Archive for August, 2016

Critical Thinking Bell Ringers

Get your students thinking. We teach in a product-driven age of Standards, behavioral objectives, and progress monitoring. As we head back to school, why not achieve some sort of balance with a 10-minute process-driven bell ringer twice per week? Just display this warm-up activity while taking roll and listen to the happy sounds of brains engaging with some of the greatest brains of human history: from Plato to Shakespeare to Franklin to Rowling.

A brief literary quotation to drive the conversation; a specific directive for observation; a guide to interpretation; a prompt to application in the reading, writing, listening, or speaking context; and a revision task to think out of the box or from a different point of view. Wrap things up in 10 minutes, even though often you’ll hear the “We’re not dones.” Leave them thinking; yes, they are not done.

As much as we try to embed critical thinking, depth of knowledge, Costa’s levels of thinking, or Bloom’s taxonomy into our daily lessons, a specific allocation of time and a concise curricular resource moves us from well-intentioned to committed implementation. If we put it in our planners and don’t have to re-invent the wheel, we’ll get it done. Plus, your students will pester you. They like having their brains stretched. Here’s a sample of a Critical Thinking Bell Ringer that my students love to discuss:

Literary Quotation

“I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them.”

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

Definition/Explanation/Reflection: Good friendships take time and effort.

Observation: What do you see? What do you feel? What seem to be the key words?

Interpretation: How would you put this into your own words? What does this mean? What doesn’t this mean? What does this suggest? Why does the author say this?

Application: How can this be used? How could this thought affect something else? What conclusions can be drawn from this? Do you agree with this? How does this apply to you?

Revision: How else could this have been written? Revise this to reflect your point of view or ideas. Create something new to say about this subject.

Student Response:

Wouldn’t it be great to try out four complete Critical Thinking Opener Toolkit lessons?

Get the Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit FREE Resource:

To purchase the Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit with a full year of 64 bell ringers, visit our product page at Pennington Publishing.

“Marvelous tool in helping me to provoke more critical thinking in my students.”

Marsha Lewis

“Critical Thinking Openers is an excellent product. Provides additional writing practice and is thought provoking.”

Lisa Moore

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The Hard and Soft c and g Spelling Rule

The Hard and Soft /c/ and /g/ Spelling Rule

Check out the song! 

Hard c Sound “c[a,o,u]” , “k[e,i]” , “__ck” , “__c” 

The hard c sound heard in kangaroo can be spelled “ca” as in cat, “co” as in comb, “cu” as in cut, “ke” as in ketchup, “ki” as in kit, “_ck” as in kick, and “_c” as in basic.

Hard g Sound “g[a,o,u]”                                      

The hard g sound heard in goose can be spelled “ga” as in gas, “go” as in got, and “gu” as in gun.

Soft c Sound “s” and “c[e,i,y]” 

 The s sound heard in seagull can be spelled “s” as in see, “ce” as in receive, “ci” as in city, and “cy” as in tricycle.

Soft g Sound “j” , “g[e,i,y]” ,  __dge”                 

The j sound heard in jackrabbit can be spelled “j” as in jump, “ge” as in gel, “gi” as in ginger, “gy” as in biology, “dge” as in badge.

Hard and Soft CG Blues

We shout ’em, “Hard /c/! Hard /g/!”

They come before ao, or u.

We whisper, “Soft /c/! Soft /g/!”

They come before ei, or y.

Oh yes they do.

The author of this song, 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 th

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Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Two Week Test Drives

How to Teach Speling

Spelling errors always catch our attention. When my wife and I moved up to a small town in Northern California years ago, we used to drive by a burger joint with a revolving marquee. Every week its advertised special had a spelling error on that marquee. I shook my head for the first few weeks until I caught on… Brilliant marketing!

Many of us have placed spelling on the back-burner as teachers have rightly focused on reading and writing Standards. But, spelling instruction is still critically important.

A principal came into my high school class years ago to observe my student teacher. The student teacher had misspelled a vocabulary term on the board. The principal motioned for me to step outside of the classroom. He told me he would never hire that student teacher because he didn’t care enough about his lesson to proofread his work.

And don’t forget how Vice-President Dan Quayle developed his reputation. Upon entering a teacher’s class with media in tow, he walked to the front of the class, picked up chalk, and corrected the teacher’s “misspelling” of potato. You guessed it, the teacher was right; he was wrong.

The question is how to fit a spelling pre-test, practice, and post-test into precious few class minutes. Here’s how to get it done in 13-20 minutes of class time per week:

  1. Prepare. Develop or purchase weekly spelling tests based upon a focus spelling pattern, such as the i before e rule. Never use vocabulary words or silly theme lists, such as days of the week, colors, or holidays. Here’s a comprehensive instructional spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns for grades 4˗8. Why reinvent the wheel?
  2. Pretest (7 minutes). Dictate the spelling test to all your students and have students self-correct from teacher dictation. Always record the dictation on your phone for other classes and make-ups. A lifesaver!
  3. Personalize (6 minutes). Have students create their own personal spelling list of words missed on the pretest, words missed in their own writing, and supplementary spelling lists, such as sight words, commonly confused words, and homonyms.
  4. Practice. (Students memorize their personal spelling lists and complete spelling sorts on the focus spelling pattern for homework).
  5. Posttest (7 minutes). Have students pair up, exchange personal spelling lists, and dictate to each other. Any words missed on the posttest go on next week’s personal spelling list. By the way, why not consider a bi-weekly spelling posttest based upon two spelling pretests?

Check out or purchase the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs. Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off.

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