Archive for the ‘Spelling/Vocabulary’ Category

FREE Grade 4 Vocabulary Word Lists

Grade 4 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 4

If you really want to teach all of the Common Core vocabulary standards this year, you’ve got to have this FREE resource!

The FREE Vocabulary Word List Grade 4 may just be that wheel you don’t have to reinvent with your grade-level team this summer. This research-based word list consists of Tier 2 words, developed from Averil Coxhead’s high frequency Academic Word List. The perfect resource for teaching the CCSS grade 4 L.6.0 vocabulary standards.

In addition to these academic language words, I’ve included twice-per-week word or focus lists of the following: multiple meaning words and context clues (L.4.a.; Greek and Latin word parts (L.4.a.c.d.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); word relationships (L.5.a.); figures of speech (L.5.a.); and connotations (L.5.c.) to complete a comprehensive vocabulary instructional scope and sequence that is perfectly aligned to the Grade 4 Common Core Language Strand vocabulary standards. Just plug these into your grade-level curricular map and you are good to go!

Of course, I’m providing this resource to entice teachers to check out my full-year Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, which provide the lessons and alignment documents to teach to this curricular map. In a nutshell, these grade-level programs provide twice-per-week worksheets (with answers), vocabulary flashcards with games, a complete syllabication program, and bi-weekly tests. Get your colleagues at your site to purchase their grade-level programs to establish a seamless instructional vocabulary continuum from grade to grade for your students.

Download the FREE Vocabulary Word List Grade 4 plus the comprehensive vocabulary instructional scope and sequence HERE from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Click to purchase or check out the extensive previews for the grade-level Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit programs:

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 4

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 5

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 6

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 7

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 8

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but you can get the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit on my own site for 10% off if you enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716. CLICK HERE.

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

FREE Grade 8 Vocabulary Word Lists

Grade 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 8

If you really want to teach all of the Common Core vocabulary standards this year, you’ve got to have this FREE resource!

The FREE Vocabulary Word List Grade 8 may just be that wheel you don’t have to reinvent with your grade-level team this summer. This research-based word list consists of Tier 2 words, developed from Averil Coxhead’s high frequency Academic Word List. The perfect resource for teaching the CCSS grade 8 L.6.0 vocabulary standards.

In addition to these academic language words, I’ve included twice-per-week word or focus lists of the following: multiple meaning words and context clues (L.4.a.; Greek and Latin word parts (L.4.a.c.d.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); word relationships (L.5.a.); figures of speech (L.5.a.); and connotations (L.5.c.) to complete a comprehensive vocabulary instructional scope and sequence that is perfectly aligned to the Grade 8 Common Core Language Strand vocabulary standards. Just plug these into your grade-level curricular map and you are good to go!

Of course, I’m providing this resource to entice teachers to check out my full-year Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, which provide the lessons and alignment documents to teach to this curricular map. In a nutshell, these grade-level programs provide twice-per-week worksheets (with answers), vocabulary flashcards with games, a complete syllabication program, and bi-weekly tests. Get your colleagues at your site to purchase their grade-level programs to establish a seamless instructional vocabulary continuum from grade to grade for your students.

Download the FREE Vocabulary Word List Grade 8 plus the comprehensive vocabulary instructional scope and sequence HERE from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Click to purchase or check out the extensive previews for the grade-level Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit programs:

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 4

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 5

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 6

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 7

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grade 8

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but you can get the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit on my own site for 10% off if you enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716. CLICK HERE.

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

Reading Flashcards and Games

644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and 60 Games

Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and Games

644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards (Digital Files) and 60 games for only $7.99. You print, cut, and play! The perfect summer resource to get your kids ready for school in the fall. You will use these over and over again! Ideal for all kids ages 4-12. Designed by a reading specialist. Buy them HERE.

These 644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards and 60 Games have been designed to support explicit and systematic phonics-based reading, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. The cards are included in Mark Pennington’s Teaching Reading Strategies and accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, but the flashcards can also supplement any reading or spelling program.

The cards use animal photographs for the sound-spelling flashcards, not juvenile cartoonish characters. Perfect for beginning readers. Ideal for older readers: Tier 1 and 2 intervention, special education students with auditory processing challenges, English-language learners. Fantastic for family vacations or waiting in the doctor’s office with your own kid!

You get two digital versions of these flashcards with your purchase.

  1. Print and Cut for Games

Print on heavy duty colored cardstock and cut. The cards are formatted for business card size, so they are ideal for spreading out on small surface areas (such as student desks) to play blending and spelling games. Print back-to-back or single-sided. You need the printed cards to play most of the games. Note: Or why not take them to your favorite office supply store. They can print them in full color and cut them on their business card cutting machines. Easy and cheap!

