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Archive for June, 2009

Process vs. On Demand Writing

Writing research has shown that one key ingredient to writing success is time. Developing writers need time to learn the writing craft, time to research/brainstorm, time to draft, and time to revise. However, ironically, time may in-it-of-itself be the greatest impediment standing in the way of writing profiency and fluency for many of our students.

Since the return of phonics-based reading instruction in the 1990s, elementary teachers have had to allocate more instructional time to direct instruction. With greater diversity in most states, more pressure to differentiate instruction in reading has compounded the problem of instructional minutes at all grade levels. Science, art, social studies, physical education, music, and writing have become the casualties of this time-theft.

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students both learn to write and succeed on these tests with no additional time allocated for writing instruction. The three approaches are 1. process writing 2. on demand writing and 3. a mix of the two.

Advocates of the process writing approach (Six Traits, National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, etc.) argue that frequent practice in all phases of the writing process i.e., research/brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing best helps writers develop writing fluency and proficiency. Advocates of the on demand approach argue that the above components can be streamlined into an integrated process, which teaches the writer to concurrently multi-task the drafting, revision, and editing steps with the quick bookends of planning and proofreading. Those teachers trying to please both masters have limited their process pieces and upped the amount of on demand writing tasks when the standardized writing test looms on the horizon.

Process writing proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics (punctuation, capitalization, and spelling) incidentally throughout the writing process or via targeted mini-lessons. On demand proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics explicitly through an established instructional scope and sequence. Those who try to combine process and on demand writing wind up relegating most grammatical and mechanics instruction to test preparation out of sheer time constraints.

A brief readers theater (tongue firmly planted in cheek) may help teachers of all writing approaches greater appreciate the challenge of teaching writing today.

Narrator: Here is a familiar scene in the teachers’ workroom. Two teachers kill time while waiting in line for the laminating machine. Their subject of discourse: an ongoing discussion of Process Writing versus On Demand Writing.

Teacher 1: I can’t believe that Mildred accidentally threw out my Writing Process charts when she rotated off-track. I’ve got to get new ones laminated and back on the wall. I’m lost without them!

Teacher 2: Are you still using those dumb charts? I thought that you must have dumped them by now. The Writing Process is “old school.” We dropped that with whole language years ago. Get with the program! It’s On Demand Writing, now. Oh by the way, I put back your Lucy McCormick Calkins book in your box; I have enough paperweights for my desk, thank you.

Teacher 1: You and your on demand writing tasks… You’re not teaching—all you are really doing is testing. Are you still passing out those grammar worksheets for homework? Remember, the research about writing says—

Teacher 2: Don’t give me that research stuff—I know what works for my kids. My language expression scores on the state test were much higher than yours. You’re lucky you’ve got tenure.

Teacher 1: Even when I didn’t, I never kissed the principal’s butt like you do. And I don’t teach to the test, like you do. My kids are learning how to think. They are writing to learn. Who cares if they know their subjects and predicates!

Teacher 2: Kids are going to have to spell, punctuate, capitalize, and use grammar correctly if they want to make it in today’s world. They’ve still got to be able to write in those blue books in college for a timed one-hour exam. They can’t just pick their own writing subject and do multiple drafts for a mid-term. You really need to get a Red Bull® and wake up to the real world.

Teacher 1: In the real world, students need to have the brains to say something. Outside of school, people have time to revise and edit. They have the time to be reflective. That’s what real authors do… They don’t have someone forcing them to write to a contrived prompt and then hovering over them with a stupid yellow timer.

Teacher 2: Now, you’re getting personal. My aunt gave me that yellow timer… Who writes your paycheck? Last I checked it was the school district. All our principal cares about is higher test scores. If you can’t show it, they don’t know it!

Teacher 1: That’s not why I got into teaching. I want to develop the whole child and nurture a love for learning. I just completed a trimester-long unit on the Haiku and its place in Japanese society…You should come in and see our published poems on the wall. We used real 24 carat gold to highlight—

Teacher 2: I bet I could find some punctuation mistakes—you with your peer editing groups. Talk about the “blind leading the blind.” I have students write one paragraph each day in indelible ink—no changes. I time them and have their desk partners count how many words the student has written in the 10 minutes. It sure saves a lot of teacher grading time. All I have to do is record the number of words in my grade book program. I can show you huge gains in words per minute.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Memorize Vocabulary

There is just no doubt about it. Society judges us by the words we use. Vocabulary is the key linguistic measure of intelligence on IQ tests. It is the most statistically significant correlation on the SAT 1 sentence completions and passage-based reading components. It identifies a well-educated man or woman perhaps more that any other characteristic.

Many people want to improve their vocabularies, but memorization and retention are the key roadblocks. Not everyone has a natural ability to memorize. However, memorization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with commitment and practice.

Let’s begin by understanding how we learn vocabulary. We learn most of our first 10,000 survival words through oral language. Beyond this number, most words are learned through reading, by using surrounding context clues to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Readers who read challenging text with academic language and unfamiliar words learn much more vocabulary than readers who stick with the T.V. Guide and People magazines. Good readers have good vocabularies. It’s as simple as that.

We also learn vocabulary through the structural components of our words. Many teachers do a wonderful job of teaching the building bocks of our academic words. Memorizing the common Greek and Latin word parts significantly increases word recognition.

Finally, we do learn vocabulary by making a conscious effort to learn and retain the meanings of new words. Becoming a word sleuth works. However, detectives have to investigate; they can’t just wait for the evidence to show up on their doorsteps. Those who want to learn new vocabulary have to intentionally expose themselves to new words. How? Read more challenging text, improve your ability to use context clues, learn the common Greek and Latinates, and use resources to practice “word play,” such as crosswords.

Practical Tips to Memorize Vocabulary

1. People start forgetting immediately after learning, so make a conscious effort to practice new words when you are exposed to them. Don’t wait. Information that is practiced immediately is retained. After the first few hours, the “forgetting cycle” kicks in.
2. People remember events or information that is rehearsed frequently. Frequent recitation improves retention. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. Then repeat. Short study periods and small amounts of information divided by periods of rest produces better retention than cramming. Periodic practice of new vocabulary will keep the words stored in the long term memory. Use the words in your everyday speech. Talk to yourself and you won’t sound pretentious.
3. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.
Key a simple vocabulary journal or use index cards to keep track of new words. Write down the word, the definition (in your own words), and a context clue sentence that shows the meaning of the word.
4. People remember information that has clear multi-sensory connections. Practice new words out loud and in writing. Make a conscious effort to visualize a connection between new words and their meanings through concrete images. For example, precocious means someone who is ahead of his or her time. Picture a toddler you know, dressing up in a tuxedo, saying “I am precocious.”
5. Use vivid imagery. Make the effort to associate a new word with something else that produces memorable imagery. For example, a stunning rainbow connected with the new word spectrum is much more memorable than a simple definition. Use brief illustrations in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards to reinforce the images.
6. Connect what we naturally remember to newly acquired vocabulary. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing. Connect the discovery of a piece of spinach between your teeth to a new word, such as mortifying.
7. People remember information best that is personalized. Place yourself front and center into your memory association to better retain word meanings.
8. Learn it right the first time. The better a word is originally learned, the better is the retention. Define new words with precision. If possible, write down antonyms and synonyms in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards.
9. Key words prompt recall of larger amounts of information. Learn the base words well and commonly added inflections will be simple to add to your memory bank. For example, the base word parse (to figure out or analyze), if learned well, leads to understanding a whole host of related words, such as parsing or parsimonious.
10. Practice your vocabulary by visualizing the word, looking up and left. Hemispheric brain research has led to some interesting correlations. Good memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes up and left. Poor memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes downward.
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

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:

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Cambridge University Reading Test

Every few years the Cambridge University Reading Test goes viral once again. The “test” purports to disprove the explicit and systematic phonics approach to reading and to plunge us back into the reading wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

Although the reading wars have died down since the death of the “whole language” movement of the 1980s and 1990s, the two opposing camps remain garrisoned behind an unstable DMZ. The “whole language” holdouts still believe that we learn to read naturally from “whole word to part” through exposure to lots of text, memorization of whole words or onsets and rimes (e.g., c-ake and b-ake), and the use of context clues.

but

The “phonicators” believe that we learn to read “part to whole word” by learning and applying the alphabetic code to decipher the English sound-spelling system.

