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How to Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

How to Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

Literacy centers, (also referred to as stations), can serve as the wonderful venues for collaborative discussion of how our culture uses written and spoken language. In other words, our grammar. Now, the way we colloquially use the term grammar in teaching circles is not solely in terms of the function of words and syntax (order) within the context of our culture. Teachers use grammar to refer to sentence structure, parts of speech, parts of a sentence (subjects, objects, predicates, phrases, clauses, etc.), usage (including non-standard forms), capitalization, punctuation, and more. In sum, grammar is a catch-all term for the rules and style of our language. The study of grammar provides teachers and their students with a common language of instruction.

Over the years, as an author of numerous grammar programs and a grammar handbook/style manual, I’ve often been rhetorically questioned along the lines of “Hasn’t research constantly proven that direct instruction of grammar yields no measurable improvement in students’ writing or speaking?”

Depending upon my mood, I usually respond by asking what the questioner means by grammar. The responses vary, but the questioner always moves the discussion to how grammar is taught: a completely separate issue in my view. In my article titled “The Great Grammar Debate,” I summarize the how positions as those favoring a part to whole inductive approach (grammar is taught) and a whole to part deductive approach (grammar is caught).

Even the most ardent critics of teaching grammar deductively agree that oral language acquisition is the greatest contributor to our knowledge of grammar, and even our correct usage. Even the most ardent critics of teaching grammar inductively agree that some knowledge of how our language is put together and used within our culture should inform writing and speaking. Indeed, my view is that grammar should be both caught and taught. I tend to be a both-and teacher.

However, to respond to the how grammar should be taught question, I would argue that the best instructional format for learning and exploring the application of grammar in the context of writing, speaking, and reading is in literacy centers. In literacy centers, students use language to learn language. In a didactic approach to grammar instruction, such as Daily Oral Language, students don’t have the social context to provide immediate feedback to learning, ask questions, or discuss.

A GRAMMAR LITERACY CENTER LESSON EXAMPLE

If learning about adverbs, students will need to know their definition, be able to identify adverbs, apply adverbs properly in writing and speaking, and analyze the author’s use of adverbs in the assigned reading. Notice that the first two tasks follow the inductive approach to grammar acquisition, while the last two tasks follow the deductive approach.

A literacy center grammar lesson could include the following:

Remember that an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? Any part of speech can serve as an adverb. Let’s identify these four types of adverbs and categorize them from this short reading selection.

Did you know that we always almost use adverbs in a certain adverb order? Sounds funny, doesn’t it? This sounds better: Did you know that we almost always use adverbs in a certain adverb order? The adverb, almost, is a What Degree? adverb; the adverb, always, is a When? adverb. When we write or say a sentence with multiple adverbs, we tend to use them in this order: What degree? How? Where? or When?

Let’s practice together revising these sentences according to the What degree? How? Where? or When? adverb order. Check out the writer’s use of multiple adverbs in this article. Help each other circle the adverbs. Discussion: When does she follow the rule and when does she break the rule regarding adverb order? Why did she choose to break the rule?

The next lesson could involve adverb order in terms of placing shorter adverbial phrases in front of longer ones. Example: We ran more slowly, yet more purposefully.

The following lesson could involve adverb order in terms of placing specific adverbs before general ones. Example: We ran to the corner, then everywhere.

See how the collaborative nature of literacy centers is an effective means of learning and applying grammar? Want to try this approach to grammar instruction?

 

The author’s Academic Language Conventions Literacy Center provides 56 Common Core-aligned grammar and mechanics lessons designed for literacy centers. Plus, the author has a separate remedial grammar, usage, and mechanics literacy center to help your students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. Check out these programs HERE.

But wait. I’m so confident that teachers will recognize the quality of design and content when they see these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 grammar centers that I’m offering the entire first month-long unit of the Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE (all six centers) free of charge for you to test-drive. If you love them all (you just might), buy the full-year Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE or mix and match by buying the full-year individual centers. I’ve also attached an extensive preview of the Remedial Literacy Centers at the end of the unit for you to check out. Note: Please don’t post this free unit online or share with other teachers.

The individual centers and BUNDLES are available for sale on my Teachers Pay Teachers store and on www.penningtonpublishing.com (use discount code 3716 for 10% off at check-out).

Here’s what you will get in this free, one-month six-center Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE unit (255 pages plus the Remedial Literacy Center preview) sent as a download via email:

Academic Literacy Centers FREE Unit

Reading: Eight leveled expository reading fluency articles with word counts and timing chart. Eight corresponding comprehension worksheets with vocabulary in context. (The only components I can’t give you for this free sample are the modeled YouTube readings at three different reading speeds. You get access to these 129 readings with the paid version of the individual center or the BUNDLE.)