  1. Digital Device Display

Two download formats (phones and tablets) are provided. Of course, you need a zip file app to download on your devices. See Google Play or Apple Store. Note: Device formats differ, but the PDF formatting fits most devices nicely. Note that these files do not automatically adjust to display like epub, iBook, Kindle, etc. The program directions share how to further edit the PDF, should you wish to further refine. Be assured that I’ve tried them out on iPhones, Androids, iPads, etc. and they work great!

Each flashcard set includes the following:

Reading (Phonics and Sight Words)

*Alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)

*Animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards

*Consonant blend cards

*Sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards with word rhymes

*Rime (word family) cards with example words


*Vowel spelling cards with example words

*Vowel team spelling cards with example words

*Consonant spelling cards with example words

*Consonant blend spelling cards with example words

*Most-often misspelled challenge word cards with example sentences


*High frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words

*Commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences

60 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Card Games

These Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards have been designed for games! Get 60 easy-to-play games with clear directions to help your students master reading, spelling, and vocabulary. Simple to set up and easy to play. You and your students will love these card games!

Convinced your kids need these 644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Flashcards (Digital Files) and 60 games for only $7.99? Buy them HERE.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Looking for a comprehensive reading intervention program, which includes these flashcards? The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies program includes diagnostic phonics and spelling assessments (audio files) to determine which gaps need filling and all the phonics and spelling resources to do just that. Plus, this full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides phonemic awareness and sight word assessments and corresponding activities, sound-spelling blending and syllabication practice, reading fluency (with YouTube modeled readings) articles with word counts and timing sheets, and expository comprehension worksheets with embedded vocabulary. Your students will love the animal sound-spelling card games! Video training modules make this a user-friendly program for both new and veteran teachers.

Or why not get the Teaching Reading Strategies and Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE for the complete reading intervention program? The 54 Sam and Friends decodable books perfectly complement the instructional sequence of Teaching Reading Strategies. These eight-page phonics books have been specifically designed for your older readers with teenage cartoon characters with complex plots. Each book includes higher level comprehension questions and 30-second word fluencies. Your students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

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

There, Their, and They’re

The there, their, and they're Words

there, their, and they’re

Anything worth teaching is worth teaching wellStudents (and even presidents) have problems using the there, their, and they’re words appropriately and spelling them correctly. Indeed, linguists tend to classify the misuse of there, their, and they’re as high stake grammatical errors. The Copyblogger site includes these three words in the article, “Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb.”

The reaction to President Trump’s mistake in his July 24, 2016 tweet was speedy and judgmental:

“Looks to me like the Bernie people will fight. If not, there blood, sweat and tears was a waist of time. Kaine stands for opposite!”

Now, to be fair… most of us have misused a there, their, and they’re word at one time or another. I have. When typing, we do make typos. However, we have no excuses for failing to proofread something that will be published (or tweeted, Mr. President).

So, how can we teach and help students remember the proper usage and spelling of  the troublesome there, their, and they’re words?

My take is that students fail to master proper usage and spelling of tricky word relationships because our instruction lacks conceptual depth. Additionally, we fail to help students place the learning into their long term memories. I suggest teaching word relationships in the context of meaning and usage, spelling rules, and writing application. Follow this lesson plan, and I guarantee that your students will make fewer there, their, and they’re errors.


Meaning and Usage

The online dictionary, Merriam-Webster, provides the following definitions (with my own formatting, revision, and additions):

  1. In or at that place (Adverb) Example: Stand over there.
  2. To or into that place (Adverb) Example: She went there after church.
  3. At that point or stage (Adverb) Example: Stop right there before you say something you’ll regret.
  4. In that matter, respect, or relation (Adverb) Example: There is where I disagree with you.
  5. Expressing satisfaction, approval, encouragement or sympathy, or defiance (Interjection) Examples: There, it’s finished. There, there, child; you’ll feel better soon.
  6. A state of being or existence used to complete a thought (Expletive) Example: There are three reasons why you should listen to me.


Teach students that one of the reasons that there is such a difficult spelling is because it is a sight word, often called an outlaw word. The word does not follow spelling rules. In fact, there makes Dr. Edward Fry’s top 100 list of high frequency sight words. Because there is a rule-breaker, it must be memorized as such. I suggest introducing the where spelling along with the there. The where is also a top 100 sight word and is often confused with were by poor spellers. The following memory trick works with both there and where.

