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Archive for April, 2016

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

Quite often I get emails from both parents and teachers regarding what to do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension. As a reading specialist, I have had the opportunity to serve students and teachers in assignments at the K-6, middle school, high school, and community college levels. I, too, have struggled with students in the same predicament at each level. Following is a nice representative sample of parent comments on my blog and teacher comments on another popular blog with some solutions to the problem:

Hello, I was hoping you could give me some advice.  I have an 8 year old daughter who can read orally very well.  She also aces all her spelling tests.  When someone reads aloud to her, she can summarize what was read very well.  But when she reads silently to herself, she doesn’t seem to absorb much at all.  I will have her read a short, at or below grade level paragraph in head her, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and she often can’t answer simple questions about it.  I’ve stressed making sure that she is going slowly, and actually READING each word and not just SEEING it.  I gather this means her comprehension must be rather low, and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to support growth in this area?  Her grades are average or above average in most areas in school, but as she gets older and is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” she is really struggling, and I would like to know how to support her.  Thank you!

Jessi

On the “A-Z Teacher Stuff” blog, the question is explored by both primary and elementary teachers:

I have a student that scored at a mid-4th grade level in reading fluency and yet her comprehension is at a high 1st grade level.
She loves to read but has a very hard time with even simple recall.
Could this be an indicator of a disability? What can I do to help her?

Not necessarily an indicator of a disability…I can fluently read a medical text or legal documents or ‘Le Petit Prince’ in French (or the more than 2000 page healthcare bill)…doesn’t mean I comprehend all of it…
Your student should be reading books that s/he can read fluently and with good comprehension…reading IS meaning…anything else is ‘word calling’…

I have a student who is very similar. He can read challenging texts fluently and with good accuracy, but when I ask him to retell or even orally answer basic questions from the story he has difficulty. Now this same child can do written comprehension tasks wonderfully when he is given the opportunity to go back to the text. He then demonstrates higher level thinking skills and a deep understanding of the books we read, just not immediately after an initial read.

In his reading group I have been spending a lot of time talking about how readers need to think about what they are reading as they read rather than JUST saying the words correctly and sounding smooth. I would suggest breaking down stories into smaller chunks, such as reading one paragraph/page at a time then checking for understanding by retelling or questioning.

Some five years ago I wrote an article about the same issue, but focused on the the over-use and over-dependence upon fluency practice in reading instruction. My related article regarding the a popular fluency program stirred up quite a fuss. I was forced to delete after a threatening letter promising legal action from that company.  However, the article did not focus attention on what parents and teachers need to do to address the problem.

First of all, a few important caveats… 

Reading is thinking. Cognitive challenges certainly limit comprehension. A student with an IQ of 85 is not going to have to same capacity for understanding text as a student with an IQ of 135. Sad, but true. English language learners have three challenges to comprehension: academic vocabulary, knowledge of American idioms, and knowledge of English grammar. Special education students may have auditory or visual processing disorders which require work-arounds to comprehension. Children with physical impairments, such as chronic inner ear infections, tend to have reading challenges. Finally, socio-enonomic status definitely can inhibit comprehension if a child has minimal access to books and limited conversations with literate adults.

Reading is a skill. We know a lot more about the connection between the alphabetic code and reading comprehension than we used to; however, we still have a long way to go. What we do know is that there is a statistically significant correlation between good decoders and good “comprehenders.” Children without phonemic awareness do not make the connection between the alphabetic code and words. Children without a sophisticated knowledge of the alphabetic code (phonics) struggle with a “sight words only” band-aid to reading approach when they transition from simple K-2 narrative to grades 3-adult multi-syllabic expository reading. By hook or by crook, every child needs to develop decoding skills. Lastly, the transition from reading out loud to silent reading does not magically occur for every child at the beginning of third grade as we have traditionally believed. Let’s spend a bit of time exploring this…

In an article published on April 21, 2016, Kristin Coyne, discusses the little-understood transition from oral to silent reading.

“Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.”

We do know that most children seem to transition from out loud reading to silent reading by subvocalization. In other words, they say the words “in their heads.”

“’What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that’s faster,” Kim said. “But we don’t know how that process happens.’

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can’t hear the child’s progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students’ eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.

‘It’s very fascinating how precisely we can measure this,’ Kim said. ‘We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on.'”

Notice that our amazing brains do process at the individual letter level and not at the whole word or sentence level as some of the “whole language” advocates used to argue.

Having addressed the important caveats, we can get the crux of the issue: What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension?

