society.

First Peoples Principles of Learning greatly influence the English Language Arts curriculum and are woven throughout. They lend themselves well to language learning, as they promote experiential and reflexive learning, as well as self-advocacy and personal responsibility in students. They help create classroom experiences based on the concepts of community, shared learning, and trust, all of which are vital to language acquisition.

Transferability of learning

Students benefit from language learning by gaining the ability to communicate effectively in the classroom as well as by receiving knowledge, competencies, and understanding that are transferrable across the curriculum and to life outside school. The English Language Arts curriculum supports students in becoming educated citizens by:

  • contributing to their overall cognitive development
  • helping them develop language and thinking strategies that can be applied to new contexts
  • developing their cultural awareness and understanding
  • helping them learn to read for information and enjoyment
  • deepening their understanding of the importance of identity
  • enhancing their understanding of how their language is constructed, how it works, and how it is dynamic, changing with time and circumstance
  • preparing them for success in future educational and career contexts


Design of the English Language Arts curriculum

The English Language Arts curriculum follows the same format as in all other areas of learning and is based on the Know-Do-Understand model of learning. Students learn through Content (Know), Curricular Competencies (Do), and Big Ideas (Understand). More information on the curriculum model is available at https://www.curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/overview.

Big Ideas

The Big Ideas are generalizations and principles discovered through experiencing the Content and Curricular Competencies of the curriculum – the “Understand” component of the Know-Do-Understand model of learning. Big Ideas represent the “aha!” and the “so what?” of the curriculum – the deeper learning.

The Big Ideas in English Language Arts reflect a variety of important concepts and competencies, such as strategies, connection building, identity, diverse perspectives, and cultural awareness. Many of the Big Ideas progress and deepen over time; others remain constant. The example below illustrates how the curriculum grows with students and expands the scope and depth of learning.


K and 1


4 and 5

6 and 7

10, 11, 12

Big Ideas

Everyone has a unique story to share.

Stories can be understood from different perspectives.

Texts can be understood from different perspectives.

Exploring and sharing multiple perspectives extends our thinking.

People understand text differently depending on their worldviews and perspectives. 
Texts are socially, culturally, geographically, and historically constructed. 

Curricular Competencies

The Curricular Competencies describe what students should be able to do with the knowledge they have gained. English Language Arts is a process-driven area of learning: students develop as they engage with language and texts. This emphasis on process can be seen in the greater detail of the Curricular Competencies learning standards, compared with level of detail in the Content learning standards. The process-oriented focus reflects the fact that a primary goal of English Language Arts is to enable students to become competent and effective users and creators of a wide variety of texts in diverse contexts, including digital texts. Through purposeful communication, students can develop competencies in listening to understand; communicating effectively; presenting information and ideas with confidence and fluency; and understanding the connections between language and culture.

Students build on their Curricular Competencies as they move through the grades. The example below shows how the curriculum progresses from grade to grade, expanding in scope and deepening in complexity.





English 10-12

EFP 10-12


Recognize the structure of story

Stories and other texts help us learn about ourselves and our families

Exploring stories and other texts helps us understand ourselves and make connections to others and the world

The exploration of text and story deepens our understanding of diverse, complex ideas about identity, others, and the world

First Peoples’ texts and stories provide insight into key aspects of Canada’s past, present, and future


Content represents the knowledge students will acquire as a result of their learning at a given grade in English Language Arts; it is what students are expected to know. Content represents what students need to know to be able to achieve the Curricular Competencies. In each grade, each topic in the Content column can potentially be applied through multiple Curricular Competencies.

As the excerpt from the Grade 5 curriculum below shows, knowledge of “literary elements” and “literary devices” in the Content column enables the student to “Recognize how literary elements, techniques, and devices enhance meaning in texts” in the Curricular Competencies column.

Grade 5

Curricular Competencies
Using oral, written, visual, and digital texts, students are expected individually and collaboratively to be able to:
Comprehend and connect (reading, listening, viewing)

  • Recognize how literary elements, techniques, and devices enhance meaning in texts

Students are expected to know the following:

  • literary elements
  • literary devices

Students deepen their learning as they build on their Content knowledge from year to year, through the study of specific topics and through the range of texts in which they encounter the topics. Some topics appear in more than one year, as they may take longer to fully address or they may address more advanced Curricular Competencies. When identical topics appear in multiple grades, the elaborations further clarify the depth and breadth to which the topic should be addressed at each grade.