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including multiple meaning words and context clues; Greek and Latin word parts; dictionary and thesaurus practice; figures of speech; word relationships; connotations; and grade-level Academic language words in the Frayer four-square model

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon grade-level conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight self-assessment, study skills, reflection lessons: How to Get Motivated, How to Prevent Procrastination, How to Set Goals, How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, How to Create a Home Study Environment, How to Get Organized for Homework, How to Complete a Daily Review, How to Manage Time for Homework

Prefer to see the extensive previews of each books before you download? Click HERE.

Prefer to watch the video overview before you download? Click HERE.

Check out Pennington Publishing articles on using literacy centers HERE.

You and your students will love these centers! Pick your grade level and get started with your month-long test-drive. Tell a colleague and earn a nice gift upon that colleague’s purchase of one of our BUNDLES!

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 4 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 5 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 6 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 7 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 8 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Writing in Literacy Centers

Teach Writing in Literacy Centers

How to Teach Writing in Literacy Centers

Literacy centers, or stations, are ideal instructional strategies for some writing instruction and practice. As much as teachers love literacy centers (I do!), some instruction and practice is just not conducive to centers. Most teachers and professional writers would agree that drafting is a solitary affair between writer and the imagination.  In the classic writing process stages, drafting follows pre-writing. Collaborative pre-writing (including research, discussion, organization, connection to prior knowledge, etc.) can certainly work well in the social atmosphere of literacy centers or cooperative groups. However, the pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard task of generating meaning seems to be part of the magic best suited for the magician alone.

Following drafting, the response-revision-editing-publication steps of the writing process work best in the social context of the classroom with student-student and student-teacher interactions. Whether using a writers workshop model or not, literacy centers can be beneficial instructional settings for working with the first draft.

Five Effective Uses of Literacy Centers for Writing Instruction

1. Response Activities

In the early years (1970s) of the National Writing Project and the popularization of teaching the writing process in schools, the response step was emphasized and valued as a necessary follow-up to the draft. Subsequently, more and more writing process charts and instructional approaches (writers workshop, 6 + 1 traits, Step up to Writing) tended to ignore this step. Some of the rationale for abandoning the response step seems to make sense. After all, student response groups can turn into mutual admiration societies (“It’s great. I wouldn’t change a thing.”) Or the blind leading the blind. Or crushing Yelp reviews of one star (sometimes as payback for past negative reviews). After all, we do teach kids.

However, if given concrete, objective “what to look for” response tasks dealing with what is said, response groups can be an essential step before writing revision. Additionally, most teachers find that guided response group tasks work efficiently to help writers decided what to keep and what to throw out. It’s all about waste management. Instead of spending excessive time analyzing and directing the trash disposal in terms of following the writing prompts, writing coherence, and unity, the teacher can reasonably expect that response groups can, at a minimum, sort the trash into recyclables, non-green waste, and compost. To mix metaphors, “Many hands make light work.”

2. Guided Revision

If well-designed response activities, used within literacy centers, can provide useful feedback to the writer regarding what is said in the draft and also save the teacher time dealing with the garbage, then well-designed guided revision tasks can help the writer work with how it is said. Guided revision is the back and forth discussion within the center regarding how the writer interacts with the reader.

For example, sentence structure and length is always a great guided revision task. It provides objective criteria: How many short sentences and long sentences are in the body paragraphs? How many simple sentences, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences are in the opening of the story? Are there any sections with three simple sentence in a row? Sections with two complex or compound-complex sentences back-to-back?

Or another example: sentence variety. How many sentences begin with the subject? How many passive voice sentences are there?

Or (from the author’s grammar handbook (see below):

e29 Get more specific. The support evidence is too general. Add more specific evidence by including Fact, Example, Statistic, Comparison, Quote from an Authority, Logic, Experience, or Counter-Argument/Refutation. FE SCALE CR

3. Guided Editing

Focusing on mistakes in word choice, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. can work well in literacy centers, but only if resources are made available and the editing is guided by discrete tasks.

The author provides a nice resource for student and teacher editing and revision in a grammar handbook: The Pennington Manual of Style provides 438 categorized comments which both literacy center partners and teachers can automatically insert into Windows Microsoft Word and/or downloaded into Google Docs or simply copied and pasted (for Windows and Mac users) as guided editing documents. The comments identify what is wrong, why is it wrong, and how to fix it.