Jerry Lebo, author of numerous phonics books, suggests a spelling memory trick to help students remember the there spelling. Jerry writes the word there on the board and underlines the here within the word (there). Doing so reminds students that the adverbial meaning and usage (definitions 1-4) of the word there refers to location, so here and there or here and where establish memorable connections and so assist spelling memory. Students have fewer problems with the here spelling, and so the memory trick works to connect the unknown there and where spellings to the known (and rule-conforming here spelling (a silent final e making the preceding vowel before a single consonant into a long sound). Conversely, these here and there or here and where relationships help students remember to spell here to indicate location and not hear.

Unfortunately, the adverbial usage and its spelling memory trick does not work with the interjection (definition 5) and expletive (definition 6) meanings. Example: There, there, darling. There are ways for us to fix this mess.

The best spelling practice is to create a spelling sort to compare and contrast the “ere” spellings. In my Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8, I provide the words for students to sort into the “ere” spelling categories and the spelling test focuses on this spelling pattern.

Writing Application

When teaching Jerry’s here and there memory trick, I teach students that even though the trick works only for there adverbs, good writers learn to avoid the other uses of there in their writing. I remind students that we shouldn’t use padded words or expressions because readers like concise writing. If the word or phrase does not contribute meaning, get rid of it!

Demonstrate the difference between padded and concise writing with this example:There, there, darling. There are ways for us to fix this mess.

Help students brainstorm deletions of the there interjections and expletive. Students (will a little of your prompting) will eventually revise as “Darling, we have ways to fix this mess.”

My Writing Openers Language Application Grades 4-8 programs provide this instruction in one of 56 lessons:

Our language application task is to delete the unnecessary “here” and “there” words. The unnecessary “here” and “there” words begin sentences or clauses and follow with “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been). The “here” and “there” + “to be” verb constructions are frequently followed by a noun or pronoun and a relative clause beginning with that, which, or who. To eliminate the unnecessary “here” and “there” words at the beginning of a sentence of clause, revise to place the subject of the sentence at the beginning. Example: There are many students who do their best. Revision: Many students do their best.

In my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 programs, my subject and predicate lessons focus on removing prepositional phrases, interjections, and expletives from the hunt for the sentence subject. Students learn to spot the “here are” and “there are” (as well as the is, was, and were) words rather quickly.


Meaning and Usage

Their is a plural possessive pronoun. Unfortunately, that definition assumes a considerable amount of grammatical knowledge. I begin the their lesson by listing the personal pronouns (Actually I just point to the poster on the wall… I use my own program resources :)).

I start instruction with the definition of a pronoun: “A pronoun is used to take their (nouns) place in the subject, possessive, or object case,” which is found in my Parts of Speech Song. Yes, that definition is comprehensive, and your students won’t understand all components at this point, but teaching the whole and scaffolding in the parts will build a conceptual framework much better than a piecemeal approach, such as limiting the definition to the simplified “a pronoun takes the place of a noun.”

Pointing to the poster, I review the third person singular pronouns, he, she, and it and match them with the third person plural pronoun their. Next, I tell students that when a pronoun is used to show ownership, we mean that it possesses something, so we call these pronouns possessives. I point to the singular possessives, his, her, and its and tell students that these possessives usually come before nouns, for example, his pencil, her pen, and its zipper. Finally, I point to the plural possessive their and show how this one word serves as the third person plural possessive. for example, their pencils, their pens, and their zippers.


Tell your students that, unlike the there spelling, the their spelling follows the conventional spelling rule. More specifically, it’s the famous “i before e Spelling Rule.” At this point, a brief digression is in order. The traditional “before e, except after or sounding like long /a/ as in neighbor or weigh” does apply, but it mis-teaches students that the “after c or sounding like long /a/” are exceptions to the rule. They aren’t exceptions; they are parts of the rule. Much better to teach my version of the rule with its catchy song. Play it!

i before Song

(to the tune of “Rig ‘a Jig Jig”)

Spell i before e ‘cause that’s the rule

Rig-a-jig-jig and away we go,

That we learned back in school.

Away we go, away we go!

But before comes after c,

Rig-a-jig-jig and away we go,

and when you hear long /a/. Hey!

Hi-ho, hi-ho, hi-ho.

After that happy song, I bring some sadness to the lesson. I tell students the sad news that some day their parents will die, and that as sons and daughters, they will likely possess what their parents owned (after taxes) and had rights to, such as houses and positions of authority. We say that children are the heirs to what their parents have owned. For example, in monarchies the prince and princess are heirs to the jewel-studded, golden crown and also to the position of king or queen.

I write the word heir on the board and ask how the word fits the “i before e Spelling Rule.” Then I draw a crown on top of the word and I underline that word. Finally, I add the “t” to the beginning of heir to spell their. I sum up the meaning, usage, and spelling memory trick by saying, “T-h-e-i-r is a plural possessive because it has an heir inside the word to shown possession. An an heir, you will one day possess your parent’s crown. It works! Thanks again to Jerry Lebo for that one.