The unknown author of the Cambridge University Reading Test specifically designed the test to support the “whole language” approach to reading and to debunk the phonics-based approach. Let’s take a look at the test and then see how its author manipulated the test format to get the casual reader to accept its premise.

Cambridge University Reading Test

Aoccdrnig to a rseearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

According to a researcher (sic) at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.

At first (or second) read, the above example seems to validate the whole-word method. You can read the words above with just their first and last letters. Phonics are bogus!

But, wait a minute… There never was such a reading test developed at Cambridge University. The Cambridge University “reading test” is a hoax. The trick behind the hoax is that not only are the first and last letters in the same place, but most of the consonants appear in the exact order of the word. Only the vowels are all removed, rearranged, and replaced.

Text-messaging proves the point. Try texting this sentence to a friend:

Tgouhh pprehas ploepe rlleay cluod cphoreenmd, gievn uteimlnid tmie,  ecfecfniiy sfruefs gatelry.

Though perhaps people really could comprehend, given unlimited time, efficiency suffers greatly.

A bit more challenging? Your friend will certainly have more difficulty reading your message because even though the first and last letters are in the same place, the consonants and medial vowels are not. So, the Cambridge University “Reading Test” actually points to the fact that readers really do look at all of the letters and apply the alphabetic code to read efficiently.

In fact, the English sound-spelling system is remarkably consistent and well-worth learning, especially for remedial readers. Yes, there are exceptions, but better to learn the rules and adjust to the exceptions.

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Problems with the KWL Reading Strategy

The KWL Reading Strategy has been with us for years. Developed by Donna Ogle in 1986 at the height of “whole language” movement, KWL is a metacognitive reading strategy that frequently masquerades under the guise of a comprehension strategy. KWL has been often misapplied and has taken the place of other more relevant and effective reading comprehension strategies.

Essentially, here is the KWL strategy: The teacher passes out a three-column KWL worksheet to each student. The teacher activates students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know; then students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class list what they Want to learn; after reading, students list and discuss what they have Learned. In 1992, Professor Ogle revised the strategy as KWHL. The added H refers to How the reader plans to find what he or she Wants to learn.

KWL is a metacognitive strategy because it is a problem-solving process that focuses on thinking about and developing a language for the thinking (reading) process. It is reader-centered, not author-centered. There-in lie the pitfalls of this strategy, when misapplied as a reading comprehension strategy.

Because KWL is reader-centered, it is also limited by the background knowledge of the readers. Although the prior knowledge of the K step is significantly enhanced, when brainstormed collaboratively, oftentimes students will share irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete information which may well confuse their reading. Of course, the teacher has a role, here, to make the student contributions comprehensible by using analogies, filling in gaps, and synthesizing the students’ collective prior knowledge; however, the question has to be raised: Is this process really worth the time? Is the pay-off worth the process? At the minimum, teachers should be judicious about using the KWL activity by selecting reading topics that are very familiar with their students.

Again, because KWL is reader-centered, it is limited by what is shared by students in the W step. 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. Following the dictates of reader interest may lead to lots of spinning in circles and tangential bird-walking. A much more useful and purposeful step would be a P for a prediction about what the author will say, after accessing students’ prior knowledge and a brief “picture walk” or “preview” of the reading.

There is nothing magical about the L step. Listing what the reader has learned makes sense as a comprehension check, although it is doubtful whether providing an end-of-reading list actually improves reading comprehension. It does make sense to validate or correct what has been listed in the K and W steps. Other note-taking strategies do teach reader monitoring of the text, so the real issue is a reductive one: Although the L step does focus on the author and text (a good thing), there are better strategies that can be used instead. For example, the PQ RAR read-study method is one of the better author/text-centered reading comprehension strategies for expository text.

Although the author-reader connection is vital to comprehension, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours as readers. The “whole language” movement skewed this relationship on the side of the reader, at the expense of the author, his or her writing, and the reading process itself (decoding, etc.).This is the key issue with response journals disguising themselves as comprehension strategies, such as KWL. They are weighted too heavily on the reader side of the ledger. Schema theory aside, accessing prior knowledge (K) and setting a purpose for the reading (W) are somewhat helpful, but frankly over-valued. The (L) component is really what readers are after. Response journals are good note-taking vehicles and serve nicely to hold students accountable for what they read, but internal monitoring and self-questioning strategies can teach readers to understand the author’s ideas better.

Additionally, focusing on the experience and needs of the readers (K,W) can lead the readers to think of the text as a purely subjective experience. Instead, readers need to view the text as objectively as possible, setting aside all preconceived ideas and biases. Readers are supposed to infer what the author means. This skill can be taught and practiced to improve comprehension. In sum, good readers focus more on the text and less on themselves; the majority of our instructional strategies should reflect this.

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Precise Vocabulary

Despite all of our educational focus these days on higher order critical thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Bloom, Costa, Depth of Knowledge, Any New Fads, etc.), the bulk of our teaching and learning at all levels of education remains at the lower levels of factual acquisition, comprehension, and application. Most educators would agree that our students do need this pool of knowledge to be able to accurately and efficiently inform our thinking and decision-making. This pool of knowledge consists of words. Knowing the precise meanings of these words is crucial to developing academic vocabulary to think, read, and write well. Words build upon words. These foundations hold up houses and skyscrapers.

Since independent reading remains the chief vehicle that we use to access words, educators would be wise to focus on this point of access. Learning precise vocabulary is, of course, one of the keys to reading. The point of this article is that it is the precision of vocabulary words are the lower level gatekeepers  that allow readers access to the higher level thinking, reading, and writing skills.

However, some may be thinking… How can we be sure of precision when even the dictionaries disagree? Merriam-Webster defines precision as “the degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement stated”. Oxford Dictionary defines precision as “The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate“. 

Others may be thinking… Aren’t all words subject to individual interpretation? To some degree, yes. However, words do have a collective consciousness of meaning. They do connect to objective realities. In other words, words are not totally subjective. Words must be denotatively internalized and connotatively applied with a good deal of accuracy and skill to properly access information the way the author intends. Only when the reader understands the meaning of the author’s words can higher order thinking skills be then applied to the text.

Although that author-reader connection is a two-way street, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours per se. An author chooses words carefully because of their precise meanings and the connotations/feelings that the collective readers commonly will understand.

So, memorizing words with precise denotative and connotative definitions is important. Sloppy use of our language inhibits effective communication and leads to misunderstandings. So, what’s the bottom line here? What’s the application for teacher and learner? It is better to teach and learn fewer words with greater precision, than many words with less precision. Two vocabulary strategies assist in this effort: The Vocabulary Ladder and Semantic Spectrums.

The Vocabulary Ladder

Students draw a graphic representation of a ladder with five rungs. They take notes in between the rungs from each of the guiding prompts (in boldface). Begin with a clear, simple, and concise dictionary definition and work students up the ladder via class and teacher brainstorming and reference to appropriate text.

Example Vocabulary Word: democracy

Full Understanding

-It’s important because… it’s the foundation of our government.

-It’s different than… a republic because… a republic has a Constitution.

-It’s the same as… a republic because… both have citizens who are allowed to vote.

-Specific examples of it would be… direct democracy like a club, representative democracy like our Student Council.

-It’s an example of the following… ways decisions are made in governments and organizations.

-The definition is… rule by the people.

Basic Understanding

Semantic Spectrums

Students draw a number line with one end labeled Extreme and the other end labeled Opposite  Extreme. The object is to list words in their connotative order along the spectrum of meaning. Select two vocabulary words for this activity that students fully understand that are antonyms. For example, hot and cold. Have students brainstorm synonyms to each word at the ends of the spectrum and problem-solve via consensus as to where to list each new word by degree of meaning. Select one or two unknown vocabulary words that will fit along this spectrum and read a clear, simple, and concise dictionary definition of each. Assist the students’ decision-making as to where to place these new words. Have the students write down their definitions below the spectrum.

Example Vocabulary Words: even-tempered and vicious

<————————————————————————————————————————————->

Extreme kind-hearted/nice/warm/even-tempered/cool/mean/cruel/vicious/hateful Extreme
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

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:

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Vocabulary Review Games

Memorizing vocabulary words can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us did not leap out of the womb already knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary words (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those vocabulary words helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary review games for groups and individuals in and out of the classroom. Check out Vocabulary Word Part Games for more.

