Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Before my reading specialist colleagues and fellow English-language arts teachers jump down my throat, I do want to mention a few things at the outset:

  • I think close reading has its place in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
  • I’m still a fan of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, as the document describes… not necessarily as some publishers and pundits have interpreted or applied these Standards.
  • I’ve been teaching for a quite awhile in both the reading and English fields (elementary reading specialist, middle school and high school ELA teacher, and community college reading professor), so I’ve seen a few of the “educational cycles” regarding both teaching reading and literary analysis. Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
  • Disclaimer: I am a teacher publisher and sell a terrific reading intervention program. Think biases.
Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

Some educators are making close reading and text dependent questions their only means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis. Over the last decade, close reading has just gotten “too big for its britches.”

A few definitions…

Although somewhat a false dichotomy because they really are two sides of the same coin, most educators use reading comprehension to mean “learning to read” and literary analysis to mean “reading to learn.” The former is seen as the stuff of elementary school and latter is practiced in secondary and post secondary.

In a nutshell, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.  The strategy is, despite permutations, utilizes text dependent questioning to complete three reading tasks: In the first read, students focus on the most important textual elements (key ideas and details). During the second read, students focus on how the text works (craft and structure). For the third reading, students focus on what the text means to the reader and how it connects to other experiences (integration of knowledge and ideas).

Historical Perspective

 

I do feel a bit of historical context may help explain where the close reading strategy came from and why we shouldn’t go overboard by using this strategy as our primary means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis.

Reader Response Theory

 

The reader response theorists emphasized the interaction of the reader and the text. Perhaps the greatest contributor to this field would be Louise Rosenblatt with her transactional reader-response theory, developed through many influential works beginning in the 1930s until her death in 2005.

Rosenblatt argued that a reader’s life and literary experiences and emotions influence the meaning derived from the text. The meaning of a text is shaped by what the reader brings to the text, what the author writes, and the context in which it is read. Thus, what the text says is both subjective and objective. Some in the reader response camp would go so far as to argue that text only has meaning when involving the reader.

The New Criticism Movement

 

In contrast to reader response advocates, the New Critics of the late 1960s, such as I. A. Richards, argued that a literary work should be read as is and apart from the outside influence of the reader and the historical, sociological, and psychological influences of a given text. Those in the New Criticism movement argued that the task of the reader is to discover the objective meaning of the text (what the text says in-it-of-itself) in its own context. The New Critics first coined the term close reading to describe this process of text dependent literary analysis. Those in this camp would believe that to properly understand the meaning of a text, readers need to put aside their own perspectives and biases. Some would go so far as to suggest that the author’s intended meaning should not be considered; only what the text says itself should be discussed and analyzed.

Many reading and English teachers leaned upon the instructional strategies of popular philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler, to apply the tenets of New Criticism to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

Pre-dating the New Critics, Mortimer Adler (along with co-author  Charles Van Doren) popularized the essential techniques of what later became known as close reading with his influential How to Read a Book: The classic guide to Intelligent Reading in 1940. Check out an interesting discussion between Adler and Van Doren HERE

Adler, especially, was concerned about the populace’s preference for easy-reading literature instead of the more challenging classics. Adler advocated reading the Great Books, especially those which inculcated the ideas of Western Civilization. As I write, I’m looking at my set of Harvard Classics on the bookshelves.

Adler developed the rudiments of the close reading strategy to help readers tackle the textual complexity of these challenging books. His belief that everyone could understand any literary work, given the right instructional tools, was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s. Many educators in private and some public schools developed Great Books programs to implement Adler’s ideals.

Like Adler, the authors of the Common Core State Standards believed that students were not being exposed to complex texts. The authors relied heavily on the 2006 ACT report, Reading Between the Lines, to argue that K–12 reading texts had been “dumb-downed” over the last 50 years and that teachers need to increase the levels of text complexity to better prepare students for college and careers, which will demand better readers. In Appendix A the authors summarize the relevant reading research:

Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Unlike Adler, the Common Core authors did not advocate a return to the Great Books to increase text complexity. Instead, they legislated a move to informational/expository texts, such as technical documents, non-fiction novels, and articles. However, the authors adopted and expanded upon Adler’s close reading strategies to access these complex texts.

Text Dependency

 

One hallmark of close reading is its dependence upon the text to inform the reader. Two of the primary Common Core authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have argued against the reader-centered approach to reading comprehension, in which what the reader brought to the reading (prior knowledge) and what the reader took out of the reading (in light of the reader’s own experience and needs) were primary emphases.  Instead, in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards these authors have championed the idea that to develop reading comprehension and understanding of complex texts, the questions which teachers use to prompt student engagement with the text need to be text dependent, not reader dependent.

Classroom Application

 

Close reading in one good reading strategy to promote reading comprehension and discuss the author’s ideas and information. However, there are pitfalls to avoid.

1. As Alex Reid says, “Arguing ‘against close reading’ … is not an argument to say that we should stop paying close attention to texts.” In fact, other reading strategies are just as effective as the close reading strategy. Check out “How to Teach Reading Comprehension” for ideas.

2. The close reading technique necessitates reading brief passages, documents, short articles, etc. The breadth of longer text and the author’s flow of ideas, development of theme and character, etc. are not possible. Yes, teachers need to move away from exclusively teaching novels, but reading longer text produces stamina and joy. Too much close reading does not foster a love for reading.

3. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any instructional time is reductive, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some advice from Timothy Shanahan, reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Of course, not every text deserves a close read. Sometimes it’s okay to be interested only in the story—considerations of craft and structure and deeper implications are beside the point. And classroom reads don’t always have to emphasize close reading; the key is to incorporate close reading into your instruction, not use it exclusively. No one knows how many teacher-led close reads would be a good idea, but don’t overdo it; one or two close reads every couple of weeks (some taking place over multiple days) seems like the right dosage.

4. Close reading tends to produce teacher-dependence, rather than equipping students to become skillful independent readers. True that close reading and accompanying text dependent questions can teach students the tools to unlock the meaning of complex text; however, the value of independent reading at accessible independent levels of word recognition produces the same results by exposing students to the vast array of ideas, text genre, and vocabulary development. See this collection of articles advocating the value of independent reading, especially as homework HERE.

Additionally, teachers need to help students monitor their own reading with self-generated questions. The five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies reading comprehension strategies work for both narrative and expository text and provide a language of instruction for literary analysis and discussion: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

5. Publishers and school district personnel have produced ready-to-use close readings, many of which only focus on factual or literal text dependent questions. Teachers need to ignore these or supplement with pre-reading and reader-response activities, and add on higher order inferential and application questions. David Pearson, Professor Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley has concerns about the Common Core authors’ narrow and restrictive views about text dependent questions. Pearson fears that “We will operationally define text dependent (questions) as literal, factual questions, forgetting that LOTS of other questions/tasks are also text-reliant.” For example, comparison and contrast questions both use the text and go beyond the text.

6. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into of reading), even with close reading. Accessing prior knowledge and gap-filling are still essential vehicles to promote the reader’s understanding of complex text. The role of the reader still has a place in understanding text. Reading remains a two-way street. Yes, we teachers may have gone overboard with reader response in the past. The KWL (Already Know, Want to Know, What I Learned) reading strategy and its variations come into mind. Because the first two components are reader-centered, there are significant limitations. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. More HERE.

Grant Wiggins, educator and author of the influential Understanding by Design, argues for a balanced approach in close reading in his article, Authentic Education:

As I noted in my previous post, this does not mean, however, that we should ignore or try to bypass the reader’s responses, prior knowledge, or interests. On the contrary, reading cannot help but involve an inter-mingling of our experience and what the author says and perhaps means. But it does not follow from this fact that instruction should give equal weight to personal reactions to a text when the goal is close reading. On the contrary: we must constantly be alert to how and where our own prejudices (literally, pre-judging) may be interfering with meaning-making of the text.

I’ll leave U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, with these last words about close reading and text dependent questioning: “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks.”
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice,

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

 

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Reading Fluency Homework

What’s the best homework? Reading!

Now… independent reading is valuable for so many purposes: vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension development, self-discipline, stamina, building concentration, nurturing imagination, learning culture, and FUN!

However, many parents want and are equipped to give even more to their children. One area of reading development where parents can do an even better job than the classroom teacher is reading fluency.

Just exactly what reading fluency is gets mixed up with the instructional procedures and practice to achieve it. For example, reading fluency is not repeated reading; although that practice can certainly help improve reading fluency. A helpful way to understand the purpose of developing reading fluency is to think of it as language dexterity.

Merriam-Webster defines dexterity as “mental skill or quickness; readiness and grace in physical activity-especially skill and ease in using the hands.” I like this working definition, because when we think of dexterity in other contexts, such as physical dexterity, we think of it as a process and a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

For example, with the focus on reading speed (one goal of reading fluency), most teachers have had students who meet or exceed grade level fluency standards, in terms of both accuracy and words per minute, but don’t comprehend or retain anything that they’ve read. Reading fluency positively correlates with reading comprehension because the whole purpose of language dexterity is understanding (See this scholarly article for more.) In other words, we want to improve reading fluency in order to improve reading comprehension.

So how can parents build language dexterity in their children and practice reading fluency at home?

Select the Right Book for Fluency Practice

Parents can’t be bothered with complicated Lexile levels or other criteria. Be practical! Here’s a better alternative that all parents can do. CLICK!

Modeled Readings

I read a sentence/paragraph; you read a sentence/paragraph, mimicking my pronunciation, inflection, pacing, and attention to punctuation.

Choral Readings

Parents and children both read a section at the child’s “challenge pace.” The challenge pace should be about 15-20% faster than the child’s independent fluency level.

Repeated Readings

Parents can get their children to repeat large sections, for example, chapters, within the same reading session. A few options: 1. Read it out loud; then read it silently. 2. I read a page; you read a page. 3. We listen to an audio book chapter; you read the same chapter.