Writing Application

I remind students that singular possessive pronouns must take the place of single nouns, but that this rule can create confusion when the pronoun antecedent (usually the noun to which the possessive pronoun refers) is not gender-specific. All-too-frequently, in our effort to treat men and women equally, we misuse the plural possessive pronoun, their, by referring to a singular subject. For example, this sentence is incorrect: The student ate their lunch. The plural possessive pronoun, their, cannot refer to the singular noun, student. Again from a lesson in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 programs:

Avoid using gender-specific pronouns to refer to pronoun antecedents, which the writer does not intend to be gender-specific. The best way to fix this error is by making the antecedent noun or nouns plural. Revision Example: The student students ate their lunch lunches. Or revise the sentence without the pronouns. Revision Example: The student ate their lunch.


Meaning and Usage

They’re is a contraction, meaning they are. To start this lesson, I re-teach the four are contractions.

You are you’re Example: You’re funny.
We are we’re Example: We’re family.
They are they’re Example: They’re going to the store.
Who are who’re Example: Who’re you?

Source: Fry, E.B., Ph.D. & Kress, J.E., Ed.D. (2006). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists 5th Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Teach your students that the apostrophe in a contraction is used to indicate a missing letter or letters. With the are contractions, the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “a.”

The they’re word is often mispronounced as three sounds (/th/, /ā/, /er/), rather than as two (/th/, /ār/). Thus, the there, their, and they’re homonyms are perfect homophones, though they are not homographs. Take time to teach these terms: Homonyms are words which sound or are spelled the same. One subset, homophones, are words which are pronounced the same; the other subset, homographs, are words which are spelled the same.

Have students say this sentence out loud, pronouncing the there, their, and they’re  exactly the same as two sounds:

They’re waiting for their friends over there.


Again, with they’re, we have a non-phonetic sight word, or outlaw word spelling. They’re is a common contraction, but does not make the Fry 300 High Frequency Sight Words List. In fact, only one contraction, it’s, does make the list at #300 in terms of frequency.

However, the pronoun in the word is they, which is #19. Because the word appears so often in text, students beyond second grade usually have mastered the spelling. The spelling trick for they’re, which is often misspelled, is to see the contraction as two separate words: they + ‘reOnce students make this visualization, they usually spell the they’re with consistency.

Writing Application

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Teach your students that contractions, such as they’re only belong in informal writing and speaking. The use of they’re is usually confined to story dialogue, because we tend to say “they’re” more often than “they are.”

Point out that good writers not only avoid using they’re in formal writing because it is a contraction, but the word also includes a “to be” verb: are. Good writers tend to reduce the number of their “to be” verbs in narrative and expository writing and replace these with more active, vivid, show me–don’t tell me verbs. Check out this article, “How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs” for strategies to help your students reduce “to be” verbs in their writing.


If more than one of the above curricular resources interests you, you may wish to check out the

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES. Each BUNDLE includes these full-year grade level programs: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language ApplicationDifferentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit, plus many additional instructional resources. Each grade level BUNDLE was designed and classroom-tested as a seamless program to help your students master each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards and provides perfect instructional continuity among the grade levels.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary program…

“The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!”

─Julie Villenueve

Program Overview

  • 56 language conventions (grammar, usage, and mechanics) lessons with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 28 spelling patterns tests and spelling sorts with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 writing openers language application with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 vocabulary worksheets
  • 28 biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests and summative spelling assessments
  • Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Diagnostic spelling patterns assessment with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Language application remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Complete syllabication program
  • Plus, so much more!

Get the There, Their, They’re Poster FREE Resource!


Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , ,

School Absence Excuses

Funny School Absent Excuses

School Absent Excuses

No doubt you’ve heard a few of these. Following are my favorites from BuzzFeed’s collection, which has been gathered from school attendance clerks over the years. But, read past and I’ll provide one of my own that I think you will enjoy. Ah… truth is stranger than fiction.

I once told a teacher two weeks before a school concert that I wouldn’t be able to go because I would be sick. She just asked “you’ll be sick?” and when I nodded she just dropped it. She either believed in my ability to see into the future or thought my stupidity was just too much to even question.

Emmy Bloomberg, Facebook

Once during my high school spirit week, it was “superhero” Thursday. I didn’t have a costume and didn’t have time to buy/ make one… I had a genius idea… I skipped school that day, and then on Friday, everyone was demanding a reason why I wasn’t at school, and my excuse was, “I was here, I just came as the Invisible Woman.”

Submitted by mydnytestorme13

I used the excuse that I missed the bus for months, until the school caught on that I lived across the street. I could see my high school from my porch.