1. Diagnose and eliminate subvocalization . As a parent or teacher, do give a diagnostic fluency assessment. Although I mentioned above the problem of over-dependence upon fluency practice, some fluency practice is certainly important at all grade levels. During the fluency assessment, in addition to recording miscues, words read accurately, and total number of words read in a two-minute timing, observe the child’s mouth. If the child is mumbling or moving lips, he or she is subvocalizing. THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she is doing so and that good silent readers avoid this “bad habit.” Suggest reading with a pencil between the teeth or lightly clenching teeth until the habit is broken. Most children only need a few reading sessions with this simple “therapy” to fix the problem.

2. Diagnose and eliminate multiple eye movements. During the fluency assessment notice what the child is doing with his or her eye movements. If the child is moving eyes noticeably from left to right, it may indicate a tracking problem. Good readers look at the center of the page and use their peripheral vision to attend to letter correspondences from left to right. Poor readers have multiple eye fixations per line. Again, researchers have found statistically significant correlations between readers with minimal eye fixations per line and good “comprehenders.” THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she has too much eye movement per line and should focus on the center and “look out to the left and to the right” as he or she reads. Demonstrate how easy it is to “see things to the left and right by looking at the center” by having the child touch hands and slowly move them apart to test peripheral vision. Teach the child to place the hand (not a finger) in the center, underneath the line being read and drop down as the text is being read. *Note: Never have the child point at each individual word. If the center of the line hand tracking does not work, a referral to a certified vision trainer (optometrist or opthamologist) may be required. Be careful on this one. Vision therapy can be helpful, but should not be a “once per week for three years commitment.” Buyer beware.

3. Talk to the child about what reading means. Often, children are so focused on the skill that they don’t focus on the thinking. Simple, but true. Good decoding skills are not an end in themselves, but should make reading for meaning effortless. Automaticity is the goals of phonics instruction. THE FIX: Tell the child, “When you are reading, concentrate on what the person is saying to you.” Teach the child to pause after each sentence to ask and answer that question. Transition to the paragraph.

4. Teach students to make a movie in their heads as they read. Visualization is a powerful aid to reading comprehension for both narrative and expository text. THE FIX: Read my article: Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

5. Many children fail to comprehend text because they daydream as they read. In other words, they lose attention to the text. Students who use self-questioning strategies develop a greater understanding of the text than passive readers. THE FIX: Teach the child how to use the SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the article has some great free bookmarks to download.

6. Poor readers often just don’t know what good readers do as they silently read. THE FIX: Show the child  what a good reader does by using Think-Alouds in which the parent or teach reads silently out loud. In other words, you read the words of the text and employ #s 3, 4, and 5 above to interrupt the text to capture its meaning. Have the child do the “think aloud” for you and other children. Emphasize how quickly the brain makes these applications so that reading continuity is not compromised.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP 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 Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and 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.

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30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. Following are the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Now, with my ambitious goal of providing 30 questions, answers, and resources, I’ve got to be concise. I won’t be going deep into orthographic research (much of which is contradictory and incomplete) or into detailed instructional strategies. Also, a disclaimer is certainly needed: I am a teacher-author of several spelling programs, some of which I will shamelessly promote at the end of the article. But, to be fair, I do have some relevant expertise and experience in spelling to share. I have my masters degree as a reading specialist (in fact I did my masters thesis on the instructional spelling and reading strategies used in the the 19th Century McGuffey Readers). More importantly, I have served as an elementary and secondary reading specialist and have taught spelling at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels. So, enough for the credibility portion of the article and onto why you are reading and what you hope to learn, validate, invalidate, and apply in your classroom.

Why Teach Spelling?

1. Why is spelling such a big deal? If Einstein couldn’t spell, why does it matter? Won’t spell check the best way to solve spelling problems? Whether justified or not, others will judge our students by their spelling ability. Spelling accuracy is perceived as a key indicator of literacy. And spelling problems can inhibit writing coherency and reading facility. Spell check programs do not solve spelling issues. They  just takes too long to correct frequent misspellings and cannot account for homographs.

2. Can you teach spelling? Aren’t some people naturally good or bad spellers? Isn’t it learned through extensive reading and writing? Yes, poor spellers and good spellers can be taught to improve their spelling abilities. No brain research has demonstrated a genetic predisposition for good or bad spelling. There is no spelling gene. No, spelling isn’t learned through reading and writing, but there are positive correlations among the disciplines. They are each separate skills and thinking processes and need specific instruction and practice accordingly.