For example, many students overuse “to be” verbs in both expository and narrative compositions: 

For more examples, check out the article on how to make revision and editing comments. Or take a look at  The Pennington Manual of Style on the author’s website.

4. Sentence Revision

Students need both the know how and tools to work with their own writing. If students don’t know that constantly beginning sentences with “There are,” “Here is,” “It was,” is poor writing style, unnecessary, and irritating to their audience, they will continue using these expletives. Literacy centers provide the collaborative experience for students to learn how to revise sentences. The author’s Writing Academic Literacy Center provides 56 mini-lessons for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (Get a FREE one-month unit below to test-drive this program) to help students learn what to revise and how to do so.

5. Literary Response to Mentor Texts

Literacy centers help students borrow each other’s brains to solve problems, ask questions, understand complex ideas, come up with solutions, and apply what has been learned. However, if students only draw water from the same well (each other) the writing results and production will stagnate. Good writers build upon the broad shoulders of better writers. Using grade-appropriate mentor texts can stimulate new ways at looking at things. When connected to interpretive and analytical writing tasks, student writers are exposed to new ideas and new ways of saying these ideas.

The author’s Writing Academic Literacy Center provides 56 mini-lessons featuring short mentor texts and response activities. The response activities requires students to collaboratively alter the rhetorical stance of their responses in terms of voice, audience, purpose, and form). These brain-stretching mini-lessons will significantly improve student writing flexibility, maturity, and style.

 

I’m so confident that teachers will recognize the quality of design and content when they see these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 writing centers that I’m offering the entire first month-long unit of the Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE (all six centers) free of charge for you to test-drive. If you love them all (you just might), buy the full-year Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE or mix and match by buying the full-year individual centers. I’ve also attached an extensive preview of the Remedial Literacy Centers at the end of the unit for you to check out. Note: Please don’t post this free unit online or share with other teachers.

The individual centers and BUNDLES are available for sale on my Teachers Pay Teachers store and on www.penningtonpublishing.com (use discount code 3716 for 10% off at check-out).

Here’s what you will get in this free, one-month six-center Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE unit (255 pages plus the Remedial Literacy Center preview) sent as a download via email:

Academic Literacy Centers FREE Unit

Reading: Eight leveled expository reading fluency articles with word counts and timing chart. Eight corresponding comprehension worksheets with vocabulary in context. (The only components I can’t give you for this free sample are the modeled YouTube readings at three different reading speeds. You get access to these 129 readings with the paid version of the individual center or the BUNDLE.)

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including multiple meaning words and context clues; Greek and Latin word parts; dictionary and thesaurus practice; figures of speech; word relationships; connotations; and grade-level Academic language words in the Frayer four-square model

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon grade-level conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight self-assessment, study skills, reflection lessons: How to Get Motivated, How to Prevent Procrastination, How to Set Goals, How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, How to Create a Home Study Environment, How to Get Organized for Homework, How to Complete a Daily Review, How to Manage Time for Homework

Prefer to see the extensive previews of each books before you download? Click HERE.

Prefer to watch the video overview before you download? Click HERE.

Check out Pennington Publishing articles on using literacy centers HERE.

You and your students will love these centers! Pick your grade level and get started with your month-long test-drive. Tell a colleague and earn a nice gift upon that colleague’s purchase of one of our BUNDLES!

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 4 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 5 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 6 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 7 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 8 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words Vocabulary

Multiple Meaning Words

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words

From an old vaudeville act:

“You drove me to drink!” her husband shouted.

“No, you walked there yourself every night,” his wife responded.

This mildly humorous exchange is built upon word play. Word play is a basic tool for many writing and speaking genre. The word play in the short vaudevillian dialog involves the double-meaning of the verb, drove. It also involves different uses of the parts of speech: The husband uses to drink as an infinitive (an unconjugated verb). The wife interprets her husband’s word, drink, as a common noun place (say a bar) and the object of the prepositional phrase to drink (where). Finally, the husband uses the verb phrase, drove me toas an idiom, meaning forced me or caused me, whereas the wife uses drove me as a colloquialism meaning he used the car to drive (no one drives a person).

Enough already! English-language arts teachers certainly can take the fun out of anything. My point is that multiple meaning words are important components of any language. English has plenty of them.