Submitted by carleighg

Jimmy Gordon’s Excuse

I’ve told quite a few people over the years about my student, Jimmy Gordon, and his excuse for cutting school. I’ve never put it into print until now. No, the name has not been changed to protect the innocent… because he certainly was not. Call this post “Teacher Payback.”

My first teaching job was at a grades 4-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. This beautiful Gold Rush town was split in two halves by Sutter Creek (hence the name). Good fishing, swimming, and gold panning in that creek!

In the spring of 1986, Jimmy Gordon transferred to our school from out of the area. Jimmy was an eighth-grader and I was his history teacher. Jimmy seemed like a nice kid and he made a few friends right away–something teachers (and parents) are always concerned about with a mid-year transfer.

A week before Open House, the principal called an emergency staff meeting to inform us that Jimmy Gordon’s dad had died suddenly. Jimmy had come in that morning, sobbing about his dad’s passing and telling us that the funeral was planned for the following week when relatives would arrive. Jimmy went home to console his mom.

The staff felt horrible and we quickly allocated money from our “Sunshine Fund” to send a bouquet of flowers and a card to Jimmy and his mom.

After Open House, the seventh and eighth grade teachers walked down to the local watering hole, “Berlotti’s” to unwind, per our custom. I sat down toward the end of the bar, next to a man a few years older than I. He was an outgoing sort and soon leaned over to me and said, “You all sound like teachers.”

I told him, “Yes, we just finished our Open House at Sutter Creek Elementary.”

“Oh really,” he replied, “My son just started school there a few week’s back.”

“What’s his name?” I stammered.

“Jimmy Gordon.”


Jimmy had been ditching school for a week, fishing in Sutter Creek.

Now, that’s a funny school absence excuse. When Jimmy returned to my class the next day, he didn’t say much. But I asked him anyway, “Were they biting? Jimmy just turned red and put his head down for the rest of the day.

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

Teacher Hygge

5 Strategies to Teacher Hygee

Teacher Hygge

Everyone could use a little more hygge, especially teachers. You’ve heard about it and searched how to spell it, but what is it?

Essentially, hygge is the Danish (and some claim Norwegian) term for that moment in life when you sigh, smile, and say, “Life is good.” It’s the cozy, comfortable, and fun lifestyle. Some say that it derives from hugge, the old Norse word for hug. Hygge is not solely introspective; it is also other-focused. Hygge is about the individual fitting into the community. That’s my version of mindfulness. I call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.”

To achieve hygge, teachers need to recognize and take advantage of the rhythms of our teaching lives. Summer is the perfect time to play (not work) toward this goal with the five strategies of “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Now, put aside all the stuff you’ve heard about mindfulness training. No one has the copyright or monopoly on this term. It need not have a religious connotation, but it can and does so in a variety of religious practices: some Eastern and some Western. My concept of mindfulness is simple: Take time to decompress and restore a proper work-life balance. Take time to enjoy our profession and be re-encouraged about the importance of our career paths.

My five “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” strategies are simple to understand and implement: Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. No, I’m not writing a self-help book on these strategies; I’m no expert. These strategies are nothing new. Take them as reminders of what you already know to be true as a teacher. Notice, I don’t claim that these will work for every profession; I only know what I know as a teacher. Check out the article detailing these strategies here.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness and Hygge

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Note that the sequence is important. It moves from an inward focus to an outward goal, taking care of yourself so that you can do so for others. Teaching is a sacrificial profession: we do give up some personal prerogatives for the benefit of our students. No need to list them here. But, learn the wisdom from Jesus’ words: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39 New International Version). You can only sacrifice what you have to offer.

So let’s get practical here and talk about what teachers do during summer vacation. Yes, I know the term is an oxymoron. No teacher I know has the summer off. Some of us have other jobs to pay the bills. Most teachers spend some (or a lot) of their summer taking graduate coursework to expand their knowledge base (and improve their position on the salary schedule), or they attend professional development training. Most teachers also use the summer months for grade-level team or individual planning. Think curricular maps and lesson plans. My experience is that this process involves the latter three strategies: Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. It’s the cart before the horse. How much better to learn and plan after the first two strategies: Relax and Re-group?

Beginning the summer in the right place makes the rest of our “vacation” go so much better. We re-connect with our friends, families, and colleagues in a relaxed state of mind with an openness to new ideas and fresh, out-of-the-box approaches. We are in the proper mental state to re-commit to the love of our lives: teaching and our students, and we can prepare for the newness of our fresh start to the school year by re-training with new things to try. Following the process is simply rejuvenating. That’s the feeling of teacher hygge.