Fluency Assessment

Assessment is teaching and practice. Parents can do pre and post fluency assessments on simple timing charts. Teach parents how to quickly determine words per page (the average grades 3-5 chapter book has 200 words per page; grades 6-8 has 275). Parents can assess words per minute or pages read in 5 minutes. Click HERE for 13 free reading assessments, including a simple multi-level reading fluency assessment (The Pets Fluency Assessment) to serve as a baseline.

Other Reading Fluency Homework Options

Word Fluency

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

With the correct instructional materials, parent can help their children practice decodable and sight word fluency. The author’s guided reading  books, Sam and Friends Phonics Books, provide optimal practice for developing what we reading specialists call automaticity. These 54 take-home books are designed for remedial/reluctant readers and provide teenage characters and plots with fantastic non-juvenile cartoons. Five comprehension questions are embedded in each story. Plus, each back page includes word fluency practice to rehearse and assess (in a 30-second assessment) the focus phonics (sound-spellings) and sight words of the lesson with built-in book to book review. Teachers are licensed to print these take-home books and distribute to parents.

Multi-Speed YouTube Modeled Readings

Parents can use phones, tablets, or desktops to access the author’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit fluency and comprehension

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

development animal articles. The teacher prints the article (with three vocabulary and five comprehension questions using the SCRIP independent reading comprehension questions) back-to-back, the progress monitoring matrix, and provides the URL.

Students complete a “cold” (unpracticed) fluency timing and record on the provided matrix.

Students practice choral reading at one of three reading speeds (selected by the teacher and/or parent) with the audio recording, following along with the reading text on the screen. Parents may elect to have their children re-read at the faster reading speed.

Students then complete a “hot” (practiced) fluency timing and record on the matrix.

These animal articles are designed in a three-tiered format: the first two paragraphs at the third grade level; the next two at the fifth grade level; and the last two at the seventh grade level. The design helps remedial readers “push through” more difficult text after having built context and confidence in the preceding text.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

The author, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist who writes curriculum targeted at grades 4-8. His comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE includes both fluency resources described in this article.

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Essay Rules: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments of Essays

The Essay Ten Commandments

Let’s begin by admitting that the academic essay is a mere construct. God did not provide Moses a tablet containing the five-paragraph essay format. Do a quick search of the most popular historical essays, and none will even remotely look like what you and I teach our students.

That being said, teaching the essay rules does make sense. When teachers provide an ideal in terms of guidelines (for example, “Write on only one topic”); when teachers provide restrictions and rules (for example, “Use no first and second person pronouns, and begin the conclusion with a thesis re-statement”); and when teachers clearly delineate the differences between, say, an argumentative essay (CCSS W1.0) and an informational/explanatory essay (CCSSW2.0), these essays become more comprehensible to their readers.

If we encourage writers to compose with their audience in mind, it makes sense to follow the expected norms of communication. When we hear a joke about three people walking into a bar, we expect the punchline to occur after the third entry, not the first or second. If we read a comic strip, we expect that the ending frame will leave a finished feel to that particular comic. If we listen to a message in church, mosque, or temple, we expect an application to our own lives to follow the scriptural text. If we watch a romantic comedy, we choose that genre with same expectations as everyone else.

In other words, teaching the essay rules helps the writer and is considerate to the reader.

Of course, we also teach the rules so that mature writers can intentionally break the rules when necessary to their purposes.

The 10 Essay Commandments

  1. Don’t go beyond the limitations of the writing prompt. Follow directions and don’t read into the assigned writing task what is not there. Check how How to Dissect a Writing Prompt to teach students how to do so independently.
  2. Keep writing consistent with the type of essay. For example, don’t add opinion (as is necessary in the W1.0 argumentative essay) in the W2.0 informational/explanatory essay.
  3. Properly cite all sources. An academic essay requires textual citations to avoid plagiarism.
  4. Write in third person. Talk about the essay topic. Don’t personalize the essay with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t address the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. Essays must remain objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Therefore, essays shouldn’t use “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”
  5. Don’t abbreviate. Abbreviations are part of informal writing. They don’t belong in essays. Write United States of America, not U.S.A. in essays.
  6. Don’t use slang, such as kids. Use official, or formal, words, such as students, adolescents, or children.
  7. Don’t use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “can not” rather than “can’t.”
  8. Don’t use figures of speech. Use precise academic language in essays. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He really blew it.” Instead, say “He made a mistake.”
  9. Don’t over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.
  10. Include all three structural components of the traditional essay: an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Writing



Essay Conclusion Response Comments

Fair to say that the essay conclusion tends to be the weakest instructional piece of our essay teaching repertoire. The full extent of my own high school English instruction regarding this essay component was “Re-state the thesis, sum up the essay main points, and give a finished feel to the essay.” Not much help and not much thinking required of the writer with those instructions!

For good and bad, most teachers teach as they were taught (or not). True, we do pick up a few things along the way… Early in my teaching career, I attended a writing workshop or read a book encouraging the teaching of a “Call to Action” in the conclusion paragraph. A revelation to me and to my fellow English teachers… something concrete I could teach to my students and a strategy that actually required some thinking! Unfortunately, English teachers square pegged that one to death. I remember an English teacher assigning a response to literature essay analyzing the themes of Moby Dick and requiring a “Call to Action” as part of the conclusion. Made absolutely no sense.

To my knowledge I’ve never met a teacher who said she remembers learning specific conclusion strategies in undergrad or grad school English composition classes. Nothing in Strunk’s Elements of Style on essay conclusions, either. We all tend to devalue what we don’t understand or experience and esteem that which we easily comprehend and practice. For example, I came across the same set of instructions when grading state writing exams a number of years ago. I was surprised in discussing the scoring rubric that a student could achieve a perfect 6 score without including a conclusion. Clearly, these test-writers did not appreciate the value of the essay conclusion.

As a teacher, I’ve found that most of my colleagues do an admirable job of teaching essay and paragraph structure, especially how to dissect a writing prompt, how to write an effective thesis statement, and how to compose body paragraphs. However, the teaching of the introduction strategies (the hooks) and the conclusion strategies receive short shrift. My guess is that teachers have little knowledge and experience about these essay components, and so they focus on what they know, have done, and can teach best.

But we do have other models of how the essay conclusion can be an essential ingredient to the essay. Talk to any upper elementary, middle, or high school science teacher about the role that conclusions play in the scientific method. The conclusions in science lab reports come to mind: a true analysis of the observations; commentary on the experimental design; verification of the hypothesis; suggestions for related research and experimentation.

I say let’s re-focus our attention on the essay conclusion. Let’s broaden the opportunities for students to reflect and provide meaningful analysis and application of the evidence, argument, and/or information presented in the body paragraphs. Let’s encourage students to not just re-state the thesis (Do so… the audience expects it!), but also to analyze the degree to which they were able or unable to prove their purpose or point of view.

How to Teach Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies

Check a related article on How to Teach the Essay Conclusion for a variety of conclusion strategies. Also, look at the targeted comments I’ve developed for all components of the essay, including conclusion paragraphs. They are the same kinds of comments you’d type up and program if you took the time to do so. Learn how to use these comments to respond to first or second drafts, and not just as summative comments on the final draft.

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to access a downloaded comment.

Examples:

e46 Needs Thesis Re-statement Essay conclusions traditionally begin with a thesis re-statement. Consider using a different grammatical sentence opener or opening transition word to avoid repetition.

e47 Needs Another Conclusion Strategy Use at least two conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e48 Needs a Different Conclusion Strategy Use a  variety of conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e49 Needs a Finished Feeling  A conclusion needs to provide a finished feeling for the reader. The conclusion must satisfy the reader that the purpose has been achieved or point of view has been convincingly argued.

As we all know, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many times have we veteran English teachers written out this comment in an essay conclusion: “Don’t introduce new evidence in the conclusion”? 1000? One smart solution would be to develop a bank of most-often used essay comments to help students revise all areas of the essay:

Introduction Paragraphs, Body Paragraphs: Argument, Analysis, Evidence, Conclusion Paragraphs, Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format, Textual Citations, Parts of Speech, Subjects and Predicates, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules 

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to

Response Comments for Essay Conclusions

Essay Conclusion e-Comments

access a downloaded comment (See above examples). Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs can save grading time and allow teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers prefer to copy and paste these comments and then print off a comments for each student. Teachers can then hold students accountable for revision.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Works great in Microsoft Word and can be batch dumped easily into Google Docs. Nice for paper comments as well. The comments use the same, consistent language Common Core language of instruction. I’ve included this comment download in my Teaching Essay Strategies and The Pennington Manual of Style (a slice of the comprehensive essay program).

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Essay Hooks and Response Comments

Most teachers have the same general sense of what an essay hook (or introduction strategy) is and what makes a good one.  To make sure that my assumption was right, I googled “essay hooks” to verify the consensus.

Quite a mix of results! Essays for sale sites, scholarly comments, teacher tips, and even an essay hook generator. I’ve included brief comments in order of the resources with links, although my ELA teacher cognitive dissonance pits my need to cite references and avoid plagiarism with my distain for cheating and paying others to do one’s own work. Here’s representative sample of comments:

An essay hook is the first one or two sentences of your essay. It serves as an introduction and works to grab the reader’s attention. The first couple sentences will help your reader decide whether they want to continue reading your essay or not.

The hook provides an “emotional connection with your reader” (Tucker).

“A fisherman will use a shiny lure to get a fish on his or her hook” George Brown University.

When writing an essay, the hook is a connection to the real word that gets the readers interested in reading the rest of the essay.

“Getting your reader to say, ‘Wow! Cool!’ or ‘I need to read more about that!’” (Unknown Blogger)

Generally, I think my assumption was correct. Teachers agree that introduction strategies, such as hooks, are necessary to engage the reader and set up the thesis statement in an essay introduction.