The Common Core authors include multiple meaning words in the Language Strand as Standard L.4.a., but word play is also included in word relationships Standard L.5.b. and figures of speech Standard L.5.a. By the way, I love the fact that the Standards include puns (my boldface):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

See how multiple meaning words fit into the breadth of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards in the Language Strand:

  • 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.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

What is the instructional focus of multiple meaning words?

Our instructional focus with multiple meaning words is centered on homonyms. A brief reminder: Homonyms represents a general category, literally meaning same names, that is used to indicate similar words which have different meanings. Homographs (words spelled the same, but pronounced differently, such as bass (a deep tone or voice) and bass (a type of fish), and homophones (words pronounced the same but spelled differently, such as reed and read) are subsets of homonyms. So, yes, bass, reed, and read are all examples of homonyms.

How do context clues fit in… the Standard does not mention these.

True, however words are always used in context. Without context clues, we wouldn’t understand homonyms. For example, saying “I like a lot of bass” is meaningless unless we surround the homograph with context clues, such as “I like a lot of bass on my speakers” or “I like a lot of bass, but not a lot of trout.”

As an aside, the Common Core Standards are quite explicit in some sections as exemplars for instruction; however, they are not a detailed instructional scope and sequence (see below for a helpful example). The Common Core authors expect teachers to use their brains to fill in the blanks. As an educational author, I always list applicable Standards; however, I also include a good measure of common sense. For example, the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards (L.2) include plenty of specific Standards regarding the use of different verb forms; however, the Standards nowhere mention “Thou shalt teach thine students what a verb is.”

Which Multiple Meaning Words to Use and How to Team Them

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Examples

In my three vocabulary programs (see below), I use vocabulary worksheets to help students learn grade-level multiple meaning words and context clue strategies to explain their use. Check out my S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies with free lessons HERE.

Homonyms

Multiple Meaning Words

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Academic Literacy Centers

As most teachers have now adjusted their writing instruction and practice into the narrowed focus of the Common Core State Standards (more research and essays and less stories and creative writing), I see a renewed interest in developing the skill sets of student writers.

Teachers have, understandably, focused on the first three Common Core Writing Standards: 1. The argumentative (essay) 2. The informational/explanatory (essay or report) 3. The narrative (story). Most teachers have had professional development in these three genre and teach all three at some time within each school year.

Additionally, most teachers are now implementing Writing Standards W.6, 7, 8, and 9 by using technology for short or extended research writing projects.

However, teachers are less familiar with the other three writing standards and few are well-acquainted with the relevant language standard. Teachers usually refer to these standards as writing skills or strategies. Typically, teachers have taught these tools in isolation as writing openers/worksheets or in the writing context as mini-lessons/editing. These skills or strategies are ideally suited to literacy center (station) lessons.

Following are the often-neglected writing and language standards:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Teachers have used three research-based strategies to teach these writing skills or strategies: 1. Frequent, short, and focused writing practice 2. Sentence revisions 3. Literary response

How to Teach to These Standards

Fortunately, #s 2 and 3 are best accomplished by #1.

Sentence Revision (called by many other names) includes quick, focused instruction and repetitive practice in precise word choice, sentence structure (grammar, usage, and syntax), and sentence variety (varied grammatical forms, sentence combining, sentence length, parallelism, etc.)

Literary Response includes learning from accomplished writers. Teachers have used both expository and narrative mentor texts for years to model how writers communicate artfully and memorably. Typically, students respond to mentor texts in different rhetorical modes (rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form) to develop their own writing style.

If you glance back at the often-neglected writing and language standards above, you’ll see how sentence revision and literary response activities address the components of these standards and can be taught and practiced in frequent, short, and focused writing practice.

One great way to teach sentence revision and literary response writing skills is in literacy centers (stations). The social nature of collaborative writing is especially conducive to literacy centers.

 

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

Get the Writing Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

Now that teachers have had plenty of professional development in how to write arguments (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1) and informative/explanatory texts (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2), teachers are looking at their students’ essays or narratives (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3) with a collective sigh. Students just cannot write.

Students seem to understand the content, they know the demands and constraints of the writing genre, they can dissect a writing prompt, they know the writing process… but the words they use, the sentences they construct, and the intangible feeling our student writers convey simply do not engage their readers (teachers especially).

The Problem

Many teachers are not equipping their students with the tools they need in their tool belts. Or, just as bad, teachers introduce the tools, but don’t provide the practice students need to master the tools.