Elaborations have been provided (as hyperlinks) in many places throughout the curriculum. They offer additional clarification and support for teachers, including definitions, examples, and information regarding the depth and breadth to which topics should be covered at a given grade. Examples provided in the elaborations are not intended to be comprehensive lists of what must be covered in a given grade; they are simply examples.

Some Elaborations are repeated across grade levels to avoid prescription and to allow teachers to use professional judgment in selecting specific aspects of the Elaborations according to the needs of the student and the learning context. However, many Elaborations show increasingly elevated expectations across grade levels.

The example below shows how the scope and depth of learning grows as students progress along a growth continuum.






English 10-12


  • literary elements and devices
  • literary elements and devices
  • literary elements
  • literary devices
  • literary elements
  • literary devices
  • literary elements and devices


  • poetic language, figurative language, sound play, images, colour, symbols
  • descriptive language, poetic language, figurative language, images, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, simile, alliteration
  • literary elements: theme, character, setting, plot, conflict, and purpose
  • literary devices: sensory detail (e.g., imagery) and figurative language (e.g., metaphor, simile)
  • literary devices: sensory detail (e.g., imagery, sound devices) and figurative language (e.g., metaphor, simile, hyberbole)
  • Texts use various literary devices, including figurative language, according to purpose and audience.

Important considerations

Selection of texts

“Text” in the English Language Arts curriculum is defined as any oral, visual, or written communication, including digital. Teachers are encouraged to use a wide range of engaging and grade-appropriate text types in their classrooms, including First Peoples and other Canadian texts, as well as multicultural texts in a variety of formats, such as digital and multi-genre texts. While allowing as much student choice as possible, it is important that students be introduced to texts that are accessible yet challenging.

Authentic First Peoples texts and resources

In order to present authentic First Peoples content and worldviews, it is important to draw from First Peoples learning and teaching resources. Authentic First Peoples texts and resources are those that:

  • present authentic First Peoples voices (i.e., historical and contemporary texts created by First Peoples – or through the substantial contributions of First Peoples)
  • depict themes and issues important in First Peoples cultures (e.g., loss of identity and affirmation of identity, tradition, healing, role of family, importance of Elders, connection to the land, the nature and place of spirituality as an aspect of wisdom, the relationships between individual and community, the importance of oral tradition, the experience of colonization and decolonization)
  • incorporate First Peoples story-telling techniques and features as applicable (e.g., circular structure, repetition, weaving in of spirituality, humour)

Because of the diversity of First Peoples communities in B.C., Canada, and the world, and the need to provide a relevant context for classroom instruction and assessment, it is suggested that resource selection focus primarily on First Peoples texts and resources from the local community wherever possible.

Grammar, usage, and conventions

Learning about the English language, including its grammar, usage, and conventions and the ways in which language develops over time, is important for students. The learning of grammar provides students with a valuable meta-language – that is, a language with which to talk about language. However, research evidence is clear that in order for the teaching to be effective, grammar and language skills should be taught within a purposeful context rather than in isolation. Otherwise, there is little or no transference from learning about grammar and conventions to students’ abilities to read or write better.

All forms of text have conventions, including grammar and usage, which vary depending on the form. For example, punctuation applies only to written language. Film and oral language have their own conventions as well. The purpose of conventions is to assist in meaningful communication; their use should thus reflect the purpose of and audience for the text. Students should be introduced to standard written English while also recognizing that there are many other varieties of English, each reflecting a specific cultural, social, or professional context (Roger Passman and Katherine S. McKnight, 2007, Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom: Strategies and Skills for All Students, Jossey-Bass).

Literary terms and techniques

Knowledge of literary terms and techniques builds students’ skills in literary analysis by giving them a language with which to talk about texts and the techniques used by authors. It also expands students’ awareness of the techniques available to them in their own writing. The English Language Arts curriculum includes instruction on literary terms and techniques within the context of meaningful texts and contexts, rather than in isolation from such contexts.


It is important that students be able to communicate in a variety of ways. In the past, written formats were the primary method of communication, and cursive writing therefore held a great deal of importance. Today’s students are able to communicate in a variety of ways and are not limited to paper and pen. However, it is still important that students be able to read others’ handwritten texts and communicate their ideas in handwriting, as well as in electronic formats. The focus should be on legibility in handwriting and the ability to communicate clearly, rather than on a particular style of handwriting.