Group Review Games

The Quick Picks Game

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Have the students spread out their cards on their desks word side up. The host announces the definition of one of the words and the students race to pick up the word that matches that definition. It is certainly fair for group members to help each other out. The first group with all students holding up the correct word part wins a point. Tell students to place each card word side down after it has been announced.. Once all words have been announced, reverse the procedure and announce definitions and students pick up the definition side up cards.

Vocabulary Millionaire

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Students stand next to their desks. The host flips a coin to determine which group goes first. The host announces a vocabulary word and the first student in the row must provide the definition. If the student is unsure of the definition, he or she may use a “lifeline” to ask another group member for assistance, but only once per game. If the student gets the definition correct, he or she remains standing; if incorrect, the student takes a seat and the next word goes to the opposing team. The team with the last student standing wins.

Concentration

Divide your students into groups of four and tell students to select two students whose printed Vocabulary Study Cards look very different from each other, so they can be easily separated. Have one of these students lay out the cards vocabulary word side up and the other student lay out the cards definition side up. Students choose cards to pair the vocabulary word with its definition. If a student selects a correct match, that student chooses again; if not, the next student selects, etc. The winner has the most matches.

Baseball

The teacher needs to assign each vocabulary word according to difficulty, from easy to hard, as a single, double, triple, or home run. Hint: Have many more singles cards than the others. Divide your students into two teams and establish four bases. When in the field, students sit in seats; when “up,” the students stand in line waiting their turn to bat. Teacher selects a single, double, triple, or home run card. Then, the teacher announces the vocabulary word and the batter must give the definition within five seconds or the batter is out. Mix it up by giving definitions and having students come up with the matching vocabulary words. Three outs per each team per inning. Select a student to serve as scorekeeper, and have that student keep the team scores on the board.

Individual Review Games

Knock-Out

Have all students stand and quiz each student with a vocabulary word or definition. If the student gets it right within five seconds, the student remains standing; if not, the student sits. Last one standing wins the game.

Vocabulary Puzzles

Pass out light color construction paper, rulers, and scissors to each student. Tell your students that they will use their Vocabulary Study Cards to make a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces matching words with their definitions. Depending upon the shape of the jigsaw puzzle piece, that piece may have multiple words and/or definitions.

Directions

1. Draw jigsaw puzzle lines on one side of light color construction paper so that you can fit the word parts and their definitions. Avoid small puzzle pieces.

2. Print the word part in dark pen or pencil at the edge of one puzzle piece and its matching definition at the edge of another puzzle piece that touches it, just like the model shows. Finish labeling the puzzle.

3. Cut out the puzzle pieces and place the word parts and their matching definitions face down on your desk. Put together the puzzle.

4. Label other  word parts and their definitions on the blank side of the puzzle. You now have created two separate Vocabulary Puzzles.

5. Have students place their puzzles in zip-lock baggies to store. The baggies can be hole-punched to place in three-ring binders.

To Play

Have students race along with the clock to set their own world puzzle completion records. Students can also exchange puzzles and race each other.
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

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:

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Vocabulary Word Part Games

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

Memorizing vocabulary word parts are essential to academic vocabulary acquisition. However, memorization can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us were not born already  knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary word parts (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those word parts helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary word part review games. Also, check out Vocabulary Review Games for more.

Word Part Brainstorming

After introducing the week’s word parts (such as Greek and Latinates) and their definitions, ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all of these words that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. On the board or overhead projector, write down student examples that clearly use the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in a vocabulary journal. Award points for all student contributions.

Inventive Vocabulary Writing

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions, ask students to invent words that use each word part in a sentence that uses context clues to show the meaning of each nonsense word. Encourage students to use “real” word parts to combine with each targeted word part to form multi-syllabic words. Award extra points for words used from prior week’s words.

For variety, require students to write in different genre. Examples: brief narratives, classified ads, game directions, how-to paragraphs, dialogs, journals, advice columns.

Put-Togethers

This game can be played once the teacher has introduced a sufficient number of word parts and the students have created Vocabulary Study Cards. Students spread out their cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups. The object of the 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.

Word Part Monsters

This three-day activity works well before Halloween or Open House to get student art work up on the board—oh, and it also is a fun word part review activity. Tell your students that they will create their own Word Part Monsters from their Vocabulary Study Cards. Make a transparency copy of the following directions and models.

Directions

Day 1

1. Quick draw, in pencil, two rough-draft monsters, using at least three prefixes, roots, or suffixes from your Vocabulary Study Cards.

2. Write the name of your monsters, using the word parts, at the bottom of each drawing. Feel free to use connecting vowels to tie together the word parts.

Day 2

3. Choose one of your quick-draw monsters and neatly draw and color it on construction paper.

4. Write the monsters’ name on the back, using the word parts. Turn in your monster to the teacher. Don’t turn into a monster for your teacher.

Day 3

5. The teacher has numbered all of the monsters and posted them around the room. Number a sheet of binder paper and write down all of the monster’s names next to the correct number.

Option A (challenging)—Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board.

Option B (very challenging)— Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board and use the definitions to write a sentence, describing what the monster is like.

Option C (very, very challenging)—The teacher does not write down the monster names on the board. You have to figure them out based upon the drawings alone.

6. The winner(s) are the students who identify the most monsters correctly.
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

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:

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Vowel Team Spelling Games

Developing spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. The vowel combinations are especially challenging. Both vowel digraphs (two vowel spellings producing one sound), such as “aw” as in hawk, and vowel diphthongs (two or more vowel spellings producing more than one sound, such as “ow” as in towel, are frequently called vowel teams.

The following three spelling games will help your developing spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings. First, learn which vowel sound-spellings that your students don’t know with an effective diagnostic spelling assessment. The games should not be played until the vowel team spelling pattern has been introduced with plenty of examples. Students should also have some practice in spelling the vowel team spelling pattern in the context of dictations and sentence writing before play because the games are designed as reinforcement and practice. The games will help your remedial readers discriminate among similar vowel sound-spelling patterns. Oh, by the way… the games are fun!

Word Jumbles

-Overview/Object of the Game

Each vowel team sound-spelling pattern has a multi-syllabic word jumble. The jumble is a word that includes the vowel sound-spelling with all the letters re-arranged. The object of the game is to make as many words as possible out of the word jumble and then to try and guess the entire word.

-Materials/Preparation

Write out the unscrambled word on one side of a 3 X 5 card and the jumbled word on the other. All students need to play is a sheet of binder paper and a pencil.

Divide your spellers up into small groups of three or four students, clustered around a desk or table. The students must be seated, in order to write.

Directions

Place the card on the desk or table, jumbled side facing up. Give a three minute time limit for students to write down as many words as they can find within the word jumble. Instruct the players to turn over the card.

Students take turns sharing their list, spelling each out loud. Award ten points for the whole unscrambled word, if spelled correctly. Additionally, add on one point for each correctly spelled word and  two points for a word that no one else in the group finds. Students total their points to see who is the winner.

For example, for the “_ay” vowel team long a spelling, the word payment has the word jumble, APETNYM. The jumble includes these words:

ape              ten            tap       yet       map     man     pay      pat       many   mane    meant  tape

Word Jumble List

Sound-Spelling   Word              Word Jumble

Long a Sound

“a__e”                         carefully          yluflarec

“ai__”                          straining          ginianrts

“__ay”                         betrayal           tylaaebr

“ei”                               freighter          hefrgiret

Long e Sound

“__ee”                         meetings          mtsgniee

“ea”                            teachers           srehcaet

“__y”                           leisurely           ylurelies

“i__e”                          tambourine      neuriboamt

“[c]ei”                          ceiling              ginclie

Long i Sound

“i__e”                          provided          dideprvo

“__igh”                        frightened       tndeehgirf

“__y”                           beautify           fyiauetb

“__ie”                          untied              teunde

Long o Sound

“o__e”                         hopeful            plefuoh

“__oe”                         mistletoe         stelimeot

“oa__”                         groaned           anodegr

“ow”                            ownership        phisernow

Long u Sound

“u”                               musical            csualim

“u__e”                         usefulness       uefessflns

“__ew”                        curfew             furcwe

“_ue”                           fueling             inufegn

oo as in food Sound

“oo”                             toothache        eooatthch

“u”                               cruising            rciuisgn

“u__e”                         attitude            tttiadeu

“__ew”                        unscrewed       dweenuscr

“_ue”                           barbecued        ecduberab

oo as in foot Sound

“oo”                             understood      ouorsdtden

“__u__”                       sugarless          ragulsses

oy Sound

“oi__”                          poisonous        oponsiuos

“__oy”                         enjoyment       nemtnojey

aw Sound

“aw”                            awesome         ewaosme

“au”                             auditorium       tduaoiumir

“al”                              almost              malsto

“all”                             smallest           lamsselt

ow Sound

“__ow”                        downtown       wnownotd

“ou__”                         doubtful          tbduoluf

ur Sound

“er”                              partnership     ntphrapresi

“ir”                              birthday           hdyabitr

“ur”                             urgency           nygceur

ar Sound

“ar”                              calendar          leacnrda

or Sound

“or”                             thunderstorm   rmostdrenuht

The next two spelling games help your students review a targetted vowel sound-spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. Both The Quick Picks Game and Vowel Concentration are small group games that use the Spelling Sort Cards.