Whose Job Is It to Teach Spelling and to Whom Should We Teach It?

3. Isn’t spelling the job of primary teachers? Please, God, let this be so. Yes and no. Primary teachers are responsible for much of the decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) foundations, but intermediate/upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers have plenty of morphological (word parts), etymological (silent letters, accent placements, schwa spellings, added and dropped connectives), and derivational (Greek, Latin, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German language influences) spelling patterns to justify teaching spelling patterns at their respective grade levels.

4. Should content teachers teach spelling? Yes. The Common Core State Standards emphasize cross-curricular literacy instruction. Upper elementary teachers in departmentalized structures, middle school, and high school teachers should certainly come to consensus regarding spelling instruction and expectations.

5. Should we teach spelling to special education students? Yes, even though spelling is primarily an auditory skill and many special educations have auditory processing challenges. These students require more practice, not less. Gone are the days when special education teachers said Johnny or Susie can’t learn spelling. however, some visual study strategies do make sense.

6. Should we teach spelling to English-language learners? Yes. We cripple our English-language learners when we solely focus on reading skills and vocabulary acquisition. Besides, Spanish has remarkably similar orthographic patterns as English.

How Does Spelling Connect to Other Literacy Skills?

7. How are spelling and phonemic awareness related? The National Reading Panel stressed the statistically significant correlation. Spelling is an auditory, not a visual skill, and so the connection between phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is clear. Check out the author’s free phonemic awareness assessments.

8. How are spelling and reading related? Spelling (encoding) and reading (decoding) are both sides of the same coin. So many of our syllable pronunciations depend upon spelling rules. Check out this relationship in these teachable resources: Ten English Accent Rules, Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules, and How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules.

9. How are spelling and vocabulary related? Spelling is highly influenced by morphemes (meaning-based syllables) and language derivations. Read this article on How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction for more.

How Should We Teach Spelling?

10. How much of a priority should spelling instruction take in terms of instructional minutes? I suggest 5 minutes for the spelling pretest (record on your phone to maintain an efficient pace and to use for make-ups); 5 minutes to create a personal spelling list; 10 minutes to complete and correct a spelling pattern sort; 10 minutes of spelling word study (perfect for homework); and 5 minutes for the spelling posttest (every other week for secondary students).

11. Should we teach spelling rules? Absolutely. Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up. Check out the free Eight Great Spelling Rules, each with memorable mp3 songs and raps to help you and your students master the conventional spelling rules.

12. What about teaching “No Excuse” spelling words and using Word Walls? These can supplement, but not replace, a spelling patterns program. Teaching and posting the there-their-they’re words directly and emphasizing these common misspellings makes sense.

13. What about outlaw (non-decodable) spelling words? Using these words as a resource to supplement unknown words on the weekly spelling pretest is highly effective. I suggest you “kill two birds with one stone” by giving this multiple choice Outlaws Word Assessment for reading diagnosis and then the same list for spelling diagnosis.

14. What about using high frequency words to teach spelling? As a supplementary resource to the personal spelling list unknown high frequency words, such as the Dolch List, can certainly be included. But using high frequency words as weekly spelling lists involves learning in isolation. Plus these lists include both decodable and non-decodable words. Parents can certainly assess their own children and provide results to the teacher.

15. What about using commonly confused words (homonyms) to teach spelling? Some words look the same or nearly the same (homographs) or sound the same or nearly the same (homonyms) and so are easily confused by developing spellers and adult spellers alike. Check about this great list of Easily Confused or Misused Words.

16. What about teaching spelling through a Spelling Pattern Sort? Extremely valuable and a necessary instructional activity for any spelling patterns program. Closed spelling sorts based upon spelling patterns are certainly more effective than open sorts.

“Students can… spell words that they don’t think they know how to spell by comparing words through sorts. Knowing how to spell familiar words gives the students reference points for knowing how to begin spelling new words. Here are just a few of the sorts that students can experience:

  • Sort beginning sounds
  • Sort Digraphs from Blends
  • Sort long vowels from short vowels
  • Sort words with closed syllables from words with open syllables
  • Sort words that double the ending consonant before adding –ing with those that do not
  • Sort prefixes and suffixes
  • Sort base words and root words

Teachers can even combine a sound sort with a letter pattern sort. The list goes on and on.” Sandy Hoffman

17. How should learning styles inform spelling instruction? Good teachers always use multiple modalities instruction. But, the research and practical application of VAKT is dubious at best and has no application to spelling. Teachers gave up teaching students to trace letters years ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, so if there are auditory processing challenges, special attention and additional practice will be necessary. Check out this article titled Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences for more.