How to Teach Essay Introduction Strategies

Essay Introduction Strategies

Teachers may even know how to teach a variety of essay hooks. However, writing comments to respond to student essays as formative assessment (first or second drafts) and summative assessment (final published draft) is tougher work. It’s both art and science.

The Art of Writing Essay Introduction Comments

Obviously, the teacher needs to comment so that students will actually read and apply the advice. The more I teach, the more I realize how much of my success (and lack thereof) is due to how much I can motivate students. In terms of teaching writing, this means that the teacher needs to know the individual student—what the student already knows, how much criticism the student can take, and if the student responds to cajoling or praise. How many comments will the student be able to handle? How general or specific should the comments be? Does the student have a thin or thick skin?

The Science of Writing Essay Hook Responses

The teacher has got to have the experience both as a reader and as a writer to know what an effective essay introduction looks like. Doing essay read-arounds and norming student essays can be eye-opening (and sometimes humbling) experiences for teachers. Writing is both an objective and subjective experience, as is reading. What makes sense or moves me can be quite different than what does so to a colleague or student. However, most of us can learn to spot a good essay introduction and a poor one… an effective hook and an ineffective one.

Combining the art and science of essay comments, it makes sense to have options. Frankly, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many

Downloadable Essay Comments

Essay Introduction e-Comments

times have most writing teachers written the same comment a dozen times in grading a batch of student essays? Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs helps teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers find that printing off a page of e-comments works better for students. Either way, there is a built-in accountability for students to revise work according to the comments. Let’s face it… having an effective bank of essay e-comments would save teachers a whole lot of grading time!

Check out these 16 introduction strategies (hooks) and thesis statement e-comments, with clear instructions about how to insert this comment bank into Microsoft Word HERE. Plus learn how to insert your own comments into your own e-comment bank.

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to access a downloaded comment, for example:

e2 Needs a Different Introduction Strategy Use a variety of introduction strategies. Add a Definition, Question to be Answered, Reference to Something Known in Common, Quote from an Authority, Preview of Topic Sentences, Startling Statement, Background, or Controversial Statement. DQ RAPS BC

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Works great in Microsoft Word and can be batch dumped easily into Google Docs. Nice for paper comments as well. The comments use the same, consistent language Common Core language of instruction. I’ve included this comment download in my Teaching Essay Strategies and The Pennington Manual of Style (a slice of the comprehensive essay program).

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Academic Language: What Not to Teach and What to Teach

What Not to Teach and What to Teach with Academic Language

Academic Language

Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards way back in 2009… Has it been that long ago? the term Academic Language has remained as one of the longest-lasting educational buzzwords. As educators and publishers have unpacked that term in the years since, it has taken on various meanings; however, its original intent was to assert that the types of words that we teach do matter. Specifically, teaching Tier 2 words which have utility across subject areas makes a lot of sense. For plenty of examples and the research-based Academic Word List, I’d refer teachers HERE.

The ability of these Tier 2 (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) words to transfer across subject areas and reading genre helps developing readers access more complex text. This is why teaching academic language matters. The Tier 2 academic vocabulary words are not ends in themselves; they are gateways to more sophisticated reading. Academic language is all about access to text complexity.

As detailed in Appendix A of the Common Core document and the research described in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines, reading comprehension scores have dropped over the last 20 years. Two reasons were cited for this decline: 1. decreasing text complexity and 2. lack of independent reading. We educators have got to make our word study more rigorous and require more challenging independent reading to enhance the academic language of our students.

How Not to Teach Academic Language

  1. Don’t spend excessive amounts of time reading entire novels out loud to your class. I agree with those who have argued against teachers reading complete novels out loud as spoon-feeding. Of course, reading out loud does have some benefits and re-reading a passage or portion of an article as a close reading does have merit, but not as the primary means of developing academic language and increasing reading comprehension.
  2. I also concur with those who have also argued against independent reading in the classroom as a “waste of instructional time.” Spending oodles of class time with free-choice independent reading does not build academic language. Independent reading is vitally important… but as homework. By the way, Accelerated Reader is not an academic vocabulary program. Teachers are clever enough to incentivize and hold students accountable for independent reading without an outside program.
  3. Don’t have students memorize long lists of academic language words. While memorization is certainly a part of effective word study, students retain more at the end of the year with a quality, not quantity approach to vocabulary study. Some in-depth vocabulary instruction is certainly valuable.
  4. Avoid spending excessive amounts of vocabulary instructional time on learning words in the context of teaching a short story, article, or novel. Pre-teaching a few essential words is unavoidable, but don’t let the reading drive your vocabulary instruction. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog.

How to Teach Academic Language

  1. Increase the amount of independent reading homework with proper incentives and accountability. But do teach students how to read independently and require students to read complex material at their individual instructional levels. Lexiles are a useful tool, but a much simpler and flexible approach to determine reading levels is word recognition. Assign limited choices for independent reading. Students don’t naturally gravitate toward text complexity. Like adults, students look for the easy reads. Don’t worry about taking away a students love of reading. Teachers won’t damage children for life by assigning challenging reading homework. Certainly, informed educators know what’s best for students.
  2. Teach a balanced approach to vocabulary development, using the Common Core Vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Teach academic language in isolation and in the reading context. Don’t be a purist. Students may have to read a 1000 novels before being exposed to, say, an important figures of speech. Vocabulary acquisition is not a completely natural process. The Standards focus on teaching a balance of vocabulary skills: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Check out How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards.
  3. Plan. Insist upon grade level and department articulation to coordinate a year-to-year academic language instructional scope and sequence. We all too often wind up teaching, say, the same list of Greek and Latin prefixes year after year. We need a plan to move students from A to Z. Here’s a helpful instructional scope and sequence for grades 4-8 academic language. Yes, a multi-grade vocabulary program does make sense to unify instruction.
Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Standards

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Mark Pennington, an MA reading specialist, is the author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits–slices of the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling and Vocabulary programs.

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Curriculum Map for Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Developing a curriculum map for English-language arts, also referred to as an instructional scope and sequence, can be a time-consuming process for most grade level teams or departments. Detailed curriculum maps help get teachers on “the same page” in terms of what needs to be taught by the end of the term or year. Most teachers agree on what to teach, but prefer a bit more latitude on how to teach.

The curriculum map is most effective when the grade level or course content meshes with the previous and next year curriculum. Of course, a built-in review is necessary to clear away the summer brain drain that most students seem to experience. If teachers are able to agree on diagnostic and summative assessments, all the better to know right where to start a class and exactly what remediation will be necessary for individualized instruction. Check out our free ELA and reading assessments HERE.

Most teachers find that reading and writing are process-oriented subjects, while grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary are more content-oriented subjects. The devil is in the details for the latter subjects. To serve as a starting point for the curriculum map, check out these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructional scope and sequence charts HERE from my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs. I think you’ll find them to be helpful.

Cheers!

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Grammar Program Choices

When it comes to grammar, teachers have a wide variety of instructional preferences.

Broadly speaking, teachers agree that standard English grammar and usage needs to be learned, but they disagree on how it should be taught. Some prefer the inductive approach of learning grammar through natural oral language development (Krashen, et al.) or through the process of writing via mini-lessons or learning centers (Graves, Weaver, Calkins, et al.), while others prefer the deductive approach of traditional grammar via rules instruction and practice (D.OL., D.L.R., worksheet-based resources, etc.) Of course, balanced grammar programs, which attempt to teach grammar in the listening, speaking, reading, and writing contexts do exist and are becoming increasingly popular in many classrooms. Following are brief descriptions of the Pennington Publishing grammar programs, which adopt the latter instructional preference and accommodate the challenges of teaching grammar as a secondary instructional focus in most classrooms. Please click on the title you wish to explore further or click HERE to view the entire grammar collection.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Comprehensive grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 “BUNDLE” programs to teach all of the Anchor Standards for Language and the grade level Language Strand (L.1-6) Standards… Everything teachers need to teach, in terms of English-language arts, outside of the Core Adoption (reading, literature, and writing) is in these seamless programs. Much of this Language Strand curriculum has been divided into these full-year programs for each of the grades 4-8: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Writing Openers Language Application, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

*28 spelling patterns tests and spelling sorts with teacher display and student worksheets
*56 writing openers language application with teacher display and student worksheets
*56 vocabulary worksheets
*28 biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests and summative spelling assessments
*Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
*Diagnostic spelling patterns assessment with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
*Language application remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
*Complete syllabication program
*Additional grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary resources, review games, and activities

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 and High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 are slices of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs… Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for High School is its own program, designed for older students.

The grades 4-8 programs feature these components:

*56 language conventions (grammar, usage, and mechanics) lessons with teacher display and student worksheets
*28 biweekly grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments
*Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment

The high school program features these components:

*64 quick language conventions (grammar, spelling, and mechanics) lessons for twice-per-week instruction in place of D.O.L. Includes grammar, spelling, and mechanics rule, concept, or skill for each lesson with short practice, simple sentence diagram, mentor text, writing application, grammar cartoon, and three formative sentence dictation assessments

*Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment

Grammar Openers (for high school)

The Grammar Openers (for high school) is a slice of the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics (for high school) program…

*64 quick language conventions (grammar, spelling, and mechanics) lessons for twice-per-week instruction in place of D.O.L. Includes grammar, spelling, and mechanics rule, concept, or skill for each lesson with short practice, simple sentence diagram, mentor text, writing application, grammar cartoon, and three formative sentence dictation assessments

Grammar Toolkit (for grades 4-high school)

The Grammar Toolkit (for grades 4-high school) slice of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs…

*Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment

Writing Openers Language Application

The Writing Openers Language Application (for grades 4-high school) slice of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs…

*56 writing openers language application with teacher display and student worksheets

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8

The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8 provides key grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons to address each of the grades 4-8 Language Strand Standards formatted for interactive notebooks (INBs)… culled from the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs…

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Spelling Rules and Parts of Speech Review Unit

The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Spelling Rules and Parts of Speech Review Unit includes an eight lesson review unit of the key conventional spelling rules and parts of speech to begin or end the school year or used as test prep. Formatted for interactive notebooks (INBs) and a slice of the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8 program

Grammar Comics

A terrific collection of grammar and usage, parts of speech, and sentence problems grammar cartoons by ELA high school teacher, David Rickert. Featured in the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8 and hing Grammar and Mechanics (for high school) programs…

The author, Mark Pennington, has taught upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college English-language arts and reading intervention.