The Quick Picks Game

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review a targetted vowel team spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most number of cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

-Materials/Preparation

Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate for each group.

-Directions

Divide your spellers up into two groups, clustered around two desks or tables, and spread out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced (the same set to each group). Have the two groups spread out their cards spelling side up and then race to pick up the cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

For example, pass out the long a and long e cards. Then, announce “Find  ‘a__e’ cards.” After picking up all of the “a__e” cards, tell students to take turns, saying each of their words and their spellings. The speller from each group with the most word cards that match the vowel team spelling that you announced is the winner.

Vowel Team Concentration

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review  targetted vowel team spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most two-word matches  of the same vowel team spelling.

-Materials/Preparation

Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate two sets for each group of students.

-Directions

Pass out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced from one set of the laminated cards face up.  Pass out some, or all, of the second set of vowel team spelling cards face down. Have the students spread them out, being careful not to turn any over.

Students take turns turning over two cards at a time to find a vowel sound-spelling match. For instance, the boat card would match the oak card. If the student finds a match, he or she picks up the cards and gets another turn. The winner is the student who collects the most cards.

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

As a teacher, I am reminded ad nauseam to “teach the Common Core State Standards.” Since I am a reading specialist, hiding inside the Trojan horse of English-language Arts in an underperforming middle school, I quietly administer reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments to my students. It won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe reading and spelling deficits.

Here then is the crux of the issue. The underlying pre-suppositions, results, and practice of standards-based instruction can be diametrically opposed to assessment-based instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of our children. This is especially true in the field of reading instruction.

The underlying pre-suppositions of the standards-based movement accept a priori that education is solely a behavioral science. We critics of this assumption would argue that much of teaching, learning, and parenting is culturally-bound and intuitive. In other words, some of effective teaching is truly an art form. We critics are not above using the scientific method and learning theory to debunk the behavioral purists. For example, the standards-based-movement begs the vital question regarding its linear scope and sequence of grade level standards: Do we really learn that way? Many teachers in my fields of English-language Arts and reading would argue the contrary. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to sophomores in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school-to middle school-to last year’s freshman class taught the same parts of speech. In other words, some learning may be recursive, not linear. Teachers, students, and parents are the critical variables here. The Common Core writers recognize this recursive element and have included the Progressive Skills Review within the Language Strand to address this instructional issue.

As is frequently the case in education, an idea takes on a life of its own in practice. A conversation a few years back with a fellow English teacher was instructive, but chilling. In discussing the results of our informal reading assessments, he looked over the clearly demonstrated reading deficits in his testing data and then said, “I teach the grade level standards. I’m not paid to go back and teach everything that the students don’t know.” He accepted a job as an administrator in our district the next year. Now, I am not over-critical of administrators… They are held accountable to implement standards-based instruction and to increase the all-important state and/or district standards-based test scores. However, administrators have got to do better than the principal who refused to implement reading intervention programs at her under-performing school because “The elementary teachers are supposed to teach reading; that’s their job, not ours. We teach the middle school Common Core State Standards here.” Of course, the principal certainly needs to read the appendices of the Common Core Standards which recognize the need for assessment-based instruction.

It’s easy to whine at the devolution of academic freedom and the sorry state of education that has been relegated to a series of standards-based grade level scope and sequence charts, with benchmarks or task analyses tacked on to provide the pretense of specificity. It’s harder to offer solutions, but here are a few thoughts.

True educators need to teach both Standards and children.

1. Do teach the grade level Common Core State Standards. Really. However, control the time allotted to teaching these standards and insist on your academic freedom here. When challenged as to why you are teaching a lesson or skill that is not explicitly listed as a grade level Standard, cite previous or advanced grade level standards that address your remedial or advanced grade level instruction.

2. Patiently argue that some students need to “catch up, to keep up.” Justify concurrent remediation or acceleration and grade level instruction by citing diagnostic data. Let data plead your case. For example, if instructed not to teach to diagnosed deficits, ask the principal/district supervisor to write a letter to the parents of students to alleviate you of this responsibility, against your informed judgment. They won’t, but they won’t bother you for awhile.

3. Explain that that any criticism is not about really about what you teach, but rather about how you teach. You are scaffolding instruction, according to the demonstrated diagnostic needs of your students in order to teach the grade level standards. That’s why assessment-based instruction is so critical. You are making the standards comprehensible and in order to do so, you must differentiate instruction. How you teach is a matter of academic freedom.

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Effective Secondary School Reading Staff Development

“Oh no… another obligatory reading staff development. If the presenter says ‘every teacher a teacher of reading’ just one time, I will walk out.”

“What does this have to do with me? I teach math. Another district-mandated reading-across-the-curriculum in-service. Ho-hum. Glad I brought papers to grade.”

As an administrator, literacy coach, English-language Arts teacher, or staff developer, you know the challenge. How can you train and convince such a diverse group of colleagues, representing the full slate of academic disciplines, that staff development in reading is valuable at the middle or high school level?

As educators have addressed the issues and suggested instructional strategies to respond to the growing “achievement gap,” many have come to the point of validating reading guru Anita Archer’s comment that “the ‘achievement gap’ is chiefly a ‘literacy gap.’” Today, there is wide consensus that secondary schools need to improve delivery of reading instruction, even at the expense of content-laden curricula.

“Oh great. Another thing to cram into my course. I don’t have the time to teach everything I am supposed to teach-not to mention what I want to teach.”

As a reading specialist/staff developer, once assigned to a high school, I know how secondary teachers, and even elementary teachers (been there-done that, too) can be a tough audience during a reading-based staff development. However, I’ve found that even the most obstinate, stuck-in-the-mud teachers do care about their students. Most will care enough to be willing to try something new, if they see the direct pay-off for their students.

In my experience, to get staff buy-in, you’ve got to accomplish three fundamental goals:

1. Ensure that all teachers feel that the strategies directly apply, in some degree, to their own academic disciplines. And let’s be honest, the matter is less relevant to some.

2. Give teachers something they can use the next day, and

3. Get the staff actively involved in the presentation.

Here are three sure-fire reading staff developments that I have presented at secondary schools and a nice resource for each:

1. Train and convince every teacher to assign reading in their academic discipline for homework on a regular basis. Here’s how.

2. Train and convince every teacher to use the same language of instruction i.e., the same terminology, for teaching and practicing reading strategies. SCRIP  is a set of self-questioning prompts that students can use to promote the author-reader dialog. Beyond the memorable mnemonic, the advantage to these strategies is that they work equally well with expository and narrative text (all academic disciplines).

By the way, if these reading strategies make sense to you, email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com and I will send you some colorful SCRIP bookmarks that I have students use during silent reading. Offer a sign-up sheet for teachers who want class sets of these bookmarks (laminated or cardstock).

3. Train and convince every teacher to teach and have students use the same read-study method for expository reading. The PQ RAR method is a nice update on the “tried and true” SQ3R read-study method.

Using the same language of instruction is simply “user-friendly” for our students. Having similar instructional strategies lets students know that we do actually talk to teachers in other departments. More importantly, a staff that commits to using these strategies will significantly impact the reading performance of its students and help to bridge the “literacy gap.”