The Solution

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

Fortunately, the Common Core authors do acknowledge the importance of teaching both sentence revisions and literary response in both the Anchor Standards for Writing and the Anchor Standards for Language (highlighting my own):

Writing Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Suggestions

Keep your focus on both the content and process of writing. Maintain a balance of extended writing process assignments (especially essays and stories) and short, say twice-per-week writing skill development, especially using sentence revisions and literary response activities.

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Serial (Oxford) Comma | For the Want of a Nail

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

–Benjamin Franklin

Okay, let’s keep things in perspective, shall we? Comma rules are not the most important components of human communication, right? However, the simple comma does impact the specific meaning of a sentence, as well as how the sentence is interpreted.

For the want of a comma…

Comma Rules

22 Comma Rules

–A man’s civil rights were lost. The Louisiana Supreme ruled that accused and self-confessed rapist, Warren Demesme, was not asserting his right to counsel when he stated, “This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.”

The Orleans Parish district attorneys argued that the lack of the comma between “lawyer” and “dog” meant that the accused was asking for a “lawyer dog,” not a “lawyer, dawg.” Now, no one would defend the self-confessed actions of the accused, but Americans do uphold the Constitutional right of the accused to an attorney and the right “to remain silent.” The comma (or lack thereof) certainly has significance in this case.

For the want of a comma…

–Your grandfather was cannibalized. “Let’s eat Grandpa.” The comma (or lack thereof) would certainly matter to your grandfather.

Now to be clear, the above examples are issues of commas placed before nouns of direct address. No one argues that this comma rule is superfluous. However, Americans are divided in their views on the serial comma rule (also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma rule). For a refresher, the serial comma is a comma placed before the coordinating conjunctions and or or when listing three or more items. The use, misuse, or non-use of the serial comma has its own consequences:

For the want of a serial comma…

–$10,000,000 was lost in a Maine court judgment. In a class action lawsuit against a dairy company regarding overtime pay for its truck drivers, the workers prevailed because the state laws on overtime regulations did not include a serial comma. (See Daniel Victor’s March 16, 2017 article in the Washington Post for the details.)

In sum, punctuation, including the serial comma, does affect meaning. 

To include or not include the serial comma…

Now, I’m sure that most of you already have made up your minds regarding whether we should or should not use the serial comma. Those who don’t care have stopped reading by now or never looked at this article.

My take is that your views have been chiefly influenced by one or both of two factors: 1. What you read 2. Your most influential English teacher

  1. If you read online news, blogs, posts, texts, and emails as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text without the serial comma. If you read novels or technical materials, manuals, and reports as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text with the serial comma. English teachers used to characterize these distinctions as informal and formal reading, but these lines have become blurred in the digital age.
  2. We tend to dig in and defend what we have been taught. Our English teachers taught us one way and marked us wrong if we used the other way. As an English teacher at the middle school, high school, and college levels and author of numerous grammar books and a writing style manual, I’ll let you in on a little secret: We English teachers don’t know the comma rules better than the average educated American. We never had a graduate level class on writing mechanics. 

My take? I value the use of the serial comma for three reasons: clarity, consistency, and conformity. However, its usage should be dictated by the writing genre.

How to Use Serial Commas

Serial Commas

Clarity

Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford, 2009) nicely clarifies the issue of clarity with or without the serial comma:

“Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it’s easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities whereas including it never will” (Garner 676).

A few specific examples demonstrate why the serial comma provides clarity and avoids ambiguity.

The serial comma permits the use of compound subjects or objects in lists. (Remember, compound means two or more.)

Example without the Serial Comma: For lunch I enjoy hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly and fish. In this example, “peanut butter and jelly” is a compound object. A serial comma following would add clarity and prevent a truly gross sandwich.

Additionally, I’m not comma crazy, but I would also use a comma when listing only two items in a list if the and or or coordinating conjunction joins a compound subject or object. Example without the Serial Comma: On our summer trip to Britain, we want to visit the Fox and Hound and Stratford upon Avon. Most would agree that a comma following “Hound” would clear things up quite a bit for the reader.

Failing to use the serial comma can produce problems with appositives. Remember that an appositive identifies, describes, defines, or explains what comes before or after a part of speech (usually a noun or a pronoun). Most of the funny examples that you see posted to argue in favor of the serial comma involve confusing appositives.

Example without the Serial Comma: I just finished mailing letters to my children, Santa Claus and Jimmy Fallon; At the banquet we dined with good old friends, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; At the Halloween party I danced with Mrs. Peabody’s two ex-husbands, Wonder Woman and Cleopatra.