18.Why aren’t the Common Core Standards more specific about spelling instruction? When establishing instructional priorities to address these spelling Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner. To wit, the intermediate elementary Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e) “Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.”) and middle school Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b “Spell correctly.”) However, the primary Standards are much more specific and the authors make a solid case in Appendix A for the importance of spelling instruction.

19. Is spelling a good subject for homework? Yes. Parents can certainly supervise spelling sorts practice, creation of the personal spelling list, and even assist the teacher with diagnostic spelling tests of supplementary spelling word lists.

What about Individualizing Spelling Instruction?

20. What about qualitative spelling inventories? Qualitative spelling inventories accurately reflect and diagnose developmental spelling stages or indicate broad spelling strengths and weaknesses; however, their lack of assessing specific sound-spelling patterns make specific teaching applications problematic.

21. Is there a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment? Check out the author’s free diagnostic spelling assessment. This 64 word assessment with recording matrix is comprehensive and based upon the sound-spelling patterns to be mastered in K-3rd grade.

22. How should teachers individualize spelling instruction? Give a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment. Teach to the indicated individual unmastered spelling patterns. Targeted Spelling Pattern Worksheets with formative assessments help focus instruction on diagnostically determined spelling deficits for each student. Students catch up while they keep up with grade level spelling patterns. Having students create personal spelling lists from the weekly spelling pretest is also excellent individualized instruction. Check out the author’s eighth grade Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Matrix. Now, if you just had the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets to teach to these deficits…

When Should We Teach What Spelling?

23. Can spelling instruction be defined by grade levels? Grade levels may not be easily divisible by grade levels, but we do need an instructional scope and sequence for spelling instruction. Here’s a For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary)., which includes spelling patterns for grades 4-8

What is the Best Way to Study Spelling?

24. What spelling review games are most effective and fun? Check out these Spelling Review Games based upon spelling patterns.

25. What about writing spelling words over and over again? No. No. No.

Does the Weekly Spelling Test Make Sense?

26. Does the weekly spelling test help students learn spelling words? Yes. The research is clear on this one: the test-study-test instructional approach results in spelling achievement. But, the weekly posttest is probably not efficient for upper elementary and older students. Biweekly posttests work well, but only if the teacher adopts a personal spelling list approach based upon weekly diagnostic assessments.

27. What kinds of spelling tests make the most sense? A Weekly Spelling Test based upon a focused spelling pattern allows the teacher to teach the spelling pattern and provide practice opportunities to their students to apply these patterns in spelling sorts.

28. Can the weekly spelling pretest be used as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction? Yes. Dictate 15-20 spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation (primary) or display (older students) of the correct spellings.

Students create personal spelling list in this priority order.

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from other resources linked in this article.

What Criteria Should Teachers Use to Pick a Good Spelling Program?

29. Here’s a nice set of criteria based upon “A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM” and “A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM.”

30. Give me an example of a good one!

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

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

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

DSI-C

Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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 of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

As slices of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs, Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4-8.

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How to Teach Grammar to Primary Students

For those of you primary teachers wondering how to teach the rigorous grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards… you are not alone. As the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary) program, I get the “What would you recommend for teaching these Standards to primary students? question quite often. Debbie’s post below is in response to my article, “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work.”

Hi Mark,

I hope you will respond to this via email.
What do you suggest for teaching grammar skills in 1st grade? I am moving from 3rd/4th, where I was lucky enough to read your article years ago and dumped DOL at that time. With success. I am moving to 1st grade next year and am not sure what effective grammar teaching/learning looks like at that level.
Thank you for any feedback. I have a principal who supports getting rid of DOL even though only a few of us have done that. I think he would be happy to see something more effective replace it in primary grades.

Thanks again,

Debbie

Beginning now in kindergarten, the Common Core Language Strand Standards start getting extremely rigorous and very quickly. Middle school and upper elementary teachers are constantly shocked when they discover that what they once introduced as a new Standard at their respective grade levels is now introduced in, say, first grade. For  example, check out this first grade Language Standard (1d):

Use personal, possessive, and indefinite pronouns (e.g., I, me, my; they, them, their; anyone, everything).

Having taught English extensively at both the middle and high school levels (as well as serving as an elementary reading specialist), I will assure you that secondary teachers still “introduce” instruction in these three pronoun usages.