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

Help! My Child Won’t Read or Write

Many parents and teacher struggle with the same problem: motivating children to read and write. Both recognize the critical importance of these life-skills. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Reading is the key to developing the ability to think critically. Reading is fun! Typical of this struggle is an email I just received this morning (name changed to protect the mom from any judgmental readers).

Hi Mark,

I have a son with mild dyslexia and mild to moderate ADD. I have tried to home school him this year but gained limited success in getting him to want to read. He says he likes to read, but rarely does without being asked. He prefers sports and playing!

He also is very hard to get him to write. He says he doesn’t know why he just sits there for minutes at  a time. He can take 60 min to produce 6 lines or if given a threat of “no recess, hockey unless…” he can do a full page in 25 minutes.

I am so exasperated, that I feel I must send him back to school to see can someone else help him where I can not!

Do you have a suggestion as to which would benefit us most?

Thanks,

Concerned in Connecticut

So here is my response. I hope that  my own personal experience and training as a reading specialist will be of help to both parents and teachers.

—– Original Message —–

From: Concerned in Connecticut

To: mark@penningtonpublishing.com

Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:02 AM

Subject: advice please

Dear Concerned in Connecticut,

Sounds like a normal boy to me. I’ve raised three boys, and all three had the same lack of motivation and initiative. Although we all want to idealistically hope that our children will read and write for the love of learning and self-expression, I’ve found this rarely to be the case. Learning is an acquired taste, I’m afraid. But, while that taste is being acquired, I think that some force-feeding is certainly appropriate.

Good teaching is inherently coercive. You prove this with your carrot and stick method: “…if given a threat of ‘no recess, hockey unless…’ he can do a full page in 25 minutes.”  There is nothing wrong with being a behavioralist. I’m not saying that our children are Pavlov’s dogs or that we have to B.F. Skinner our kids to death. However, I do suggest that we use the extrinsic rewards and/or threats until the intrinsic love of learning kicks in. Spoon feed until the child can and will feed himself. Why? Reading is just too important of a life-skill to leave to the whim of an elementary, middle, or high school student. Most all would rather play video games or text, if given the freedom to choose.

But, you may be thinking… “What if I turn my child off from independent reading? He may never pick up a book to read, if he isn’t forced to read it.”

My own personal experience may be of some help. As a teacher, I gave my three sons a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer the boys chose the option I called Essential Study Skills. Each of my three boys responded the same to my Summer Daily Brainwork: they hated it and were relieved when they “graduated” from this chore at age 16. The primary tasks of this daily summer chore was twofold: 1. independent reading with subsequent discussion of that reading with Dad and 2. writing an expository paragraph with subsequent response to that writing by Dad and revision thereafter. None of the three boys ever read or wrote anything unless required to do so by the teacher or Dad. Oh, Mom did require faithful thank-you notes for every courtesy or gift.

In a recent conversation with my oldest son, now a legislative assistant for a Congressman back in Washington D.C., my son admitted that he actually never read the teacher-assigned independent readings because there was no accountability. This same son is now a voraciously reader and has sent me so many “You’ve-got-to-read-this” books that I’ve turned to Internet book reviews in lieu of actually reading all of them. Reading specialists, like Yours Truly, know how to skim and fake it better than most.

My second son, only reads technical computer manuals. However, the point is that he has the skills to read these and other books of any genre, if he needs/chooses to do so. As to my third son, a graduating senior, the jury is still out on the reading; however, he recently commented that he learned how to write effectively due to our summer paragraphs.

I would certainly recommend some basic study skills: including motivational techniques, procrastination prevention, and goal-setting. We do want to equip our children with the skills they need to succeed on their own someday. However, make ‘em read and write until that someday comes.

Cheers!

Mark Pennington                                                                                                                      

MA Reading Specialist

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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

How and Why to Teach Fluency

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what we are trying to teach when we talk about fluency.

What Fluency Is Not

Fluency is not the ability to read fast. A fluency score does not determine grade level reading. A high fluency score is not a guarantee of good reading comprehension. Fluency practice does not consist of a read-around or popcorn reading.

What Fluency Is

Fluency is a measure of the reader’s competence at decoding and recognizing sight words with automaticity at a specified reading level. Fluency is also a measure of how well the reader attends to punctuation and the inflection of words in the manner that the author intended. Students need both oral and silent fluency instruction until mastery has been achieved.

Why Should We Teach It and How Much Time Should We Spend On It?

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.

The amount of time spent on direct fluency instruction and practice should correspond to the diagnostic fluency levels of the readers. In short, students with higher fluency levels should have less fluency practice than those with lower fluency levels. I suggest three days a week of 15-20 minutes fluency practice for elementary school readers and the same amount for middle school and high school remedial readers.

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

Instructional Fluency Strategies

1. Modeled Repeated Readings- Repeated readings of high-interest passages at diagnosed student reading levels, along with modeled readings. Ideally, the modeled reading would be reading at a rate 20-30% faster than individual student’s fluency rate with 95% accuracy. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies does just that with three different reading speeds for each expository article.

Program Materials

Read Naturally® is the largest publisher of fluency passages and accompanying modeled readings. The program’s Brief Oral Reading Screening does a good job of quickly assessing student reading levels and the teacher can certainly adjust levels of difficulty with the graded reading passages. The passages do come with a few comprehension questions; however, comprehension is not the focus of these reading intervention materials. The passages are high interest and only one page in length. The program comes with fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. Gimmicky, but motivating, although the students always inflate their timings unless directly supervised.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides another affordable option for fluency practice. A diagnostic fluency assessment gives the teacher a baseline for each student. Each high-interest passage is an expository article on an animal-its habitat, description, role in the food cycle, family characteristics, and endangered species status. Uniquely, each article begins with two paragraphs at the third grade reading level, followed by two paragraphs at the fifth grade reading level, and concluding with two paragraphs at the seventh grade reading level. This organization helps readers “push through” to higher reading levels through repeated practice. Another unique feature of this program is the accompanying YouTube fluency passages. Each passage is read at 90, 120, and 150 words per minute. These levels provide optimal reading practice for the challenge rate of 20-30% higher than the baseline rates. Lastly, a comprehensive reading comprehension program for expository reading is tied into and uses the same fluency passages. Using the SCRIP comprehension strategies, students learn to internally monitor and improve reading comprehension. Three vocabulary words per passage are also featured with context clue strategy sentence practice. Three levels of fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. The price of the Teaching Reading Strategies Program is certainly more affordable to that of the Read Naturally® program.

2. Choral Reading with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students feel comfortable reading along with their peers. Led by the teacher, choral reading can be an effective means of fluency practice if student fluency rates are roughly the same. Plays, poetry, literature, and readers theater are all good sources for choral reading.

3. Fluency Groups with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students are divided into, say, four groups based upon similar fluency baselines. Along to modeled readings, each group practices within its own zone of promixal development. Timings are taken whole class and students chart their progress. See the complete article on differentiated fluency instruction for complete details and the behavioral management plan.

4. White Noise Read Alouds- John Sheffelbine, professor at California State University at Sacramento, advocates having the whole class read individually and out loud with six inch voices, each at his/her own pace. This produces a “white noise,” which permits individual concentration. Repeated readings could certainly be added to this fluency practice.

5. Silent Reading Fluency- A number of techniques to support better silent reading fluency are found at these articles: Eye Movement Read-Study Method Poor Silent Reading Habits Silent Reading Speed

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 (Check these fluency passages out!), 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

Free Informal Reading Assessments

I spent years as an elementary reading specialist, administering individual reading inventories to prepare for IEPs, SSTs, 504s, persnickety parents, and, occasionally, even the curious or caring teacher. Yes, I was an informal reading assessment junkie. I piloted all of the new ones coming down the pike and had loads of fun experimenting on unsuspecting elementary students. After years of sitting across from individual students at my kidney-shaped table, I began asking what is the real value of these assessments, and more generally, what is the value of individual reading diagnosis?

As I see things, the most useful informal reading assessments should meet three criteria:

1. They must be comprehensive. No more random sample spelling inventories and no more random sample phonics assessments.

2. They must be diagnostic. I don’t need to know a qualitative stage of development or a grade-level equivalency. I’ve got to know what exactly the child does and does not know so that I can plan instruction accordingly.

3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record.