After relaxing and re-grouping, want to re-connect, re-commit, and re-train without re-inventing the wheel? Check out these grade-level English-language arts curricular maps for you summer team and individual planning.

Curricular Maps for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer Plannin’ for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer plannin’ made easy! Day by day grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary plans for next year! A FREE curricular map completely aligned to the CCSS and ready to write in your planner. Want the grade-level CCSS alignment documents? They’re in there!

No need to re-invent the wheel this summer by applying the Common Core State Standards to your grade-level curricular mapping. For those “other than reading and writing” subjects we all need to teach (think grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary), check out these twice-per week curricular listings:






Following each curricular map are sample lessons from my own program (designed to teach each lesson in the curricular map), followed by the CCSS alignment documents.

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

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Re-charge Batteries with Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

It sometimes seemed as if it never would arrive, and then it showed up so surprisingly soon: summer! Built into every teacher is a certain life cycle, even if the teacher is teaching year-round, or (God-forbid) summer school. The anticipation of the weekends, holidays, breaks, and summer vacation is often more rewarding than the thing in-it-of-itself. This summer, let’s make the thing better than the lead-up.

I’m Mark Pennington, a teacher publisher and ELA teacher/reading specialist. Of course I want to sell you books, but I also care about my profession. Teaching is the love of my life, as it is for many of you. However, the research (with which I will not bore you) shows that more and more teachers are entering the profession with idealistic high hopes of truly making a difference in others’ lives, but crashing and burning within a few years. Even for veteran teachers, a 7, 17, or 27 year itch or even PTSD can threaten a meaningful career.

I’m not self-help guru, but I recently read an article in the Washington Post by Megan McDonough in which she highlights some of the thoughts of Finnish author, Miska Rantanen in his book, Pantsdrunk. Read that title again; you can’t make this stuff up.

I like people from Finland because one of my lifelong friends was a Finnish foreign exchange student back in high school and because everyone has heard that the Finnish educational system is the best in the world. My friend, Mika, says it isn’t, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I saw the Finnish name, Miska, and decided to read the article. It’s about different cultural approaches to the latest American pop craze: mindfulness. The article confirms a few practices which I and some of my happiest colleagues have been doing during the summer to re-energize and re-charge.

All foreign language terms come from the Washington Post article.

One of the points of the article is that mindfulness means different things to different cultures. It’s purposes and practices can be completely different. It can also be religious or purely secular. If you are studying Zen Buddhism or the early Christian meditation practices, you will get different approaches and purposes. (The former’s goal is emptiness, while the latter’s goal is filling.) If you are a secular type, you may beg, borrow, and steal from either, any, or none. (My wife and teaching colleagues would agree that I’m an equal opportunity annoyer.) Anyway, the author’s purpose and mine is not to harmonize these different ideas of mindfulness and pretend that they are all the same. My purpose is to describe a few practices that seem to work for me and other teachers.

Since anyone with access to the Internet and a blog can coin a term these days, I’ll call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Since “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is my own term, I get to make up my own ideas and practice. Join in if it makes sense to you. Teachers only. This is an exclusive club 🙂 like the staff-only bathroom.

Please feel free to add on your own ideas for each of these five steps in the comments section.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness? My take is that teachers need summer to Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train.


It’s been a long year and you’ve worked hard. Perhaps no other profession is as emotionally draining. Non-teachers don’t understand how much students, colleagues, administrators, and parents take from you. Just like your phone, you have to re-charge your batteries. I say it’s okay to focus on yourself a bit. Didn’t Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 New International Version)? We focus on the first part, but can only do that well if we take care of the last part.

The Danes call their approach to a relaxed lifestyle, hygge (HOO-ga). They emphasize simple, cozy, comfortable living. Check out my related article, “Teacher Hygge” and learn how to take concrete steps toward living the good life. Nothing you don’t already know, but an encouragement to restore FUN in your life. Also, download my free grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary curriculum maps in that same article to make your summer plannin’ easy.


Relaxing allows us to take stock of our lives, to put things in perspective, and to see ourselves as we really are (warts and all). I’m a reading specialist and so I think about a technique to improve comprehension called metacognition. Essentially, metacognition means to think about thinking. That’s re-grouping. It’s deliberate and may take a portion of your summer, but my view is that we often skip this step and move from a week’s vacation (Relax) to re-connect to0 quickly with others and our profession. If you’re doing lesson planning on your Hawaiian vacation, you are are not relaxing nor re-grouping.