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Grammar Interactive Notebook Checklist

Since the publication of Erin Cobb’s wonderful Interactive GRAMMAR Notebook in 2014, the sale of Interactive Notebooks (INBs) in every subject area has boomed on such key teacher-author curriculum sites as Teachers Pay Teachers.

To say that Erin has been successful is an understatement. As of this writing, her interactive grammar notebook has sold over 30,000 downloads with 6,958 reviews (most all gushingly supportive and/or at least thankful in order to receive the 5% credit for a rating and review on the Teachers Pay Teachers site).

Erin has also been influential. Her clever grammar activities, foldable templates, cover art, and incredibly low price have set the standard for other interactive notebooks. Erin is also prolific. The number of her Lovin Lit products increases at a seemingly exponential rate.

Although secure in her market share of interactive grammar notebooks because of Teacher Pay Teachers page/site position by sales and reviews and Erin’s renowned customer service, any industry standard can be improved upon… After all, “New and Improved” is the American way.

Rather than a specific critique of what an interactive notebook should not be (see my article titled “10 Reasons Not to Use Interactive Notebooks”), let’s learn from Erin’s example and the improvements other teacher-authors have made to the interactive notebook style of instruction for grammar. Here’s a checklist of what to look for in your first grammar INB or if you’re looking for a “New and Improved” version of a grammar INB.

The ideal grammar interactive notebook should include the following characteristics:

  • Less class time wasted… no more than ninety minutes of instructional time per week… two lessons of 45 minutes each seems to be ideal (you do have other subjects to teach)
  • More focus on concepts and skills, less focus on art work
  • Cute, but not too cute with fonts and graphics which do not get in the way of clarity and purpose
  • Less mess and less waste. Keep on the good side of your custodian
  • Minimal prep for each lesson… teach on the fly. Good curriculum is user-friendly.
  • A completed teacher INB for absent students to copy
  • Clear, consistent, and simple directions to be user-friendly to students and so that a new teacher or substitute could teach any lesson with success
  • Less simplistic copying and more time in truly interactive learning via writing down relevant examples, highlighting, annotation, making connections… in short, student response to teacher-provided content… that’s interactive learning
  • Rigorous, grade-level Standards-based lessons based upon a balance of grammar, usage, and mechanics. Check for specific grade-level Standards alignment documents, not a general one page reference.
  • Narrow focus on grade levels… A grades 4-8 notebook will either be too simplistic or too challenging, too juvenile or too mature for any one grade level
  • Enough practice, but not too much practice in the lesson’s concepts and skills
  • Application of the concepts and skills in the reading and writing contexts
  • Easy for students to self-correct and less time-consuming for teachers to skim grade
  • Graphic organizers, aka foldables, templates, pop-outs which are quick and easy for students to cut, glue or tape
  • Graphic organizers which help students problem-solve, classify, reinforce lesson content, and provide a study review for unit tests
  • Biweekly unit tests (with answers) which require students to define, identify, and apply the grammar and mechanics skills in their own writing
  • Formative assessments for each grammar and mechanics lesson to provide immediate feedback to individual students and the teacher
  • Specific remedial worksheets (not just extra practice) to help individual students master grammar and mechanics concepts and skills yet unmastered following the lessons and/or unit test. That’s assessment-based, individualized instruction with a formative assessment to determine mastery on each and every worksheet.
  • Cornell note-taking… the note-taking format used by most every high school teacher
  • Online links and resources with proper copyright permission. Teachers need to model proper digital citizenship and fair use. If we insist upon student citations and warn against plagiarism, then… enough said.
  • Online links and resources need to be extensive and integral to instruction, not mere window dressing

Before buying a grammar interactive notebook, perhaps consider a FREE Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook spelling rules and parts of speech review unit (which includes all of the “New and Improved” instructional features mentioned above. Why not try before you buy?

 

Get the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook FREE Resource:

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Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames

I teach a seventh grade ELA class and we’ve just finished reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. In fact, we’ve already written our argumentative essays on “whether Phoebe was a good friend to Sal.” Of course the writing prompt is a bit more complex. It’s my students first attempt at writing the argumentative essay. They are struggling with the counterclaim (counterargument) and refutation (rebuttal) as these are new Standards for seventh graders. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Although writers use plenty of other options, I’m teaching the counterclaim and refutation in the final body paragraph.

The following sentence frames helped out my students considerably:

First Contrasting Transition + Name the Opposition + Strong Verb + Opposing Point of View + Evidence + Analysis + Second Contrasting Transition + Reference the Opposing Point of View + Turn

First Contrasting Transition +

However, But, Admittedly, Although, Alternatively

Name the Opposition +

others, some

Strong Verbs + Denial/Assertion or Assertion

Denial: reject, oppose,  disagree, question, doubt this view and Assertion: argue that, reason that, claim that, support, conclude that

Opposing Point of View +

State the opposing point of view.

Evidence +

Pick the best evidence to support the opposing point of view. Don’t pick a “straw man.” In other words, don’t pick a weak opposing argument that is too easy to refute.

Analysis +

Explanation, insight, example, logic to support the counterclaim evidence

Second Contrasting Transition +

Still, However, But, Nevertheless, Yet, Despite, Although, Even though

Reference the Opposing Point of View +

this argument, this position, this reasoning, this evidence, this view

Turn

Now you turn the opposing point of view, evidence, and analysis back to support your thesis statement. Various options can be effective:

1. Accept the criticism of the counterclaim. Tell why all or part of the opposing point of view may be reasonable, plausible, or valid, but minimize the opposing position. For example, This evidence may be true; however, the objection does not change the fact that…

2. Reject the counterclaim. For example, This view ignores the conclusive evidence that… This position is mistaken because…

3. Criticize the evidence and analysis of the counterclaim as being unimportant, irrelevant, or a misinterpretation. For example, this argument misses the key point that…

4. Criticize the reasoning of the counterclaim as being flawed, illogical, or biased. 

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to using Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

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Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)?

The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

It’s all about scholarship and tactics: intellectual honesty and manipulation.

In argumentative essays the writer must prove his or her thesis according to the rules of the game, but the writer needs to know the rules so thoroughly that these rules can be used to work in the writer’s favor. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a senior at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!).

As a senior I took a seminar on independent research. At the suggestion of a professor, I dug into the Halévy Thesis: the thesis that the rise of religious revivals in Eighteenth Century England helped prevent a French-style revolution. I know. Pretty obscure. But for some reason the project really got me going: The thrill of academic discovery, the smell of the musty old book stacks, the cute library helper, etc.

Anyways, I became convinced that the Halévy Thesis was true. As a twenty-one year old I had discovered absolute truth. Not only did religious revival prevent violent revolution in England, it could also save our society today, cure the common cold, and solve the Middle East problem.

An effective counterclaim can…

  1. show how a different conclusion can be drawn from facts.
  2. show how an assumption many be unwarranted.
  3. show how a key term has been misused.
  4. show how evidence has been ignored or downplayed.
  5. show how an alternative explanation might make more sense.
  6. test your argument.
  7. anticipate objections to your thesis.
  8. help the writer weigh alternatives.
  9. show how informed you the writer are about opposing arguments.
  10. make the writer’s argument stronger.
  11. show that the writer is reasonable and respectful of opposing views.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to Why Use an Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

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Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? The short and sweet answer? David Oldham, professor at Shoreline Community College, states, “The short answer is a counter-argument (counterclaim) can go anywhere except the conclusion. This is because there has to be a rebuttal paragraph after the counter-argument, so if the counter-argument is in the conclusion, something has been left out.”

The counterclaim is the opposing point of view to one’s thesis and is also known as the counterargument. The counterclaim is always accompanied by a refutation, sometimes referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards include the counterclaim in Writing Standards 1.0 for grades 7-12. These Standards reference the organization of the counterclaim in terms of clear relationships and logical sequencing. See the boldface phrases in the following grades 7-12 Standards.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

 

Seventh Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Eighth Grade: Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Ninth and Tenth Grade: Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade: Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Placement Options

1. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph with refutation as the last body paragraph prior to the conclusion paragraph.

Separate Paragraph Example #1 

COUNTERCLAIM Opponents argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports, these injuries are quite rare. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result.

2. Writers can place a separate counterclaim paragraph without refutation as the first body paragraph following the thesis statement to anticipate objections prior to providing evidence to prove the claim of the thesis statement.

Separate Paragraph Example #2 

COUNTERCLAIM Those who favor eliminating after school sports argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries. Specifically, health professionals suggest that life-threatening concussions occur at frightening rates for student athletes participating in such popular after school sports as football, soccer, basketball, and wrestling (Bancroft 22, 23). Even minor injuries sustained from participation in after school sports increase absent rates and the expense of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). Additionally, youth and adolescents are not developmentally ready to play contact sports. Key components of the brain and skeletal structure have not yet formed (Mays 14), and injuries can have lasting damage to young people.

3. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a body paragraph.