While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach to reading assessment. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Individual assessments are sometimes necessary as double-checks or refinements, and an individual fluency assessment is a must for elementary, middle, and some high school students. However, my experience is that effective whole class tests can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

Reading specialists do not have to be the keepers of the keys. Devolving the responsibilities of reading assessment to teachers was the most effective professional decision that I have ever made. Whole class (multiple choice) reading assessments that are administered, graded, and analyzed by the teacher empower that teacher as the professional and encourage that teacher to differentiate instruction according to the diagnostic needs of that teacher’s students.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, and even a grammar assessment from my website. All are multiple choice and all have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Grab a box of Scantrons® and make 2009-2010 the year you teach reading, as well as English, to your students.

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 (Check these fluency passages out!), 390 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense. Incoherent writing is inconsiderate to the reader. If the writing lacks coherency, the reader’s comprehension and enjoyment of that writing will decrease. A reader may have to re-read, be forced to use too many context clues to understand what is being said, or make an undue amount of inferences.

To improve coherency, writers need to ensure that their writing has these characteristics:

1. Predictable Paragraph Organization To maintain optimal coherency, organize paragraphs in the way that readers are accustomed. For example, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, place the topic sentence in the first position of the paragraph. The topic sentence appears in the first position of the paragraph 80% of the time in expository writing. Because of this high percentage, readers expect the main idea of the paragraph to be in this position. Similarly, the thesis statement appears 50% of the time as the last sentence in an essay introduction, so follow this practice as well.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Additionally, the Ancient Greeks developed the rhetorical rules for our writing, and these rules dictate that the most important idea in any communication needs to be stated first. Organize paragraphs with customary and traditional structures to be considerate to your reader.

2. Comprehensible Sentence Structure- Again, toe the line with those Ancient Greeks. English follows suit by placing the most important words at the beginning of the sentence. In the sentence: “You need to mail that letter today,” the emphasis is on the action. In the sentence: “Today, you need to mail that letter,” the emphasis is on the time. English grammar is very flexible in its forms and so can emphasize words with many different grammatical constructions. See How to Improve Sentence Variety with Grammatical Sentence Openers for examples.

Vary the length of sentences. Charles Dickens can be difficult to read because of his notoriously long-winded sentences. A good rule of thumb is to never place two long sentences next to each other. Of course, short staccato sentences can get irritating, as well. Strive for balance in sentence length to increase reader understanding and concentration.

3. Repetition- Repeat key words, phrases, or clauses to build coherency. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the “I have a dream” clause nine different times in his short speech. Also, write with parallel grammatical structures such as in Abraham Lincoln’s “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Notice the repeated “_ed” past participles, each followed by prepositional phrases.

4. Effective Sentence Transitions- Use, but don’t over use, transition words and phrases at the beginnings of sentences to connect to previous thoughts. Remember that most transitions at the beginning of sentences are followed by a comma, except in  short sentences. A helpful list follows.

What You Need to Signal                 Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

5. Clear Pronouns- A pronoun takes the place of a proper (named) or common (unnamed) noun. Using clear pronoun references will improve reader understanding of your writing. Always place pronoun references close to the nouns which they represent. If in doubt, simply repeat the noun. For example, in the sentence: “The dog traveled over the hill, chased a bunny, drank from a stream, terrorized a stray cat, and than it returned home,” the it pronoun does not clearly describe the antecedent dog. The sentence would be more coherent as “The dog enjoyed many adventures before it returned home: traveling over a hill, chasing a bunny, drinking from a stream, and terrorizing a cat.”

6. Clear Modifiers- A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that acts as an adjective or adverb to define or limit the meaning of another word or phrase. For example, in the sentence: “Thrown in the air, the dog fetched the Frisbee®,” the phrase “Thrown in the air” is a classic dangling modifier. The reader may be confused into thinking that the dog, not the disc, was the one thrown into the air. To prevent dangling modifiers, always place modifiers close to the nouns or verbs that they intend to modify. The above sentence would better be written as “Thrown in the air, the Frisbee® was fetched by the dog” (albeit in passive voice).

7. Precise Word Choice Use specific, rather than vague, meaningless words. For example, instead of “Many things caused the recession,” replace with “Decreasing consumer confidence and high gas prices caused the recession.” Use words that fit your audience. Avoid technical or academic language when simple words will suffice, unless your readers are well-acquainted with the terminology. Be courteous to your reader and define unfamiliar words to improve coherence.

8. Appropriate Conjunctions- The common coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (F.A.N.B.O.Y.S.) each have precise meanings and need to be used correctly to maintain coherency. For example, the sentence: “He needed money for paying expenses,” does not correctly use the conjunction for. The sentence suggests that money is the medium of exchange for paying expenses, rather than a necessary prerequisite for paying expenses. Using the conjunction so would create better sentence coherency as in “He needed money so he could pay expenses.”

9. Limited Passive Voice- In passive voice, the subject receives the action with the use of a passive verb. A passive verb combines a “to-be” verb with a past participle (_d, _ed, or _en ending). For example, is practiced, was doubted, had been eaten. Instead, use the active voice in which the subject does the action. For example, “John ran to the post office.” Passive voice can be used intentionally to emphasize objectivity, such as in “It has been shown in educational research that more women than men….” Otherwise, avoid the passive voice.

10. Brevity- Using concise language builds reader understanding. Readers lose focus, if the writing is verbose. Rather than “It would certainly be very nice if you would please consider it in your heart to take out the trash,” replace with the simple and to the point “Please take out the trash.”

Following are examples of an incoherent paragraph and a coherent revision of that same paragraph. Try revising the incoherent model, using the Ten Tips to Improve Writing Coherency before looking at the revision to see if you can apply these tips.

Incoherent Writing Model

Snow creates problems. Streets need shoveling. Snowplows cannot always access streets. Driveways are hard to clear. Many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner. Building up dangerously high on a roof, it can break roof framing. Snow may seem harmless. It can damage houses. Snow is always potentially hazardous. It can endanger people.

Coherent Revision

Snow creates two problems for homeowners. First, it requires shoveling to keep driveways and streets clear, but snowplows cannot always access them. Furthermore, many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner; thus some homeowners cannot afford the expense of hiring a snowplow. Second, snow may seem harmless, yet it is not. Snow can build up dangerously high on a roof and break roof framing. Always potentially hazardous, snow can damage houses and endanger those who live in them.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity and parallelism.

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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing

Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves reducing the number of “to be verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

At this point, even before I begin to plead my case, I hear the grumbling of the contrarians. One of them mutters a snide, rhetorical question: Didn’t Shakespeare say “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”? He used three “to be” verbs right there! If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. True, but Will used only six more “to be” verbs in Hamlet’s next 34 lines. My goals are to convince teachers to help their students reduce, not eliminate the “to be” verbs, and so write with greater precision and purpose. There. I just used a “to be” verb. Feeling better?

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

What’s So Wrong with “To Be” Verbs?

  1. The “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been are state of being verbs, which means that they unduly claim a degree of permanence. For example, “I am hungry.” For most Americans, hunger is only a temporary condition.
  2. The “to be” verbs claim absolute truth and exclude other views. “Classical music is very sophisticated.” Few would agree that all classical compositions are always sophisticated.
  3. The “to be” verbs are general and lack specificity. A mother may tell her child, “Be good at school today.” The more specific “Don’t talk when the teacher talks today” would probably work better.
  4. The “to be” verbs are vague. For example, “That school is great.” Clarify the sentence as “That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents.”
  5. The “to be” verbs often confuse the reader about the subject of the sentence. For example, “It was nice of you to visit.” Who or what is the “It?”

Adapted from Ken Ward’s E-Prime article at http://www.trans4mind.com/personal_development/GeneralSemantics/KensEPrime.htm

When Can We Use “To Be” Verbs?

It’s not that “to be” verbs are always bad; sometimes writers must use “to be” verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. In fact, these verb forms can be difficult to replace. When the verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being, it performs one of these five functions:

  1. Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  2. Happens−The meetings are over.
  3. Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  4. Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  5. Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

Generally, writers should avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing. However, when writers can replace a “to be” verb with a vivid, “show me” verb in any writing genre, it certainly makes sense to do so. With a good “show me” verb, the reader (or listener) can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. The verb engages the interest of the reader and specifically communicates the nature of the action. But, not all non-“to be” verbs are vivid, “show me” verbs. For example, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do not use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy sits down on the bench and thinks what to do next. In contrast, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy slouches down on the bench and studies what to do next.