For me, two practical steps of re-grouping are walking and reading. I jump full-throttle into these summer disciplines as soon as I’ve relaxed a bit. These recreational

Teachers and Ikigai

Ikigai for Teachers

disciplines do just that: they re-create. The Japanese re-group with nature through movement. They call it ikigai (Ee-KEY-guy), or “reason for being.” The Norewegians re-group by embracing nature and use the term, friluftsliv (FREE-loofts-liv), to describe open-air living. I imagine Norwegians really have to make use of their summers for this practice, given the gloom they live in for much of the year. As soon as I’m done with this article, I’m going on a short hike.


We can’t lead self-focused lives forever, nor should we. We are teachers. Our focus in the teaching profession is giving the who and what plus how. We give of ourselves to students. If you haven’t figured this out yet, you won’t last long in our profession. Teaching is all about relationships. But in the summer we need to practice building (and re-building) relationships. A teacher’s positive relationships with family, friends, and community statistically correlates with positive professional relationships. So call your mom; hang with friends; get to know an unknown neighbor and do some volunteer work.

The Dutch practice these social re-connections and term it gezellig (Heh-SELL-ick). I don’t think the Dutch have Facebook or Instagram in mind. It’s all about re-connecting in person.

Of course we do have to (let’s go with “get to”) re-connect with what we teach and how we teach it.


Before you re-connect with work planning, take time to re-commit. I’m serious. Every teacher needs a solemn ceremony (it may need only last until you finish reading this article) to re-affirm our contract. It’s like reciting wedding vows in a re-commitment ceremony.

Recently, I attended my niece’s graduation from nursing school. The graduation involves a group recital of the The Nightingale Pledge, named in honor of Florence Nightingale. It’s a modified version of the Hippocratic Oath. The recitation is followed by a pinning ceremony in which registered nurses receive a specially designed pin bearing the name of their nursing school. It’s a tangible reminder of their professional commitment.

My summer re-commitment involves taking out and contemplating a simple framed pencil drawing, completed long ago by a friend upon receiving my teaching credential from U.C.L.A. It’s a simple drawing of a classroom scene in which I’m sitting among my students. You have your own re-commitment ceremony, but do it. Remind yourself of the privilege it is to teach and your idealist commitment to do so when you first began your teaching career. You didn’t get into this profession for the money; although, the vacations are not too bad 🙂

Part of a teacher’s re-commitment should include a commitment to a balanced work and home life. The Swedish practice this balance, “not too much and not too little” in their cultural philosophy called lagom (lah-GOM). One practice of lagom, which I plan to incorporate in my “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is a daily break involving either a hot beverage or a treat. Yes to both.


My strong advice is to do something new. Intentionally abandon some of what has proven to work for you and your students and try something different. For me, I’ve loved the flexibility of change within our profession. I’ve changed subject areas (history to reading to ELA), grade levels (I’ve taught elementary, middle school, high school, and community college), and schools. In the last few years I’ve tried literacy centers, interactive notebooks, Socratic seminars, and more. I’ve taken on new committee assignments and served on different district task forces. You get the idea. Change is good. We teachers love to learn and so re-training fills that need.

I will make one suggestion for re-training. Consider re-training your mindset from teaching to learning. Be about what and how students learn, not only about what and how you teach. There is not a distinction without a difference.

One way to focus on learning is to shift from a class to an individual student mindset. Here we go back to the relational component of our profession which I’ve already discussed. The best way to re-focus on the individual student’s needs? Assessment-based individualized instruction. That’s what my Pennington Publishing ELA and reading intervention resources are all about. Of course, we also teach grade-level Standards, but quick, accurate, whole-class assessments can determine what and how you teach to individual students. Want the assessments (absolutely free) that I use? Grammar and Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Sight Words and Syllables, Reading Fluency. Click below and I’ll send the assessment downloads with recording matrices to your email address. What a great way to re-train this summer!

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t teach grammar mini-lessons for two reasons: this instructional methodology is implicit and ineffective.

Currently, the top Google search for “new research on teaching grammar” brings up this article from The Atlantic, written by Professor Michelle Navarre Cleary:

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

Case settled? Not exactly. In educational research it is much easier to disprove than to prove. Educational researchers frequently employ the null hypothesis in their experimental design. In a nutshell, a grammar program research study might have the following hypothesis: “There is no statistical significance between the achievement of grade 8 students taught with such and such grammar program and those not taught with said grammar program as measured by such and such assessment over such and such a period of time.”

By design, any findings would have to be extremely limited and the control group, unless unexposed to any literacy activities in hermetically-sealed isolation chambers, would have so many variables that any findings would be questionable. Such has been the case with the century of research on grammar and usage acquisition and its transfer to writing. Two separate issues, by the way.

What the good professor is advocating is learning grammar implicitly from reading and writing, especially the latter. She suggests mini-lessons in the context of writing as a superior method of writing instruction (Notice: not grammar instruction).