Theoretical underpinnings

The theoretical underpinning of the English Language Arts curriculum is constructivism, or meaning-making. Constructivism is based on the belief that learning occurs as students are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction, as opposed to passively receiving information. Students are the makers of meaning and knowledge. The ultimate goal of reading is “a construction of meaning from text. It is an active, cognitive, and affective process,” where readers actively engage with the text and build their own understanding (J. Braunger and J.P. Lewis, 2006, Building a Knowledge Base in Reading, 2nd ed., International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, 59).

Students should be provided with a variety of activities and texts that allow them to make meaning in their world. It follows that the content of the curriculum should be taught, learned, and assessed holistically.

The English Language Arts curriculum is informed by a strength-based approach to teaching and learning. In the early years, students come to understand that everyone can be a reader and a writer, and it is intended that this understanding will remain with them as they progress through the grades and will become a lifelong understanding.

Critical literacy

Critical literacy is a lens through which all text is viewed as being constructed for a purpose. Students should be taught to question text, challenge authorial authority, investigate an author’s beliefs, and detect bias in relation to others’ texts, as well as their own. Critical literacy also allows students to determine viewpoints that may be missing and to examine a variety of other perspectives (David Booth, 2011, Caught in the Middle: Reading and Writing in the Transition Years, Pembroke).

In order to engage in active citizenship, and to avoid manipulation by others, it is crucial that students be able to assess and analyze text. Teaching students to read critically is especially important in an era in which they are exposed to an almost continuous stream of media and information.

High expectations

It is important to maintain high expectations for all students. The intention is to provide the English Language Arts curriculum with a “low floor and high ceiling” (L. Schnellert, N. Widdess, and L. Watson, 2015, It’s All About Thinking: Creating Pathways for All Learners in Middle Years, Portage & Main Press), with many entry points, and with a high degree of academic rigour. The necessity for all students to have strong literacy skills is recognized, whether students aspire to pursue a university degree or college program or to proceed directly into the workplace: “Many trades programs require high levels of literacy, and feedback from employers involved in programs such as ACE IT is that we need to do a better job in K–12 of supporting high levels of literacy” (FNESC Research).

An inclusive curriculum model

Approaches have differed in the past in terms of how to best address the needs of British Columbia’s diverse students. In the English Language Arts curriculum, an inclusive approach is taken, designed for the benefit of all students. The intention is to separate students according to choice and interest, rather than according to ability or perceived ability. The focus is on differentiated opportunities for learning within common courses that are open to all students, rather than on courses that are themselves differentiated. The approach is based on the understanding that all students can potentially do better in mixed-ability groups. As well, self-esteem and motivation are generally enhanced by not separating students into a “lower” stream.


The aim of the English Language Arts curriculum structure is to maximize students’ chances of success by allowing them to select the areas of choice that are most engaging for them and to achieve deeper learning. Because the curriculum has been redesigned to be less prescriptive and more flexible, students have more opportunities to pursue their interests, aspirations, and passions and to benefit from more specialized areas of language arts study. Providing students with choice also includes offering more opportunities to select the types of texts they will use, such as in the context of literature circles: “Research has demonstrated that access to self-selected texts improves students’ reading performance. . . . This is especially true for struggling readers . . . ” (Krashen, 2011, as quoted at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx).

Working with First Peoples communities

To address First Peoples content and perspectives in the classroom in a way that is accurate and that respectfully reflects First Peoples concepts of teaching and learning, teachers are strongly encouraged to seek the advice and support of members of local First Peoples communities. As First Peoples communities are diverse in terms of language, culture, and available resources, each community will have its own unique protocol to gain support for integration of local knowledge and expertise. Permission for the use or translation of cultural materials or practices should be obtained through consultation with individuals, families, and other community members. This authorization should be obtained prior to the use of any educational plans or materials.

To begin discussion of possible instructional and assessment activities, teachers should first contact First Peoples education co-ordinators, teachers, support workers, and counsellors in their district who will be able to facilitate the identification of local resources and contacts such as Elders, chiefs, First Nations tribal or band councils, First Peoples cultural centres, First Peoples Friendship Centres, and Métis or Inuit organizations. In addition, teachers may wish to consult the various Ministry of Education publications available, including the “Planning Your Program” section of the resource Shared Learnings. This resource was developed to help all teachers provide students with knowledge of, and opportunities to share experiences with, First Peoples in B.C.

For more information about these documents, consult the Aboriginal Education website: www.bced.gov.bc.ca/abed/welcome.htm

Last updated: June 2018