Embedded within Paragraph Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. The organization, supervision, and safety measures of school-sponsored sports are superior to those of alternative fee-based community-sponsored recreational leagues or even privately sponsored sports organizations (Kinney 2). Additionally, without free after school sports programs, many students would still play sports without adult supervision and even more injuries would result. COUNTERCLAIM However, some people would argue that after school sports can increase the likelihood of sports-related injuries and resulting absences with the added expenses of creating injury reports for students (Sizemore 3). REFUTATION Although students do suffer both serious and minor injuries in after school sports and there are resulting absences and injury reports, without school-sponsored sports the likelihood of more injuries from less supervised recreational leagues or privately sponsored leagues with fewer safety regulations would, no doubt, be much worse.

4. Writers can embed a counterclaim and refutation within a sentence or sentences found in a body paragraph.

Embedded within Sentences Example

After school sports provide safe and free programs for students who might otherwise not be able to participate in individual or team sports. COUNTERCLAIM Even so, some would question the safety of these programs, citing the numbers of life-threatening concussions from after school sports such as football, REFUTATION but these statistics are misleading. According to the highly respected Youth in Sports report, fewer serious injuries occur to students playing after school sports as compared to students not playing after school sports (Green 22).

5. Writers can embed a counterclaim within the introductory paragraph and use the thesis statement as refutation.

Introductory Paragraph Example

After school sports are extra-curricular activities included in most elementary, middle school, and high schools throughout the world. COUNTERCLAIM Some would argue that schools can no longer afford these programs and the expenses of lawsuits resulting from sports-related injuries. REFUTATION AS THESIS STATEMENT On the contrary, schools can and should invest in well-supervised after school sports to promote health and minimize sports-related injuries.

Each of these counterclaim placements has merit, depending upon the nature of the argumentative essay. Help students develop the writing flexibility and dexterity they need by applying each of these strategies in the draft and revision stages. As always, show models of counterclaims and refutations, teach a variety of types of evidence, and help students avoid the pitfalls of fallacious reasoning.

In addition to Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, What is the Essay Counterclaim?, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



What is the Essay Counterclaim?

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what?

Synonyms for the Counterclaim (with or without hyphens): Counterargument, Opposing Claims, Alternate Claims

Synonyms for the Refutation: Rebuttal, Turn

Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay.

But here again the academic community is divided: Just what constitutes an essay?

Some writing teachers see all writing as argumentative including essays, research papers, lab reports, you name it. After all, even the most objective evidence must be evaluated through the lenses of inherently biased writers who attempts to inform, impact, or convince their audiences.

The highly regarded Writing Center resources developed by professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seem to adopt this position: What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea” http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/argument/.

Another group of resources often used by writing teachers includes The Online Writing Center (OWL) at Purdue University. These professors differentiate argumentative essays from expository essays, but only in terms of the scope of research. Following is their explanation: “Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

However, the writers of the Common Core State Standards do see a division in purpose and point of view for the purposes of essay instruction and so have separate Standards for the argumentative essay (W. 1.0) and the informational-explanatory essay (W. 2.0). Whether the separate Standards were created as practical measures to reflect the maturity of Kꟷ12 students or as a position on the rules and roles of different rhetorical types I do not know.

Following are the Common Core State Writing Standards for the argumentative essay counterclaim:

No counterclaim is included until seventh grade. Additions to the seventh grade and subsequent Standards have been boldfaced by this author.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.1.A
Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.A
Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.A
Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1.A
Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to What is the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Essay Body Paragraphs

When I students how to write evidence in essay body paragraphs, I tell them to imagine themselves as a jury in a murder trial. Each juror will be convinced by different types of evidence. Some lean on eyewitness testimony; others only trust forensic evidence; one or two may be swayed by the logic of circumstantial Wouldn’t it make sense for a prosecuting attorney to reach out to all juror interests to make her case?

Similarly, student writers need to consider the needs of their audience in the types of evidence they include in essay body paragraphs. Following are eight types of evidence with a clever memory trick for students to reference. Of course, not all eight types of evidence would be appropriate for all argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays.

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE C

1. Fact means something actually done or said.

Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

2. Example is a part of something used to explain the whole thing.

Peas, beans, and corn are examples of vegetables.

3. Statistic is an amount, fraction, or percentage learned from scientific research.

The world has over 7 billion people; half live in Asia; only 5% live in the United States.

4. Comparison means to show how one thing is like or unlike another.

Both automobiles are available with hybrid engines, but only one has an all-electric plug-in option.

5. Authority is an expert which can be quoted to support a claim or a topic.

According to the Surgeon General of the United States, “Smoking is the chief cause of lung cancer.”

6. Logic is deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning.

All fruits have vitamins and apples are fruits, so apples have vitamins. The first 10 crayons I picked were red, so the whole box must be filled with red crayons.

7. Experience is a personal observation of or participation in an event.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back requires careful planning and takes most of the day.

8. Counterclaim is the argument against one’s point of view, which the writer then minimizes or refutes (proves wrong).

Some argue that a high protein diet is healthy because… However, most doctors disagree due to…

Want to download and print 8 colorful types of evidence posters with explanations and examples? Click Types of Evidence Posters.

Teachers may also be interested in these three articles: How to Improve Writing StyleHow to Write an Introduction and How to Write a Conclusion. Each article includes a link to different writing posters. All are free to download, print, and use as reference tools for your students.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Need the step-by-step resources to teach the argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays? Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, 64 rhetorical stance openers, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency practice, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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Writing Style

e-Comments for Essay Writing Rules and Style

Essay Writing Rules and Style e-Comments

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing.

Check out the essay e-comments teachers need to respond to student essays regarding writing rules and writing style.

Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Writing Center has an excellent article on writing style.

Although writing style is certainly unique to every writer, English-language arts teachers have a role in developing that style. Most would agree that there are, in fact, rules of essay style which are unique to that writing genre. I’ve developed a set of 24 Essay Writing Style Rules. Written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, teachers and some precocious students will appreciate the humor and all students will learn what not to write in their stories and essays. Teach these rules of writing style and cringe less as you grade that next set of papers.

Essay Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

  1. Avoid intentional fragments. Right?
  2. Avoid formulaic phrases in this day and age.
  3. I have shown that you should delete references to your own writing.
  4. Be sort of specific.
  5. Don’t define terms (where a specialized word is used) using “reason is,” “because,” “where,” or “when.”
  6. Avoid using very interesting, nice words that contribute little to a sentence.
  7. Prepositions are not good to end sentences with.
  8. It is a mistake to ever split an infinitive.
  9. But do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  10. Avoid using clichés like a bad hair day.
  11. Always, avoid attention-getting alliteration.
  12. Parenthetical remarks should (most always) be avoided.
  13. Also, never, never repeat words or phrases very, very much, too.
  14. Use words only as they are defined, no matter how awesome they are.
  15. Even if a metaphor hits the spot, it can be over-played.
  16. Resist exaggeration; it only works once in a million years.
  17. Writers should always avoid generalizations.
  18. Avoid using big words when more utilitarian words would suffice.
  19. What use are rhetorical questions?
  20. The passive voice is a form to be avoided, if it can be helped.
  21. Never write no double negatives.
  22. There are good reasons to avoid starting every sentence with There.
  23. Always, absolutely avoid overstating ideas.
  24. Keep pronoun references close to subjects in long sentences to make them clear.

I’ve developed eight writing style posters with these “rules” to teach students the key elements to effective writing style. Just click on the red button below to get this teachable resource.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Purchase Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker

 

Get the Writing Style Posters FREE Resource:

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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to catch up  while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable–not random samples. For example, what reading and English-language arts teacher cares about learning that Johnny has some sight word deficits? Good teachers want to know precisely which sight words Johnny kn0ws and does not know to be able to efficiently teach to Johnny’s specific needs.
  • Reading assessments: upper and lower case alphabet, syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, sight syllables, word recognition level, short vowel sound-spellings, long vowel sound-spellings, vowel digraph sound-spellings, vowel diphthong sound-spellings, silent final e, consonant sound-spellings, consonant blend sound-spellings, consonant digraph sound-spellings. Reading fluency level, word recognition level, instructional reading level.
  • Previous grade-level spelling assessment: Every spelling pattern and conventional spelling rule.
  • Previous grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What special ed and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, provides assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum? Click here. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students?

ELA/Reading Assessments

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Quick Reading Assessments

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance.

The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

This “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage and two-minute expository reading fluency is a much better measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level. The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Having administered the Pets Fluency Assessment, two more initial assessments will help you further pinpoint any relative weaknesses and give you a game-plan for assessment-based instruction

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38audio file, print copy)

These two recording matrices will help you keep track of individual student fluency, phonics, and spelling data: fluency and phonics recording matrix and spelling recording matrix. The matrices facilitate assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrices also serve as the progress monitoring source.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, has written a reasonably priced Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, which includes all of the instructional resources to help students master the demonstrated relative weaknesses in fluency, phonics, and spelling plus other diagnostic assessments (phonemic awareness and sight words) for remedial reading instruction.

Why not check out the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling

Grades 4-8 spelling instruction was once relegated to editing stage of the writing process by some Writers Workshop purists. The Common Core authors would seem to concur. From grade 5 on up, the only Spelling Standards read as follows: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.

However, many veteran grades 4-8 teachers still teach spelling, especially in terms of spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, derivational and etymological influences, accent placements and vowel shifts because they know how structural word analysis facilitates proper use of our language, better reading comprehension, and improved writing.

Plus, when you know your students still can’t spell the there, their, and they’re words, someone’s gotta teach ’em!

So, what’s the most efficient, research-based methodology to teach spelling in the fewest number of instructional minutes per week?

Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling:

Monday

1. Administer a weekly diagnostic pretest of 20 words based upon a focus spelling pattern: not a silly holidays, colors, or “ed” word themed list. Check out my grades 4-8 spelling patterns instructional scope and sequence for guidance. Briefly explain the weekly spelling pattern with examples. Display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.