We know that grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones. Often, surprisingly little formal grammar instruction is needed. Researcher Marcia Hurlow has shown that many errors “disappear” from student writing when students focus on their ideas and stop “trying to ‘sound correct.’”

These grammar mini-lessons are part and parcel of the implicit instructional approach: “If you do something over and over again, you’ll eventually stop making mistakes and get gooder at the task.” It’s akin to playing Monopoly for the first time without reading the rules. No, you don’t eventually learn to play by playing and being interrupted by occasional mini-lessons on what to do when passing “Go.”

What’s Wrong with the Implicit Approach in Mini-Lessons?

  1. It is simply inefficient. Waiting to teach a mini-lesson as students need the grammatical tool always comes with this advice: “When you notice that some of your students are having capitalization issues regarding article titles, pull a group of students needing the instruction and teach the relevant rules.” Of course, other students may need that same instruction, but have not yet evidenced the problems in writer mini-conferences with the teacher. Furthermore, why not teach the capitalization rules for all proper nouns. You know you are going to have to teach another mini-lesson next week on the capitalization of song and poem titles. Lastly, the beauty of the Common Core State Standards is the grade-level expectations and the mastery approach to learning. The CCSS Language Strand has quite explicit grammar, usage, and mechanics grade-level Standards.
  2. It is haphazard and disjointed. A traditional grammar approach provides explicit, planned instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on combining sentences by starting with a prepositional phrase will not make sense unless students have a solid foundation of subjects, predicates (a prepositional phrase never includes the subject or predicate), the characteristics of a phrase and a complete sentence, the role of commas with introductory phrases, etc. All other academic disciplines build upon foundations: no math teacher would do a mini-lesson on long division before teaching the multiplication tables.
  3. It does not connect to other  language instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on semi-colons does not connect to related lessons on comma-conjunction rules, independent and dependent clauses, the use of phrases in lists, etc. The amount of scaffolding required to teach a mini-lesson on mis-use of the semi-colon is significant. Interestingly, the most popular approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction, Daily Oral Language, is at the forefront of criticism by those favoring the mini-lesson approach for not connecting to other language instruction. See my article “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work” for more.
  4. It falsely teaches students that grammar is an editing skill alone. Aside from the sentence combining practice, advocates of the mini-lesson approach teaches students that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction is all about mistakes, rather than about tools to enrich speaking and writing.

Why Are Grammar Mini-Lessons So Ineffective?

  1. There is no corroborating research. Those advocating the relegation of grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to mini-lessons have zero research studies to confirm a positive correlation with this approach on either grammar or writing assessments. It’s easy to throw stones at traditional grammar approaches, but it does not follow that mini-lessons are the best and only alternatives. The professor in The Atlantic article only cites anecdotal evidence that learning grammar from writing does, indeed, work.
  2. We’ve been there and done that. Decades of ignoring explicit grammar instruction have not seen increased reading or writing ability in our students. The Common Core authors in Appendix A crush the notion that implicit instructional approaches produce better results than explicit ones. Hence, the unpopular (among grammar mini-lesson fans) inclusion of a separate Language Strand. Even the most recent National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement in the NCTE Guideline now stresses the importance of direct instruction in these areas (even including parts of speech and sentence diagramming) with the caveat that instruction must be connected to reading, writing, and speaking. Regarding instructional approaches, the NCTE position might surprise some die-hard anti-grammar fanatics.
  3. There is less grammar teaching in mini-center classrooms. It’s just true. Those who use mini-lessons devalue the important contributions that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction bring to developing readers and writers. Or, as is often the case, teachers did not learn grammar as students and did not learn how to teach grammar, usage, and mechanics in teacher preparation classes. Grammar can be scary and teachers seek their own instructional comfort levels.
  4. This instructional philosophy trickles into other language instruction. The implicit instruction of grammar mini-lessons bleeds into other areas of language instruction. Typically, those who teach grammar mini-lessons follow suit in vocabulary instruction. Again, the days of teaching only vocabulary in context and assorted mini-lessons on context clues has not done the job. The Common Core State Standards require a variety of direct vocabulary instruction at each grade level to improve the academic language of our students. See an example of the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards, again found in the Language Strand to see if these Standards are conducive to a mini-lesson approach (They are not). In reading instruction we abandoned the “whole to part” strategy years ago following the 1985 National Reading Panel Report with its reading research consistently supporting the explicit, systematic approach to reading development. Interestingly, many teachers who now teach direct vocabulary and reading instruction have hung on to the implicit approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction.

Of course, teachers want to know how best to teach grammar, if mini-lessons do not work. No, there are other alternatives beyond simply passing out drill and kill worksheets or DOL. Check out my article, “Grammar and the Common Core” and my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,