One approach I would recommend is simple sentence diagramming. Learning the functions of the parts of speech in the context of sentence structure by seeing their visual representations and manipulating the word choices and sentence structure makes a lot of sense. Check out “Does Sentence Diagramming Make Sense?” and “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming” to understand the whys and hows of this traditional approach to grammar.

But for those of you thinking that some primary students would not have the fine motor skills to draw traditional sentence diagrams… I would wholeheartedly agree. Tom Diagram2However, if teachers draw or tape the lines, sentence diagramming makes a whole lot of sense. Use blue tape on tables or on individual whiteboards to draw the sentence diagram.

For example, you could use simple fill in the blank sentence diagrams and pre-printed cards to manipulate on the big whiteboard (for the teacher) and on tables or individual whiteboards for students.  Use blue tape for the horizontal and vertical lines or printed sheets of paper if kids are advanced enough to write out the words with pencil or dry erase markers.

Check out this instructional approach to learning the functions of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and simple adverbs and how these parts of speech serve as sentence subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers:

Tom eats.

Tom eats cake.

Tom eats yummy cake.

Tom often eats yummy cake.

Tom ate.

Tom ate cake.

Tom ate yummy cake.

Tom often ate yummy cake.

Tom will eat.

Tom will eat cake.

Tom will eat yummy cake.

Tom often will eat yummy cake.Tom Diagram

Lots of word-building possibilities with this instructional approach as well:

She sips.

She sips milk.

She sips her milk.

She sips her cold milk.

She loudly sips her cold milk.

He slurps, drinks (sight word), gulps, chugs, tastes.

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, quietly, happily, sadly, slowly, quickly taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

This instructional approach is also great for sentence building (think “add on an adjective or adverb”), vocabulary development (think “add on a prefix or suffix”), reading (think outlaw words, vowel sounds, r-controlled, and consonant blends, and spelling (think plurals and inflections). Plus, students are learning all of these skills  in the writing context.

Business size game cards of the following would be perfect for this instructional activity (See below 🙂)

  • 43 animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards
  • 45 consonant blend cards
  • 60 alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)
  • 90 rimes cards with example words
  • 108 sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards
  • 60 high frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words
  • 60 vowel and vowel team spelling cards
  • 90 consonant and consonant blend spelling cards
  • 30 commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences
  • 60 most-often misspelled challenge word cards

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, sells these game card sets as one component of his Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Mark is also the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs.

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How to Teach Vocabulary

How to Teach Vocabulary asks and provides possible answers to the How Do the Common Core Authors Suggest We Teach Vocabulary?  Why Should We Teach Explicit Vocabulary? Won’t Students Learn More from Independent Reading? Which Vocabulary Words Should We Teach? To Whom Should We Teach Academic Vocabulary? How Much Class Time does it take to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? Disclaimer: The author has published several vocabulary resources.

How Do the Common Core Authors Suggest We Teach Vocabulary?

The Common Core authors include vocabulary instruction in both sets of Reading Standards and in the Language Strand. The Language Strand includes Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.); Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); Figures of Speech (L.5.a.); Word Relationships (L.5.b.); Connotations (L.5.c.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0) for each grade level.

Teaching context clues is just as important for writing development as they are for reading development. Check out these context clues strategies to improve your student’s efficiency in vocabulary acquisition.

Language play not only makes instruction enjoyable, it also reinforces vocabulary knowledge and expands word knowledge. Check out these fun vocabulary games.

Why Should We Teach Explicit Vocabulary? Isn’t Isolated Vocabulary Instruction a Big “No No?” Won’t Students Learn More from Independent Reading?

Besides the fact that the Common Core authors specifically include Standards which required direct instruction, it just makes sense that some direct instruction will be necessary. We’re not suggesting long lists of isolated words, though some memorization is important.

Independent reading certainly produces the bulk of our Tier I and many Tier II words, but some of the latter require in-depth understanding.

Which Vocabulary Words Should We Teach?

In Appendix A the authors discuss academic language and suggest that students get the most “bang for the buck” out of teaching Tier 2 words. An amazing list developed by academic word frequency can help teachers prioritize non-domain specific words that are truly cross-curricular.

Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes make up at least one syllable of 50% of dictionary words. But which should students know and at what grade level. Check out these frequency studies of the most often used word parts and the grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence for vocabulary instruction. Knowing how to teach these word parts so that students will be able to learn related words is critically important.

To Whom Should We Teach Academic Vocabulary?

The short answer is every student. Teaching only survival vocabulary to English language learners, special education students, and remedial reading students is handicapping the very students who need to power of words most. We have to avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (Michael Gerson).