Tuesday

2. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 10 unknown words. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the diagnostic pretest.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists. I provide these in my spelling programs or teachers can simply do a web search to find appropriate lists for your students.

Wednesday

3. Create or purchase (Yes, my program has them) a spelling sort based upon the spelling pattern. Students complete the sort and self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.

Thursday

4. Individualize Spelling Instruction

  • Administer a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment, not a random sample spelling inventory. Feel free to use my 102 word Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and recording matrix for each student, post the matrix and print the number of Spelling Pattern Worksheets according to the results and amount of students in your class. Here’s an audio version to make you really love this assessment 🙂
  • Print the answers to these worksheets in a half-dozen Answer Booklets.
  • Students complete a worksheet, self-correct and edit the practice section, and then complete the formative assessment at the bottom of each worksheet. Want to see some samples? Download the following six Spelling Pattern Worksheets including short schwa, long schwa, “_able,” “_ible,” “_ant-ance-ancy,” and “_ent-ence-ency”  spelling patterns (with answers).

Get the Spelling Pattern Worksheets FREE Resource:

  • Students mini-conference about the spelling pattern focus of the worksheet. If the student has mastered the spelling pattern in the formative assessment, direct the student to X-out the slash on the matrix and assign points. If the formative assessment indicates that the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern, re-teach the pattern and tell the student to re-do the formative assessment.
  • 5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest for homework.

    Friday

    6. Administer a weekly or bi-weekly posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law, nor research, saying that you have to test each Friday.To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

    The author’s Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Following are the program components:

    Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment: a comprehensive test of each previous grade level spelling pattern to determine what students know and what they don’t know with Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix
    • 102 Remedial Sound-Spelling Worksheets Corresponding to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Grade 8… other grade levels have fewer to correspond with grade-level spellings. All grade levels use the same diagnostic assessment.)
    • Weekly Diagnostic Spelling Tests
    • Weekly Spelling Sort Worksheets for Each Spelling Pattern (with answers) formatted for classroom display. Students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.
    • Syllable Transformers and Syllable Blending formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction
    • Syllable Worksheets (with answers) formatted for classroom display
    • Four Formative Assessments (given after 7 weeks of instruction)
    • Summative Assessment
    • Spelling Teaching Resources: How to Study Spelling Words, Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays, Syllable and Accent Rules, Outlaw Words, 450 Most Frequently Used Words, 100 Most Often Misspelled Words, 70 Most Commonly Confused Words, Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs and Raps (with Mp3 links), and Spelling Review Games

    Read one of our customer testimonials: “I work with a large ELL population at my school and was not happy with the weekly spelling tests, etc. Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important at this age group. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. We have just adopted RtI at my school and your spelling matrix is a great tool for documentation. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students.”

    Heidi

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    The W.C. Wayside Chapel Joke

    I first heard this one in Boy Scouts, but have heard it told in Young Life and countless youth groups. The “story” always gets more than its fair share of laughs, but the language is a bit archaic. Acknowledgments to the staff writers from Jack Paar’s Tonight Show (yes, before Johnny Carson). I’ve thrown in a few of my own gags to add to the mix. Here it is. Enjoy!

    An English lady, while vacationing in Switzerland, fell in love with a small town and the surrounding countryside. She asked the pastor of a local church if he knew of any houses with rooms to rent that were close to town, but out in the country. The pastor kindly drove her out to see a house with a room to rent. She loved the house and decided to rent the room. Then, the lady returned to her home in England to make her final preparations to move to Switzerland.

    When she arrived back home, the thought occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” in the room or even down the hall. (A W.C. is short for “water closet” and is what the English call a toilet.) So she immediately emailed the pastor to ask him where the “W.C.” is located.

    The Swiss pastor had never heard of a “W.C.,” and so he Googled the abbreviation and found an article titled “Wayside Chapels.” Thinking that the English lady was asking about a country church to attend near her new home, the pastor responded as follows:

    Ms. Smith,

    I look forward to your move. Regarding your question about the location of the W.C., the closest W.C. is situated only two miles from the room you have rented, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees. The W.C. has a maximum occupancy of 229 people, but not that many people usually go on weekdays. I suggest you plan to go on Thursday evenings when there is a sing-along. The acoustics are remarkable and the happy sounds of so many people echo throughout the W.C.

    Sunday mornings are extremely crowded. The locals tend to arrive early and many bring their lunches to make a day of it. Those who arrive just in time can usually be squeezed into the W.C. before things start, but not always. Best to go early if you can!

    It may interest you to know that my own daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I remember how everyone crowded in to sit close to the bride and groom. There were two people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one, but our friends and family were happy to share.  I will admit that my wife and I felt particularly relieved when it was over. We were truly wiped out.

    Because of my responsibilities in town, I can’t go as often as I used to. In fact, I haven’t been in well over a year. I can tell you I really miss regularly going to the W.C. Let’s plan on going together for your first visit. I can reserve us seats where you will be seen by all.

    Sincerely,

    Pastor Kurt Meier

    Reading , , , , , , ,



    Daily Paragraph Editing

    Evan-More’s Daily Editing is certainly an improvement over the publisher’s Daily Language Review or the popular Daily Oral Language (from many different publishers). The instructional scope and sequence of Daily Paragraph Editing is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and most other state Standards in grammar, usage, and mechanics. This being said, most of the same criticisms detailed in my previous article still apply. Editing in the context of a paragraph does not solve the issue of teaching skills in isolation. Requiring a student to write a similar article is not the same as requiring students to apply specific skills learned in a lesson in the context of their own writing.

    Additionally, Daily Paragraph Editing really only tests students’ previously acquired skills. Testing is not the same as teaching. Direct instruction in the language conventions of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is what the Common Core Language Strand authors envisioned, not endless practice without effective instruction.

    Yes, kids need lots of practice, but we teachers need to remember what we learned in our teacher training programs about effective lesson design: Explicit Behavioral Objectives, Connection to Prior Learning and Lesson Transitions, Pre-teaching, Direct Instruction in the Content or Skill Standard with Multi-modality Examples and Language Support, Checking for Understanding, Guided Practice (which certainly could include some editing, but why not decision-making between what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of error-only scavenger hunts?), Formative Assessment, Re-teaching, Individualized Instruction, and Independent Practice. Of course, teachers are accustomed to different names for the essentially the same lesson components. Essentially, the teacher uses comprehensible input to introduce new learning, the students practice with the teacher’s help, the teacher assesses students’ mastery of the lesson content and skills and uses the data to re-teach or individualize instruction, and assigns independent practice in which the students’ apply what they have learned. Basic lesson design.

    The Daily Paragraph Editing program suffers from the same false assumptions that some teachers, administrators, and parents frequently share: All students are alike and need the same instruction. We know better. Kids are snowflakes: each is different and has different needs and different levels of content and skills mastery, particularly in the disciplines of the Language Strand: grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of use.

    A cookie-cutter approach to instruction such as Daily Paragraph Editing, Daily Oral Language, and Daily Language Review winds up re-teaching what some students already know (a waste of time), not building upon previous grade-level instruction, and short-changing instruction for those students, such as our ELL, Special Education, and below grade level students who need assessment-based practice. Students need effectively designed grade-level instruction, using all of the elements of direct instruction; plus, they need assessment-based individualized instruction for additional remedial practice so they can “catch up” while they “keep up” with rigorous writing instruction.

    Teaching that helps students actually learn and retain skills and concepts requires something more than just a writing opener used only a few minutes each day. We teachers can do better than piecemeal and ineffective instruction. Good teachers don’t just want to address Standards, they want their students to learn, retain, and be able to apply them in the reading and writing contexts.

    Bottom line? The Daily Paragraph Editing program is a short-cut to “teach” Language Strand Standards that can’t possibly transfer to long term content and skills acquisition. It has many of the same issues as Daily Language Review and Daily Oral Language. Teachers wind up “teaching” the same content and skills year after year. Clearly, we have better alternatives for effective instruction in the the Language Strand Standards.

    Here is the most effective alternative…teachguide-6th

    The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

    Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards.

    Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,



    Pennington Publishing Pinterest Boards

    Check out my ELA and reading intervention Pinterest boards with tons of free resources:

    Syllable Worksheets: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/syllable-worksheets/
    How to Grade Essays: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/how-to-grade-essays/

    Sam and Friends Decodable Take Home Readers

    Sam and Friends Phonics Books

    Reduce the amount of "to be" verbs and replace with vivid verbs.

    Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

    Verbing changes nouns into verbs

    Verbing: Changing Nouns into Verbs

    How to Teach Spelling Rules: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/how-to-teach-spelling-rules/
    Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/eliminate-to-be-verbs/
    Reading Comprehension: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/reading-comprehension/
    Academic Language: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/academic-language/
    Parts of Speech: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/parts-of-speech/
    Phonics for Older Readers: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/phonics-for-older-readers/
    Food, Light, Kids, and Color: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/food-light-kids-and-color/
    Decodable Readers for Older Readers: https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/decodable-readers-for-older-readers/

    Reading Comprehension Strategies

    SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

    Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , ,



    How to Teach English Accent Rules

    There no doubt will be yuge and bigly changes in Ginah under President Trump. And let’s just say that Alec Baldwin will have job security impersonating him if he so chooses. Of course, Donald is not the only one who mispronounces words. In fact, I gathered a list of them for my article titled Top 40 Pronunciation Peeves. You no doubt have your own mispronunciations. I, myself, know it’s “pro-bab-ly,” but I can’t stop saying “prob-ly.”

    Teaching students the syllable and accent rules through effective practice will noticeably improve their word attack and spelling skills. The accent rules and teaching procedure work well for both primary English speakers and English language-learners at all grade levels.