Notice that in the above examples, appositives become confusing when the first item listed in a series is a common noun (an uncapitalized idea, person, place, or thing), followed by two or more proper nouns (a capitalized person, place, or thing).

Now, articles which purport to be objective regarding the serial comma usually trot out confusing appositives to argue why serial commas can be just as ambiguous as the lack thereof.

Example with the Serial Comma: We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, the reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift.

Those using this sentence example (serial killers? No, too harsh) suggest that three women may be inferred here. However, their argument sets up a straw dog to prove their point. The sentence is not an example of an ambiguous serial comma at all; it is a mistake in syntax (the order of words in a sentence). A good English teacher would suggest either of these two revisions: 1. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian (the reality television star) and the delightful Taylor Swift. 2. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, who is a reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift. The first sentence uses a parenthetical insertion and the second uses a non-restrictive relative clause.

Consistency

In addition to providing clarity, the serial comma rule is also consistent with other Standard American English punctuation. Specifically, the serial comma rule is consistent with other punctuation rules regarding the separation of items in a list.

For example, semicolons may be used to separate long phrases or clauses in a list. No anti-serial comma journalist would ever abandon the last semicolon in the following list:

Semicolon Example: The Martin landed on Earth; the Venetian attempted to communicate; and the Air Force Captain asserted her belief that extraterrestrials did, indeed, exist.

Moreover, the use of the serial comma appeals to our sense of parallelism. Parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation are characteristics of consistent, predictable, memorable, reader-friendly writing. As Mary Norris, writing in The New Yorker, states, “If a sentence were a picket fence, the serial commas would be posts at regular intervals.”

Example: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln’s example shows the impact of parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation. Without the serial comma in the sentence above, the cadence of the writing and speech would be altered and inconsistent with the other parallel forms in The Gettysburg Address.

Those proposing the elimination of the serial comma always seem to add the following caveat to their position: Drop the serial comma unless its elimination would be confusing to the reader. Inconsistency is built into their rule; such is not the case for the serial comma rule. Such is the stated position of the only major style guide which supports the elimination of the serial comma.

Conformity

Only the Associated Press (AP) stylebook supports dropping the serial comma “unless deemed absolutely necessary.” Admittedly, the AP position has wielded tremendous influence. Following AP style, newspapers uniformly omit the serial comma. Both prestigious papers, such as The New York Times and tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, avoid the comma. Some magazines, such as People and Variety, do so as well. Furthermore, the lack of the serial comma is also firmly entrenched in digital media, largely due to the AP influence. Because of the pervasiveness of such digital news, the serial comma’s days may be numbered.

However, the use of the serial comma is supported in the overwhelming majority of academic style guides: Chicago, Turabian, Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual 8.27, 8.28. Also, contrary to much of what you may have heard, the serial comma has not been abandoned in all periodicals. For example,  The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Magazine adhere to its usage.

Additionally, the respected Online Writing Lab of Purdue University (a favorite go-to guide for teachers and students) supports the serial comma rule.

Clearly we have a divergence of authoritative opinion and common usage regarding the serial comma. Despite the clear advantages of the serial comma in terms of clarity and consistency, conformity to the dictates of the writing genre (and the editor or teacher’s demands) makes the most practical sense. I’ll close with a few pragmatic applications:

  1. When writing a newspaper article, omit the serial comma.
  2. When writing an article for a blog or magazine, ask the editor whether or not to use the serial comma. Conform to whomever is paying the bills.
  3. When writing informally on the web, in letters, cards, emails, texts, posts,flyers, bulletins, etc., pick your poison, but be consistent as possible. Try not to judge others’ usage too harshly in this transitional “no-man’s land.”
  4. When writing reports, essays, narratives, novels, and documents, use the serial comma.
  5. Teachers should teach the serial comma and expect its usage in formal academic writing. However, the discussion of its use in different writing genre and in the evolution of our language is also productive. Using the serial comma to explain the purpose of punctuation and how it affects meaning is valuable.

I’m Mark Pennington, English-language arts teacher and reading specialist. More to the point, I am the author of the comprehensive grades 4–high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs and the Pennington Manual of Style, a useful reference and teaching tool. Click HERE for a complete list of the 22 comma rules with clear examples.