So, how can we get our students to reduce or eliminate “to be” verbs in their essays to create precision of meaning, specificity, clarity, and just good old sentence variety? How do we get our students to use these vivid “show me” verbs instead? Try these five strategies:

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. IdentifyStudents need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time” 
  2. SubstituteSometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. ConvertStudents can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.” 
  4. Change−To eliminate a”to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. CombineLook at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the “To Be” Verb

  1. Post a list of the “to be” verbs and the problem-solving strategies listed above for student reference. Why not create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board? (What a great idea for Halloween!) and/or print and reference the free “To be or not to be…” poster.
  2. Share the five strategies one at a time, so as not to overwhelm students. Teach, practice, and master only one strategy  before moving on to another strategy.
  3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the “to be” verb revision process.
  4. Then, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with one student writing sample. Correct whole class and commend the variety of effective revisions. Compare sentence revisions and discuss which strategies worked and did not work to eliminate the “to be” verbs.
  5. Next, collect student writing samples from the whole class and have students individually revise their peers’ “to be” verbs. Peer editing focused on one target issue makes sense.
  6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples, using the five strategies.

After teaching and practicing all five strategies, set the “rule” that from now on only one “to-be” verb is allowed in any paragraph (excluding direct quotes). Use peer editing to help identify the “to-be” verbs and peer tutors to help struggling students.

Teaching the strategies and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “writing crutches” in their own writing. The end result? More precise and purposeful student writing with vivid, “show me” verbs.

Check out the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video for a concise overview of the program.

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How to Grade Literary Discussions

The longer I teach, the more I become a capitalist in my ELA classroom. Although I would love to have students participate in rich literary discussions out of their love for reading and passion for truth, it’s a rare student who speaks up out of such pure motives. Over the years, I admit it. I have succumbed to incentives and with good results. Life is compromise.

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

Here is how I organize a graded literary discussion. I select a student to record the points that classmates will earn. The recorder writes tally marks for positive discussion contributions on my class seating chart. The recorder gets two points for this task, but he or she gives up the opportunity to participate in the discussion. I have no problems finding student recorders for this task.  Having a student recorder frees me up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, I signal the recorder with my index finger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student. If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, I may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”

A good feature of this graded discussion technique is that it tracks student responses. During class discussion, I can survey the tally marks to determine who is failing to contribute or who is contributing excessively. I let students know that I will call on them, whether they raise their hands or not. I can also ensure that I am “calling on” male and female, ethnic sub-groups, etc. fairly. For the next graded class discussion, I have the recorder use a different color pen to differentiate the separate discussion grades.

Students perceive graded discussions as being fair and objective. Try announcing that the class will have a graded literary discussions the next day and students might just “cheat” by reading the assigned text and anticipating/preparing for your questions at home. What a shame! Of course, you could provide your discussion questions in advance and level them according to Costa’s Levels of Questioning, Depth of Knowledge, or Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the students might wind up teaching themselves. What a shame!

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 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, 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. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

 

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How to Get Students to Read at Home

Teachers and parents recognize the important role of independent reading in developing reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a lifelong love of books. Research is clear that independent reading does help students achieve these desired reading benchmarks. According to the chapter: “Reading and Writing Habits of Students” in The Condition of Education 1997 (National Center for Education Statistics), “Research has shown that reading ability is positively correlated with the extent to which students read recreationally.”

In fact, students need to “grow” their vocabularies by 2,000-3,000 words each year, just to make grade-level reading progress. And the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition is via independent reading. By applying context clues, readers who read text at the appropriate reading levels can maximize the amount of new words added to their personal lexicons.

What are the appropriate reading levels for independent reading?

Primary teachers have used the “five-finger method” for years.  Readers select appropriate reading levels by using the fingers of one hand to count down the number of unknown words on a single page. Any more than five unknown words means that the text is at their frustrational level and another book should be selected. To update and refine this technique for older students, reading text that has about 5% of the words that are unknown to the reader is the appropriate independent reading level. Reading this level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words?

-Choose a book and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3.

-Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count.

-Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

When and where should independent reading take place?

Many educators advocate in-school independent reading time. This school-wide or classroom activity may be called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Recreational Reading (RR), Daily Independent Reading Time (DIRT), or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). Usually, advocates of in-school reading time insist on free-choice reading.

However, too much in-school independent reading time can take away from important instructional time. Also, the ten to twenty minutes per day, usually allocated to independent reading in a crowded classroom is hardly enough time, nor is it the best of environments to achieve the gains desired from independent reading. Additionally, students do not always make wise choices about their free-choice reading materials. Many bright middle-schoolers would prefer reading comic books over challenging novels. So I advocate leaving most of independent reading to homework, with teacher and parent approved novels serving as the sources of that reading. Students can still choose any reading text within the clearly defined parameters described above.

But, what about accountability? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading at home?

The catch to my independent reading homework is that students are graded on their discussion of the daily reading by their reading partners-typically, but not exclusively, parents. This builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation between reader and author, and increases motivation. I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions. Check out these discussion starters . Teachers love these SCRIP reading strategies, reinforce them in their classes, and students really do use them. I have the discussion partner, usually a parent, guardian, or grandparent, grade the quality of the daily discussion and sign off on a Reading-Discussion Log each week. I count this homework as about 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Of course. However, not as much as you’d think. Students and parents much prefer this type of homework to grinding out an essay or filling out a few grammar worksheets-tasks that most parents are ill-equipped (and loathe) to supervise.

But, what if the students don’t understand all of the literary nuances of the text? You’re not advocating independent reading of class novels, are you?

As Kelly Gallagher states in his new book, Readicide (How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It), “teachers are drowning books by over-teaching them.” This resonates with my view, as a reading specialist, that students should be accessing independent-level-text independently. I typically offer free-choice reading; however, if we are reading a novel that is comprehensible to the vast majority of my students, I will assign “on your own” chapters. I assign and provide the book on tape/CD for students who have independent reading levels below that of the novels. Of course, we follow up in class. I do teach the “literary nuances” and standards. We also re-read portions of the novel that I deem to be “teaching necessities.” And no, I don’t have students read Shakespeare independently. Check out these other articles on independent reading.

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to Teach Students to Write in Complete Sentences

Developing writers often have problems writing in complete sentences. Fragmented speech, such as “Catch you later,” and text messaging, such as POS RU GO-N? help to perpetuate this problem. Additionally, students lack understanding of sentence structure, such as the roles of subjects and predicates, phrases, and clauses. I have three suggestions for teaching complete and coherent sentence writing. They work remarkably well, use only a bit of “explicit” grammatical instruction, and teach grammar in the context of oral language and writing.

The first suggestion is a problem-solving approach that does require a bit of prior grammatical knowledge. Tell students to check on “completeness” by using these three proofreading steps: 1. Identify the subject (the “doer”) and the predicate (the action or state of being). To teach subjects and predicates, check out this helpful Subjects and Predicates article:

2. Re-think whether the sentence states a complete thought. To teach recognition of sentence fragments, check out this article on Sentence Fragments. To teach recognition of run-on sentences, check out Run-on Sentences. 3. Read the sentence out loud to ensure that the voice drops down at the end of a declarative, imperative, or exclamatory (up for interrogative). This last one connects with students’ oral language abilities and is especially powerful for your grammatically-challenged kids. Of course, students can force their voices down or up and inaccurately apply this strategy, so encourage natural reading-the out loud part is crucial.

The second suggestion is a sentence revision approach that will necessitate a bit of pre-teaching. Revising with different grammatical sentence openers builds sentence variety and coherence. Students will need a reference sheet, until the models become internalized. Here’s a good one: Grammatical Sentence Openers

For example, when students write “Going to school.” as a complete sentence, students could revise with a prepositional phrase grammatical sentence opener as “To school she is going.”

The third suggestion is “tried and true” sentence combining. Of course, this necessitates teaching phrases and clauses, but my seventh graders catch on quickly with lots of modeled practice. I use lots of sentence revision activities as warm-ups to teach sentence combining. Teaching Essay Strategies includes 64 Sentence Revision activities to improve the quality, variety, and writing style of student sentences.

For example, when students write “After he went to work, before running errands, and picking up fast-food for dinner.” as a complete sentence, students could revise with “After he went to work, he ran errands and picked up fast-food for dinner.”