How Much Class Time does it take to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive vocabulary lessons make sense. Adding just 20 minutes per week practice, say 10 minutes twice per week, can make an enormous difference. Check out this sensible weekly instructional plan.

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

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

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

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.

For teachers looking only for a solid one-year vocabulary program, check out the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits (grades 4-8). The 56 Vocabulary Worksheets include

Pennington Publishing's Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.); Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); Figures of Speech (L.5.a.); Word Relationships (L.5.b.); Connotations (L.5.c.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0). Students learn ten Tier Two and Tier Three words (the words recommended in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects) each week. Want to check out sample lessons? Preview This Book.

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:

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How to Teach Writing Mechanics

How to Teach Writing Mechanics asks and provides possible answers to the What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics, Why Teach Writing Mechanics? When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach? How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics? questions related to teaching the nuts and bolts of punctuation, capitalization, formatting, citations, quotations, etc. Disclaimer: The author has published several writing mechanics resources.

What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics?

Since this is a “catch-all” subject, let’s discuss what I do mean and don’t mean by writing mechanics.  I do mean punctuation (commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, and brackets), capitalization (including proper nouns, common nouns, abbreviations, and acronyms), formatting (paragraphing, indentations, when to skip and not skip lines, proper headings and spacing, what goes where and what does not), citations (MLA rules, the purpose thereof, and creative problem solving including references, in-text formatting, and list of works), quotations (direct, indirect, titles of works, and dialogue rules). I did mention rules, as no doubt you noticed. However, mechanics is also about style and coherency. “Let’s eat Grandma” comes to mind. Or how about…

I’M STUFFED DO WE HAVE TO EAT GRANDMA AFTER ALL WE JUST FINISHED EATING GRANDPA CAN’T WE WAIT UNTIL MOM’S DONE COOKING

Your students will love more of these examples.

Some teachers would, but I don’t mean grammar. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Check out a related article on How to Teach English Grammar.

I also don’t mean spelling. The authors of the Common Core State Standards lump the entire kitchen sink into the “language conventions” category. However, as an MA reading specialist, I will assure you that spelling (encoding) has much more to the how-to’s of reading (decoding) and vocabulary than with proper comma usage.

Why Teach Writing Mechanics?

The authors of the Common Core include writing mechanics in a separate Language Strand as Standard L. 2., and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests do test mechanics. Teaching mechanics will not only help your students avoid eating Grandma, but will also provide a forum for rich language discussion. The differences in British and American punctuation are fascinating. The changing nature of mechanics rules and the controversies between editors of new and old media are instructive. Want to raise a real ruckus? Try debating the serial comma rule! By the way, I don’t consider myself a serial comma killer.

When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

The Common Core State Standards have shifted so much of the language conventions to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with mechanics. Of course, review is essential and it is nice to have the recursive nature of language instruction validated by the Common Core authors. So, writing mechanics is certainly a K-12 focus.

What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach?

Because of the downward shift in terms of instructional responsibility, it does make sense for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to begin teaching more complex writing mechanics skills. Building on prior knowledge will allow teachers of older students to “get to” issues of, say punctuation and capitalization that heretofore (always wanted to use that word) have never been addressed. It does makes sense to share the instructional load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a fix-the-random-error “curriculum,” such as DOL or DLR. Most of us old veterans of Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that these “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson) never transferred to student speaking or writing. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can and should align and sequence instruction. For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary) from my own Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students writing mechanics. We do need to up the rigor of direct instruction as explained above, but we also need to build on individual student strengths and weaknesses. Because primary and intermediate elementary teachers are transitioning to more writing mechanics instruction, older students will have even a greater diversity of skills sets. Teachers can choose to teach as if none of their students knows anything and repeat the instruction that some have received, or use diagnostic assessments to determine mastery of writing mechanics for each student and provide remediation to those who need it.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 32 question writing mechanics assessment (with answers) and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics (and all Language Conventions) Instruction?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive language conventions lessons, including writing mechanics, (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on just a few skills, including a brief review to connect to prior learning) makes sense. Clear examples and quick practice in which students apply the skill or rule and identify what is correct and what is not helpful. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the writing mechanics focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary. Less effective is the “teach writing mechanics only in the editing stage of process papers” approach via mini-lessons. Direct instruction makes a difference. Individualized instruction with targeted worksheets (corresponding to the diagnostic assessments) can add another 15-30 minutes of classroom instruction per week or be assigned as homework.

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

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

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

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.

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