The Pennington Manual of Style

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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Literacy Center Resources Grades 4-8

Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

Upper elementary and middle school literacy centers are qualitatively different than primary literacy centers. Recognizing this fact can mean the difference between

Using Remedial Literacy Centers

Remedial Literacy Centers

success and failure of your literacy centers. Since literacy centers have long been the staples of self-contained primary classrooms, much of the available curriculum, articles, videos, and pins focuses on what works for a cute group of teacher-pleasing, eager-to-learn, well-behaved second graders. Those are not your kids, right? If you are a grades 4-8 teacher and you are interested in starting, adding to, or revising literacy centers in your classroom, this growing list of articles and resources is just for you.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding why to use and how to set up literacy centers from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Literacy Center Rotations

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/uncategorized/literacy-center-rotations/

Following are rotation limitations, rotation options, and rotation transitions to make your literacy center planning easier. Of course, these are not the only options, but others can certainly be modified from the ones I will provide. Plus, clink on each link to find colorful visuals for each rotation option.

How to Start Literacy Centers | Upper Elementary and Middle School

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-essay-strategies/

A quick overview of relevant definitions and research regarding literacy centers and  12 solid tips about setting up or revising your grades 4-8 literacy centers to make them achieve your instructional goals.

Literacy Center Teacher Roles

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/literacy-center-teacher-roles/  

To provide options and some flexibility to teacher roles during literacy centers, I’ve categorized these roles for the purposes of discussion. Broadly speaking, a teacher may serve as a supervisor, mini-conferencer, or a specific literacy center facilitator. Of course a combination of roles is certainly another option.

Literacy Center Groupings

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/uncategorized/literacy-center-groupings/

Check out the advantages and disadvantages of homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings and learn how to form effective groups for literacy centers.

Literacy Center Research: 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/literacy-center-research-5-reasons-to-use-literacy-centers/

5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers: 1. Rigor 2. Assessment-based individualized instruction 3. Function over fun or cute 4. Coaching 5. Independence

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/10-reasons-not-to-use-literacy-centers/

I do love literacy centers, but not the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Check out the legitimate reasons not to use literacy centers and some possible work-a-rounds to solve these problems.

Academic Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/academic-literacy-centers/

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centers. Academic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Remedial |Differentiated Literacy Centers

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/remedial-differentiated-literacy-centers/

Many teachers begin using literacy centers (stations) to give their students something meaningful to do while the teacher leads a guided reading group. For most teachers, their only differentiated or individualized instruction takes place in the guided reading group. While an excellent start to differentiating or individualizing instruction, reading isn’t the only subject area in which your students have a range of abilities and deficits.

While differentiated or individualized instruction is certainly a worthy goal, how that goal is accomplished does matter. My take is that a mixture of homogeneous ability-level groups and heterogeneous mixed-level groups makes the most sense, rather than the multiple-level lessons and activities in each literacy center approach. Check out Remedial Literacy Centers. Designed for grades 4-8 students with below grade-level literacy skills, these four literacy centers work nicely with my own grade-level Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE or mix and match with your own. Get all the signs, answers, lessons, task cards, posters, rotation charts, and diagnostic assessments… everything you need to properly place students and run effective 20-minute remedial centers. Differentiate and individualize instruction with our assessment-based Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and Guided Reading Literacy Center with 54 illustrated take-home phonics books, designed for older readers.

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Remedial | Differentiated Instruction Literacy Centers

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

Many teachers begin using literacy centers (stations) to give their students something meaningful to do while the teacher leads a guided reading group. For most teachers, their only differentiated or individualized instruction takes place in the guided reading group. While an excellent start to differentiating or individualizing instruction, reading isn’t the only subject area in which your students have a range of abilities and deficits.

While differentiated or individualized instruction is certainly a worthy goal, how that goal is accomplished does matter. My take is that a mixture of homogeneous ability-level groups and heterogeneous mixed-level groups makes the most sense, rather than the multiple-level lessons and activities in each literacy center approach.

Problems with Multiple-level Lessons and Activities in Literacy Centers

When teachers try to create multiple-level learning activities in their other literacy centers, they typically find significant challenges and drawbacks to this approach. Most abandon the multiple-level lessons and activities approach soon after implementation and often (unfortunately) abandon differentiated or individualized instruction, other than guided reading, as a result. Here’s a list of why this is often the case:

  • Multiple-level centers are all the rage in literacy center books and from the lips of university professors. It’s nice to have an idealistic goal, but more effective to have a realistic approach that will work in your classroom.
  • Creating remedial, grade-level, and accelerated Standards-based lessons or activities for every literacy station that will work for your students is a guarantee for teacher burn-out. At some point, we all need to expend our available work-related energies in what will give our students the best bang for our buck. Plus, we do/should have lives outside of our classrooms.
  • Literacy centers are designed as primarily independent work stations. The more activities and more sets of directions, the more teacher interruptions. It’s a proven corollary.
  • Multiple-level stations are simply too complicated to design and run KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). Plus, they confuse your students.
  • Literacy centers are designed as collaborative, social instructional experiences. Kids can’t work together toward a common objective if they are completing different lessons or activities. Plus, the benefits of peer tutoring are short-circuited.
  • Multiple-level centers are a teacher-correction nightmare.
  • All the multiple-level lesson materials create an organizational challenge for the students and teacher.