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, eight complete writing process essays (four argumentative and four informational/explanatory), writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Plus, get the comprehensive e-comments download in this fine program.TES

 

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Reading Intervention Placement

Placing students in remedial reading intervention classes is certainly a challenge. By understanding what does and does not make sense in the selection process, educators will be able to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of these types of programs and have a greater chance at success.

What Does Not Make Sense in Terms of Reading Intervention Placement

1. Placing students in remedial reading classes from the results of standards-based assessments and herding them into a reading intervention class is crazy. Students score poorly on standards-based tests for all kinds of reasons. The student data from the PAARC and SBAC Standards-based assessments measure student achievement relative to grade-level standards; they are not designed to measure reading-vocabulary abilities, as are normed tests. Additionally, placement based upon the previous annual exam ignores the reading history of the students. Finally, in my experience, this placement mixes students who really only require strategic reading intervention with students who need intensive reading intervention. Usually, more students wind up in intensive reading intervention classes than what is warranted.

2. Placing students into a remedial reading intervention class without regard to behavioral criteria is crazy. Severe ADHD students, students with anger issues, and students who bug the heck out of other students or teachers all need special intervention and may, indeed, need remedial reading instruction. In fact, many of the students who have behavioral problems have learned these behaviors to cope with reading problems. However, just a few of these students can ruin an entire class. We have to take our heads out of the sand on the behavioral issue. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) need to be in place alongside of Response to Intervention (RtI) to form a cohesive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports for these students.

3. Placing students into a class of 35 students for remedial reading intervention is crazy. Any remedial reading class has students in that class for many different reasons, even if the placement criteria make sense. Some students have vocabulary deficits; others have decoding issues; others have fluency problems, etc. It’s a given that a remedial reading teacher must differentiate instruction. In order to differentiate instruction, the teacher-student ratio has to be manageable and the class size has to be limited.

4. Placing students in intensive remedial reading classes for 30 minutes a day, for one semester i.e., 18 weeks, is crazy. A survival skills, band-aid approach to remedial reading may even be counterproductive. True remedial reading intervention takes time.

5. Placing students in a remedial reading intervention class taught by a new teacher or an English-language Arts teacher, without extensive support and training, is crazy. Most credential programs only require one or two reading classes. Most new teachers are ill-prepared to teach intensive remedial reading classes. Using reading intervention classes as the dumping ground for new teachers will guarantee failure.                                                                                                                                                                                                        
What Does Make Sense in Terms of Reading Intervention Placement

1. Standards-based assessments, such as the PAARC or SBAC, can be a rough, initial screening to alert educators about potential reading problems for individual students. However, a second round of diagnosis is definitely called for before placing student into an intensive reading intervention program. Selecting diagnostic assessments that are outside of the primary remedial reading program is of critical importance. There is the inherent problem of a publisher’s conflict of interest i.e., let’s keep as many students in this program as possible in order to sell more books. These multiple choice reading assessments will efficiently and appropriately narrow down the list of students who really need a remedial reading class after an initial screening has been made.

2. Establish clear selection guidelines that deal with the behavioral issues. Behavioral problem students need help, too, but not in a class size of 35 students, and not at the expense of other students and their teachers. Smaller class sizes with specially trained teachers that deal head-on with the behavioral issues, as well as the reading issues, are essential to the success of behaviorally-challenged remedial reading students.

3. Reasonable class sizes are keys to remedial reading intervention success. Explore structural considerations, such as early-late, team-teaching, and after-school options to achieve sensible teacher-student ratios. Explore using teachers, who volunteer part of their teacher prep with additional stipend or in lieu of teacher duties (trade-offs) to help out. Explore incorporating instructional aides, parents, and student tutors to help manage larger class sizes and to assist with differentiated instruction.

4. Providing enough time for students to gain the reading skills needed to be successful in school is essential. I suggest a minimum of one hour daily for a half-year or full-year program to make a difference in student achievement.

5. Remedial reading intervention cannot be the dumping ground for teachers who lack seniority. Nor can a reading intervention class be a training ground for teachers. Remedial reading students deserve the best. Teachers without reading expertise need to gain that expertise prior to teaching this unique student population. University coursework and professional development are keys to creating the expertise needed to teach remedial reading intervention classes.

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to be an Effective Reading Specialist

As an elementary reading specialist and staff developer for five years in the Elk Grove Unified School District in Northern California, I learned from lots of my mistakes.  In the hope that prospective reading specialists, coaches, and staff developers might learn from someone else’s mistakes, I’ve jotted down a few tips. Administrators might learn a few things about professional development and site support, as well.

1. Get to know the teachers that you are working with outside of their classrooms. The staff room should be your starting point for building relationships. Your first contact should never be a classroom observation with your clipboard in hand and the principal in tow. Also, hang out with teachers while they are doing duties. Offer to take a duty assignment at random.

2. Build trust. Although your boss may be the principal or district supervisor, remind teachers that you really work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal). Never say a negative word about a teacher. For example, “Mr. Brown has no classroom management skills and does not teach to the standards” can be better said as “Mr. Brown really cares about improving his teaching craft, as we all do, and is working on classroom management and teaching to the standards.”

3. Be a classroom helper. Offer to help do short workshops with below level readers IN THE ROOM, so that the teacher can keep an eye on you. All teachers want help with their kids. Do individual reading screenings. Offer to help the teacher complete individual diagnostic and formative assessments. You need to earn the right to be heard.

4. Remind teachers that you are there to help and not to evaluate. Remind teachers that you work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal).

5. Offer to take the teacher’s class, so that the teacher can do a peer observation. Teachers rarely have a chance to see each other in action.

6. Offer to do a demonstration lesson and ask for the teacher’s critique of your own teaching and what you share. Ask for criticism and let the teacher see your vulnerabilities and weaknesses as a fellow teacher. All teachers have insecurities.  By showing that you are not perfect, you will open up the channels of communication and trust. Teachers will ask for your feedback and input on their own teaching, if they see you as an equal with the time and resources to help them.

7. Keep staff presentations short and sweet. Don’t be a know-it-all. When at all possible, enable another teacher to become the staff presentation star. Be a coach and let the players take all the credit.

8. Compliment a teacher’s teaching frequently and direct those compliments to that teacher’s colleagues and to administrators. Make teachers feel good about themselves because of you. A brief note is better than a verbal compliment. Every teacher is concerned about his or her reputation among colleagues. Build up; never tear down.

9. Run a school-wide reading incentive program and build relationships with kids. The more the kids like you, the more they will ask their teachers to have you visit their classrooms. Pop into classrooms weekly with cool reading bookmarks and rewards certificates. Eat lunch with the kids and hang out with them on the playground.

10. Find out who the most influential colleague is and start building relationships there.

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, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults

Teaching children and adults how to read is one of the most rewarding life experiences. Reading is the gateway to knowledge and success. By teaching someone how to read, you are literally changing someone’s life. But, do you use the same strategies to teach readers or pre-readers at every age level? Yes and no.

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults: What’s the Same?

1. You’re going to need effective diagnostic assessments that are quick, efficient, reliable, and easy-to-use to determine what is already known. My free multiple choice diagnostic assessments
and recording matrices will serve this purpose (See Free Assessments).

2. You’re going to need to teach these curricular components: spellingsyllabication, phonics, fluency, sight words, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension.

3. You’re going to need a balanced instructional approach, but one targeted to the diagnostic needs of individual students. Each reader or pre-reader is a unique snowflake. Each has existing strengths and weaknesses in phonemic awareness, auditory and visual processing, cognitive ability, life experience, language experience, self-concept, and learning attitude/motivation.

4. You’re going to need lots of books, appropriate to the interest and reading levels of the reader.

5. You’re going to need to be patient.

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults: What’s Different?

1. Reader and pre-reader age levels will determine how you teach reading: See articles under Study Skills for age level learning characteristics.

2. Youth and adults will usually have significantly better oral language skills, so vocabulary instruction may be less of a focus for these readers.

3. Children lack print awareness; whereas youth and adults generally do not. Children need to be taught how to hold a book and the left to right spelling and word patterns.

4. Adults probably have phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness’ skills; whereas most children do not.

5. Children need reading from scratch instruction; while most youth and adults will progress nicely with targeted, gap-filling reading instruction.

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, 586game 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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