    How to Teach English Accent Rules

    1. Teach students that every syllable has one vowel sound.
    2. Teach students the syllable patterns. Teaching inductively from examples to rules works much better than the converse strategy. My nonsense syllable transformers are ideal for teaching the basic syllable patterns. Check out Teaching Reading Strategies.
    3. Show students how accented syllables are louder than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then snap and clap the syllables of your last name slowly. A snap indicates the unaccented syllable and a clap indicates the accented syllable. Don’t clap more than once in your last name even if there is a secondary accent. Save this instruction for high school. Note: For primary students, you may wish to substitute a thigh tap for the snap. Tell older students to fake the snap if they can’t do it. If your last name is only one syllable, e.g. Smith, adopt a pseudonym.

    Ask students do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.

      1. Show students how accented syllables are higher than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then swipe and hold your hand away from your body to indicate the pitch of each syllable as you pronounce your last name. For example, Say, “Mister…” (hand at side) “Pen” (high pitch; hand swiping to and held at a ninety degree angle) “ning” (low pitch; hand swiping lower and held at forty-five degree angle) “ton” (low pitch; hand swiping again and held at same forty-five degree angle). “Pen-ning-ton. Pennington.” Ask students to stand and do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.
      2. Practice the louder and higher syllable accenting with the 10 Accent Rules. Download this great resource!

    Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

    The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

    Teaching Reading Strategies

    within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

    Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

    Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

    Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

    Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

    Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , ,



    Teaching the Class and Individuals

    Perhaps the greatest guilt-inducers for any veteran teacher are these two questions:

    1. Do you know the individual needs of your students? 2. Are you teaching to the individual needs of your students?

    For those of you still reading, let’s provide a bit of context to those questions:

    Teaching the class is important and takes an enormous amount of energy and skill. Doing it well takes years of trial and error, professional development, and probably some natural ability that just can’t be learned or taught. It’s both an art and a science.

    By and large, teachers do a great job at whole class direct instruction. Teachers know their subject areas. They know how to plan instructional units, how to prepare standards-based lessons, how to teach comprehensible lessons, how to provide their students with appropriate practice, and how to assess whether their students have mastered the unit and lesson objectives. Teachers have also learned the classroom management skills to enable most students to make significant academic progress. They know how to teach the class.

    However, teaching the individual is quite another skill set.

    Teaching the individual student is far more challenging and satisfying than teaching the class as a whole.

    When people asked me what a do for a living, I tell them I’m a seventh grade teacher. Of course they ask, “What class do you teach?”

    I repeat, “Seventh graders.”

    Now, I realize they want to know that I teach English-language arts and reading intervention classes, so I’ll stop being snotty and tell them what they want to hear to satisfy their curiosity. However, I try and get across the message that I’m really teaching students, not a particular class. You elementary teachers have it easier… people don’t expect you to be subject-specific.

    Now I like English-language arts as a subject area: the reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And I do enjoy planning instruction for my classes. But I like the seventh graders much more, because they are far more interesting to me than my teaching Walk Two Moons or The Giver for the thirtieth time. Seventh graders are more interesting because they are all individuals.

    If you’re ready to take the step to individualize instruction, check out these resources: FREE ELA and Reading Diagnostic Assessments and the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets. The free assessments provide the data you need to know the individual reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics needs of your students. The worksheets include the skills, practice, and formative assessments you need to teach to the individual needs of your students.

    Here’s what you get in the 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets…

    1000 ELA/Reading Worksheets

    1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

    • 77 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (L. 1, 2)
    • 145 Language Application Worksheets (L. 3)
    • 21 Phonics Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
    • 14 Syllabication Worksheets (R.F.S.S. 3)
    • 43 Comprehension Worksheets (R.I.T.S. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
    • 73 Spelling Sort Worksheets (L. 2)
    • 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets (L. 2) All K−8 sound-spelling patterns
    • 56 Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
    • 56 Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
    • 56 Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
    • 56 Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
    • 56 Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets (L. 4, 5, 6) Complete grade level program
    • 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Write Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
    • 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 4, 9)
    • 35 Writing Skill Worksheets (W. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
    • 40 Study Skills Worksheets
    • 64 Critical Thinking Worksheets
    • Answer Booklet
    -Perfect for new and veteran teachers alike.
    -Great for “Oh no! They finished early.”
    -The substitute teacher’s best tool.
    -Independent homework
    -Quality individualized instruction in the writing and reading contexts.
    -Study skills/advisory/lifeskills/ELD/special education classes
    -Both remedial as well as gifted and talented worksheets

    You will love these resources!

    Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,



    How to Memorize Greek and Latin Word Parts

    Teachers know that teaching the most common Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes makes sense to help students build academic language. After all, about 50% of the words in any unabridged dictionary include at least one Greek or Latin affix or root.

    The question is how can students most efficiently learn these word parts? Rote memorization has a role; however, tapping into the students’ transferable, long-term memories is more effective.

    One way to connect to the long-term memory is through association. Associating multiple word parts helps students remember each word part better than through individual memorization. For example, auto means “self,” bio means “life,” graph means “write” and y means “the process or result of.” Learning the whole word, autobiography, is a great way to memorize by association.

    Years ago I created a list of 15 Power Words with these types of associations for the most common Greek and Latin affixes and roots. The word parts associated in this list comprise word parts found in over 15,000 words. Well worth teaching your students, I would say.

    Get the 15 Power Words FREE Resource:

    My Grades 4−8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits pair prefixes, roots, and suffixes to maximize learning. Each grade-level curriculum includes some great interactive games.

    For example, here’s a game that will help students practice their own Greek and Latin word part associations.

    Have students create and spread out vocabulary word part cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups on their desks. Business card size works best. The object of the Put-Togethers game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

    • 1 point for each prefix—root combination
    • 1 point for each root—suffix combination
    • 2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has
    • 2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has
    • 3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination
    • 5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

    Another great game this time of year is Word Part Monsters. Teach numerical prefixes, some body part roots, and some descriptive suffixes and students use these to name and draw their own monsters. A pyrcapunipod comes to mind… translation? a fire-headed, one-footed monster! Students guess the translations of their classmates’ monsters.

    The Grades 4−8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits are “slices” of the comprehensive  Grammar, Usage,

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

    Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

    Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , ,



    Reading Intervention

    As a reading specialist, I have seen reading intervention programs come and go. The one thing I have learned is that no matter how good the program, the program will not be successful if teachers will not teach it. Rarely do teachers teach only a reading intervention program. Elementary teachers are responsible for teaching every other academic subject; secondary teachers are teaching subject area classes with multiple preps. A successful reading intervention program must be both “user-friendly” for teachers and address the needs of diverse learners.

    Serving as a district reading specialist, I worked with dozens of teachers and their students over the years to design a program that really works for you and your students. We have no cookie-cutter students and a cookie-cutter instructional approach just doesn’t work.

    Teaching Reading Strategies provides a comprehensive reading intervention program which will both meet the meets of a diverse group of students with diverse reading needs. The 13 whole class reading and spelling diagnostic assessments will help you tailor the program to what your students need to learn, not what a canned reading program wants you to teach.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

    Teaching Reading StrategiesThis program emphasizes assessment-based instruction and is extremely flexible. You could spend thousands on Read 180, Language Live, etc. each year and not get the results that you will get by using these Teaching Reading Strategies resources.

    New reading teachers will love the scripted day to day plans to teach reading A-Z in a half-year intensive or full-year program.

    Experienced teachers will pick and choose from the myriad of resources.

    The mix of great direct instruction, small group phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight word workshops, and individualized instruction (including fluency practice with modeled readings at three different speeds, sound-spelling, syllabication, comprehension, and phonics worksheets) will help you cater instruction to the needs of each student. Plus, the only computer-assisted component in this program consists of the online modeled readings. Even this reading fluency practice has an effective work-around instructional approach that does not require computers. No technology nightmares! No unsupervised instruction. Less expense, too.

    AND THIS PROGRAM IS EASY TO TEACH WITH VERY LITTLE PREP!

    I also highly recommend the Sam and Friends Phonics Books to get your non-readers reading right away at Book 1, while more advanced students will begin reading at higher levels. The perfect take-home books for guided reading and homework! Each book includes five reading comprehension questions and a 30 second fluency practice/assessment.

    Finally, the FUN part of this program is the Reading and Spelling Game Cards with tons of engaging games that both beginning readers and more advanced readers can play. The cards are included in the Teaching Reading Strategies digital download from TpT.

    Check out the introductory video and see if Teaching Reading Strategies makes sense for you and your students.

    Reading , , , , , , , , , ,



    Context Clues in Reading and Writing

    We teachers love a bargain. Especially a “two-for one” bargain. the two for one skill which can be used in more than one context. We are all about efficiency! Context clues strategies provide that skill which can be used both to improve reading comprehension and writing clarity and coherence.

    Reading and writing do have a reciprocal relationship. Check out my Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection on the Pennington Publishing Blog when you have time. Learning context clues strategies helps students not only understand and apply new words, but also helps students apply more precise vocabulary in their writing to improve clarity and coherence.

    So, how can you get students to use context clues in their reading and writing? Teach the memorable FP’S BAG SALE strategy. Click on this Context Clues Worksheets Resource to download the strategy (see below) and two accompanying worksheets (with answers).

    Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

    But wouldn’t it be better to teach Tier II (academic) and III (domain specific) reading and writing vocabulary by using the dictionary?

    No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading and for precise usage in writing. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for most reading and writing.

    So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be mastered with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied both to figure out the meaning of many unknown words in reading and to support the use of technical language in writing. Teach students to use the whole FP’S BAG SALE strategy for reading and the last part, i.e., the SALE strategy for writing.