A Workable Alternative: Grade-Level and Remedial Literacy Centers 

Rather than abandoning the goal of differentiated or individualized instruction, try a mix of these two student groupings: #1 Grade-level and accelerated Standards-based centers with heterogeneously grouped students and #2 Remedial centers with  homogeneously grouped students. The advantages?

  • Grade-level content or process literacy centers are relatively easy to create and can accommodate open-ended, free or guided choice alternatives for accelerated learners.
  • Remedial content or process literacy centers can be designed according to assessment-based data and students grouped accordingly in ability groups.
  • Remedial centers are task-oriented, fluid, and flexible. When a student has masted the center content or skills, that student transitions out of the remedial center. Remedial centers are flexibly established to meet students’ needs, not as permanent classroom centers.
  • Students, parents, and administrators can see measurable progress in the specific areas of literacy deficits.
  • Remedial literacy centers permit teacher-led centers. Just as with guided reading, teachers can rotate through a variety of remedial groups, teaching the whole time or splitting time between groups (a very effective approach) in which the teacher gets a group started with brief instruction, then rotates to another group to do the same.
  • Rather than students working at the remedial lessons or activities in a multiple-level literacy center individually, students work with their peers cooperatively, and not have to rely on a high-low peer tutoring approach in which the advanced student does the work for the student requiring remediation.
  • Remedial literacy centers can reduce behavioral problems. Rather than assigning Johnny, who reads at the first grade level, to a multiple-level literacy group to supposedly work on his own, and instead create havoc because he can’t read the directions and is bored, eliminate the issue by providing appropriate ability-level work and give him a chance to learn. Veteran teachers recognize that behavioral problems are usually learning problems. Plus, strategically it is much easier to manage a group of behaviorally-challenged students than when they are dispersed at every corner of a literacy center classroom. Let’s face it, the teacher cannot be everywhere at once.
  • Specifically-designed remedial literacy centers are available for purchase… no need to invent the wheel. Of course these are harder to create than your own grade-level centers.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers and four grades 4-8 Remedial Literacy Centers.

In a nutshell, the four Remedial Literacy Centers have been designed with assessment-based lessons and activities to help your students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. Each comprehensive year-long (if needed) center will minimize preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning. These are the four Remedial Literacy Centers, designed specifically for your grades 4-8 students to teach them what they missed in the shortest possible timePhonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and Guided Reading Literacy Center with 54 illustrated take-home phonics books, designed for older readers. Make sure to click PREVIEW THIS BOOK to get a nice sample of the contents, diagnostic assessments, literacy lessons and activities, and supplies for each literacy center. Not sure if your students need any or all of these Remedial Literacy Centers? Why not give the whole-class Diagnostic Grammar Assessment, Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, and Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment to let the data drive your decision-making. Click HERE to get these assessments absolutely FREE. 

FAQs

  • Are there diagnostic assessments for proper group placement? Absolutely. Plus, recording matrices are provided for quick and easy progress monitoring.
  • Are there directions for each lesson and activity? There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task card (provided in both color and black and white).
  • Who corrects the work? Your students will do all the correcting of the practice exercises in their literacy group. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes. The teacher grades only the short formative assessment during mini-conferences with individual students.
  • Will these remedial literacy centers work with the six grade-level (4, 5, 6, 7, 8) Academic Literacy Centers? Yes, they fit nicely into rotations with these grade-level centers, your own centers, and/or guided reading.
  • Do students complete all of the center activities? No, these are flexible ability groups. Students complete only the center activities they need, according the results of the diagnostic assessments. Student will move in and out of these Remedial Literacy Centers per individual need.
  • Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.
  • What supplies do I need to provide? Only the paper copies. These are not art centers.
  • Are the usual literacy kit supplies included in each program? Yes. The program provides group norms, leadership roles, seven  possible group rotations, task card directions, and answer sheets for each lesson or activity and both pocket chart and larger center signs. Each Remedial Literacy Center, as well as the grade-level Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE is complete and ready to use.
Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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