    FP’S BAG SALE

    • Finish the sentence. See how the word fits into the whole sentence.
    • Pronounce the word out loud. Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.
    • Syllables–Examine each word part. Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.
    • Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word. The sentence before can hint at what the word means.
    • After–Read the sentence after the unknown word. The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.
    • Grammar–Determine the part of speech. Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.
    • Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym. Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used. Example: The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.
    • Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym. Antonym clues will often use Signal Words such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He promised innovation, not keeping things the way they are.
    • Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning. Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word. Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.
    • Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example, either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

    When shouldn’t we encourage students to use context clues?

    Using context clues to guess the pronunciation and meanings of Tier I words (conversational, not academic English) is not efficient. Teaching students to use the alphabetic code (phonics) to sound out words and syllabication skills plus the conventional spelling rules (encoding) to write these words is essential. Context clues strategies are not useful for the “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” whole language method of developing word identification and word recognition.

    Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.”

    Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

    Teaching Reading Strategies

    abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

    Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

    Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

    The program is also useful for grade-level syllabication skill worksheets, reading fluency practice, and reading comprehension development. With the tiered grade-level design of the fluency and comprehension worksheets, students will develop confidence reading at increasingly more challenging levels. Perfect scaffolded instruction for a classroom of diverse learners.

    Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,



    The Ideal Vocabulary Worksheets

    If you were to create the ideal vocabulary worksheets for your 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th grade students, what would you include?

    No doubt, the worksheets would be perfectly aligned to the Common Core Language Strand 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0 Standards (whether your state and district are Common Core or not…) These Standards make sense to any teacher. The activities would be concise and be able to be completed independently in no more than ten minutes. You do have other subjects to teach.

    The worksheets would be grade-level specific and would not repeat previous grade-level vocabulary instruction. Check out this grades 4−8 vocabulary scope and sequence at the end of the document.

    If you were including each Common Core Standard, you would include homonyms: both homophones (sound alike, but spelled differently) and homographs (spelled alike, but sound differently).

    You would have to include Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes. To maximize memory you would cleverly pair these word parts, e.g., pre (before) + view (to see). Students would use the definitions of the word parts to guess the meaning of the connected word, i.e., preview and would check their own definition with that of the dictionary. Of course, your students would have to divide the word into syllables, i.e., pre/view, place the primary accent (essential for spelling rules), i.e., pré/view, and write out the primary dictionary definition.

    Knowing the importance of learning the different types of figures of speech, you would teach the grade-level Standards, e.g., idioms, metaphors, symbolism, adages, iron, puns, etc. Students would have to explain or interpret the use of these language tools in given sentences.

    On the back of the worksheet, you would teach students the different forms of word relationships: synonyms, antonyms, part to whole, cause to effect, etc. by requiring students to show the meanings of two related words in context clue sentence.

    You would include a semantic spectrum to teach connotative relationships, e.g. frigid, cold, temperate, warm.

    Lastly, you would follow the advice of Common Core vocabulary scholars Beck, McKowen, and Kukan by teaching cross-curricular Tier II words to build your students’ academic vocabulary, but which words would you use? The research-based Academic Word List with the four square vocabulary method, i.e., 1. Word and definition (in kid-friendly language) 2. Synonym 3.Antonym 4. Example, characteristic, or picture just makes sense.

    If you agree that these components would be included in your ideal vocabulary worksheets, you might wish to check out these FREE resources:

    Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

    Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

    Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

    Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

    Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

    Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

    Or if you don’t want to re-invent the wheel… Why not order the full year Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit for your grade level with a special 10% discount when you enter coupon code 3716 at check out? If you want the

    Pennington Publishing's Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

    Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

    comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program with accompanying student workbooks, we invite you to read these product descriptions.

    Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , ,



    How to Teach Test Prep

    This year I’m teaching two classes of seventh grade honors English-language arts. I usually teach the reading intervention classes and the remedial English class to help “catch students up while they keep up” with grade-level instruction. It’s been awhile since I’ve taught such precocious twelve-year-olds as these honors students.

    After our first unit test, the honor students were shocked at the results. Some 20% of the students failed their first grammar, vocabulary, spelling, reading strategies, and elements of plot exam. Of course I produced a nice study guide and plenty of review and I told the students that those who study will get A’s and B’s and those who don’t will get D’s and F’s. I also emailed parents to suggest that they help their gifted sons and daughters study. Yes, after the test I got quite a few parent emails asking if they should transfer their child out of such a “challenging” class.

    You see these honors students have never had to study in their elementary classes. In fact, many of my honors students don’t know how to study. We so often assume that test study is just “doing it.” However, thinking a bit about it… we realize that there are quite a few tips about how to study for tests.

    Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

    Essential Study Skills

    I added on a quick set of “how to study for and take tests” lessons to prepare my students for the second unit test. Yes, they did much better.

    These lessons are part of my Essential Study Skills curriculum. Check out these FREE LESSONS here.

    Get the Test Prep Skills FREE Resource:

    I developed 40 lessons like these for regular classes, study skills electives, advocacy classes, advisory periods, opportunity classes, substitutes, and rainy day activities. You get the idea. Each of the 40 lessons has a focused goal-setting activity, a great one page teacher-directed lesson, and a personal reflection page.

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    Teaching Reading Comprehension

    As more teachers are teaching reading strategies (all helpful) to help students access, understand, and analyze text independently, let’s not overlook the obvious: How to Improve Reading Comprehension.

    As a reading specialist, I am constantly surprised by teachers who tell me that they have never learned how to teach reading comprehension or think that reading strategies alone will do the job. If you’ve never learned how to teach reading comprehension, the following advice and FREE Resources are just what the doctor ordered.

    Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught.

    A reader’s comprehension of any text (narrative or expository) depends upon the quality of the internal dialogue between the reader and author. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. Tons of reading research on this. Check out my Pennington Publishing Blog for dozens of articles on this. However, reader-author dialogue is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires instruction and practice. Doesn’t everything?

    The most effective approach to helping students learn to interact with the text is to teach students how to begin and carry on the conversation with the author. Specific cueing strategies prompt the reader to talk to the text and the author. These cueing strategies assign readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain interactive dialogue with the text.

    I’ve developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with narrative and expository text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Teaching students to question the text they read by prompting themselves with the SCRIP strategies will help them understand and better remember what they read. Click here to get three great resources absolutely FREE: 1. SCRIP classroom posters 2. Five one-page fairy tales to teach each of the SCRIP strategies 3. SCRIP bookmarks.

    Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

    Here’s how to use those resources: Do a Think-Aloud to teach students how you carry on the conversation with an author. Start with the each of the five fairy tales to focus on one SCRIP strategy per lesson.

    1. Tell students that you are going to demonstrate what good readers do as they silently read.

      1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

      Every teacher needs back-up!

    2. Read a few lines out loud and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.
    3. Prompt your dialogue with the focus SCRIP strategy. Use this specific language of instruction.
    4. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once or twice per every paragraph is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading.
    5. Have students read the same fairy tale as a “pair share.” One student reads a paragraph out loud and does a Think-Aloud, referencing their SCRIP bookmark to prompt their dialogue with the author. Then the next reads a paragraph, etc.
    6. De-brief. Ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts (and theirs) rather than just by passively reading without talking to the text.
    7. Select your own reading and do a Think-Aloud, using all five of the SCRIP strategies

    Mark Pennington provides teacher-created and kid-tested assessment-based curriculum to help students “catch up while they keep up” with grade level instruction.

    Reading , , , , , , , , ,



    Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

    The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 6, 7, 8 program will help your students master each of the Common Core grade-level grammar and mechanics Standards. This rigorous, fun, and easy-to-teach interactive notebook is neither a fact-filled collection of boring lecture notes, nor a time-wasting portfolio of art projects.

    Check out the features of Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 6, 7, 8 programs here.

    • Grade-level 6, 7, and 8 lessons aligned to the Common Core (alignment documents included). This grade-level specific program is NOT a one volume grades 4-8 collection too rigorous for fourth graders but too juvenile for eighth graders.
    • Lessons designed in the interactive Cornell Notes format with plenty of online links to help students practice. Students are provided the full note-taking text and write only the examples from the teacher display. LESS time copying and MORE time learning.
    • Each of the 64 lessons focuses on one grammar and one mechanics concept or skill. Lessons take 40 minutes, twice per week.
    • Lessons 1−8 review the eight conventional spelling rules appropriate for the grade level program and the eight parts of speech.
    • In lessons 9−64, students practice both grammar and mechanics with sentence revisions. Check out the example at the end of the download. Students self-correct from answers on the display. Plenty of practice in this program.
    • In lessons 9−64, students complete brief grammar and mechanics sentence dictations to formatively assess whether they have achieved mastery.
    • Students read, laugh, and respond to 64 color grammar cartoons by master cartoonist, David Rickert. That’s teaching grammar in the reading context.
    • Students complete a brief writing application of the grammar skill or rule. No learning grammar in isolation.
    • Students use their grammar and mechanics notes to label, color, cut, and glue 3d graphic organizers from the creative Tangstar templates. These foldables are perfect for review or use as a resource on tests.
    • A color photo of the finished 3d graphic organizers for each lesson includes step-by-step directions to help students follow the model and work independently. No need to create a teacher INB; it’s done for you and for absent student make-up work.
    • Minimal preparation and correction. Just copy off two or three student pages and set out the materials. Students self-correct throughout every INB lesson and with the remedial worksheets to learn from their mistakes and save you time.
    • Biweekly unit tests with answers assess definition, identification, and application of the grammar and mechanics concepts and skills.
    • Over 100 targeted remedial worksheets and online resources to help your students “catch up while they keep up” with grade-level instruction. Students complete the worksheet practice, self-correct and edit from the answer booklets, take a brief formative assessment, and mini-conference with you to assess whether students have mastered the Standard.

    Check out my blog article here on Ten Reasons to Use Interactive Notebooks. And please follow me for product updates.

    Grammar Interactive Notebook

    Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

    Interactive notebooks are not for everyone. For a more systematic and comprehensive language curriculum, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage,

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

    Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

    Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

    Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,