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ELA/Reading Articles and Resources

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Mark Pennington is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesMark also is the featured author of Teaching Essay Strategies and the Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs. Check out the QUICK LINKS at the bottom of the Pennington Publishing homepage for free ELA/reading diagnostic assessments and recording matrices.

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ELA/Reading Assessments

English-Language Arts and Reading Assessments

Following are accurate and teachable diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading assessments and corresponding recording matrices to help teachers determine what students know and what they do not know. All but one assessment (fluency) are whole class assessments. Use Scantron or Grade Cam to score if your wish. Each assessment is comprehensive, not a random sample, to enable teachers to teach to the results of each test item. The author’s ELA/reading programs provide the resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction.

Grammar Assessment

Use this 40 item assessment to determine student’s knowledge of parts of speech, subjects and predicates, types of sentences, fragments and run-ons, pronoun usage, modifiers, verb tenses and verb forms. The author’s one-volume Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides corresponding whole class lessons with grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction including sentence diagrams, mentor texts and formative assessments plus corresponding worksheets targeted to each item on the Grammar Assessment. Additionally, the author provides grade-leveled grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core aligned instruction in the Teaching the Language Strand programs. Each comprehensive program includes full year programs in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary with all the resources teachers need for effective direct and individualized instruction. Student workbooks and complete diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments are part of these programs.

Mechanics Assessment

Use this 32 item assessment to test students’ ability to apply correct usage of commas, capitalization, and all other essential punctuation. The author’s one-volume Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides corresponding whole class lessons with grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction including sentence diagrams, mentor texts and formative assessments plus corresponding worksheets targeted to each item on the Mechanics Assessment. Additionally, the author provides grade-leveled grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core aligned instruction in the Teaching the Language Strand programs. Each comprehensive program includes full year programs in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary with all the resources teachers need for effective direct and individualized instruction. Student workbooks and complete diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments are part of these programs.

Spelling Patterns Assessment

Use this comprehensive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint all sound-spelling patterns learned from kindergarten through third grade. This 64 item test will pinpoint spelling deficits and allow the teacher to individualize instruction according to the assessment-data. The author’s Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs and the comprehensive Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs provide additional test items according to the grade level and targeted worksheets to remediate each unknown assessment sound-spelling. Each worksheet includes a spelling sort and formative assessment.

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness

Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) and two awareness assessments (upper and lower case identification and application) to determine reading readiness. Each of the seven assessments is administered whole class. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment.

Sight Words (Outlaw Words) Assessment

Use this 99 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common non-phonetic English words. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program includes an Outlaw Words fluency article which uses all assessment sight words. The program also provides sight word flashcard masters and individual sets of business card size flashcards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Flashcards.

Rimes (Word Families) Assessment

Use this comprehensive 79 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English rimes. Memorization and practice of these word families such as ack, eck, ick, ock, and uck can supplement an explicit and systematic phonics program, such as found in the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Experienced reading teachers know that different students respond differently to reading instruction and some remedial students especially benefit from learning onsets (such as consonant blends) and rimes. The program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program also provides rimes flashcard masters and individual sets of business card size flashcards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Flashcards.

Sight Syllables Assessment

Use this 49 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes. Memorization and practice of these high utility affixes will assist with syllabication, spelling, and vocabulary development. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides Greek and Latin prefix and suffix flashcard masters and individual sets of business card size flashcards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Flashcards.

The Pets Fluency Assessment

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes 43 expository fluency articles (leveled in pyramid design from third to seventh grade reading levels) with word counts and timing charts. Two instructional options for fluency remediation are provided: small group choral reading and YouTube modeled readings at three different reading speeds. Corresponding vocabulary and comprehension worksheets are integral program components.

Grammar Assessment Recording Matrix

Mechanics Assessment Recording Matrix

Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix

Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

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Mark Pennington is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesMark also is the featured author of Teaching Essay Strategies and the Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs. Check out the QUICK LINKS at the bottom of the Pennington Publishing homepage for an index of hundreds of useful ELA/reading articles and free resources to help teachers use assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction to maximize learning for each of their students.

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Grammar Openers Toolkit

Pennington Publishing's Grammar Toolkit

Grammar Toolkit

The Grammar Openers Toolkit (eBook) provides 64 “openers” to teach students all the grammar, mechanics, and spelling that they need to become effective writers. Throw away your old DOL or DLR and make sense out of explicit grammar instruction with a Sentence Lifting program that has a true standards-based scope and sequence of instruction. These twice-per-week direct intruction lessons, formatted for classroom display, include options for both basic and advanced skills and serve as a full year curriculum for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students. Designed to teach the essential concepts, rules, and skills in the context of authentic writing, these lessons require only a few minutes of teacher prep and paperwork. The “Teaching Hints” section in fine print on each lesson is indispensable for the grammatically-challenged teacher.

The scripted Sentence Lifting lessons provide explicit and systematic direct instruction in standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Lessons use mentor texts (student and literary examples), sentence combining, and sentence manipulation activities. The only advance preparation is to select a student grammatical sentence model for each lesson.

All Sentence Lifting lessons follow the same format. First, the teacher selects either basic or advanced skills and introduces these with definitions and examples. Next, the teacher asks students to apply the skills and analyze practice sentences in a “What’s Right? and What’s Wrong?” interactive discussion. Then, the teacher dictates three sentences as a formative assessment. Finally, students self-correct and self-edit from the displayed answers. The teacher can use a simple point system to award students for their efforts.

Preview This Book

Materials in the Grammar Openers Toolkit (200 pages) have been selected as a “slice” of the comprehensive one volume curriculum: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, by the same author. The full program includes diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments with corresponding remedial worksheets.

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Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a comprehensive curriculum that helps teachers significantly improve student writing and test scores through both explicit, systematic instruction and individualized practice. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice.

Want to see lesson and assessment samples, the scope and sequence, and alignment documents? Preview This Book

Teachers describe this full-year curriculum as…

  • Comprehensive. The standards based-scope and sequence includes everything your students need to learn about grammar: the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech) the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, grammatical terminology and mechanics: capitalization, punctuation, conventional spelling rules. No other grammar textbook or workbook is needed.
  • Flexible. Each lesson provides both basic and advanced mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Teachers choose what to teach to their students, so the curriculum works well for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. Special education students and English-language learners thrive with the individualized instruction.
  • User-friendly. Minimal teacher prep design with simple and clear procedures and instructional activities, suitable for the novice English teacher with little background in grammar as well as for the veteran English teacher. Tips and writing hints for the grammatically-challenged teacher are provided in the scripted lessons, as are all the answers.
  • Balanced and research-based. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a balanced curriculum; students learn all of the grammar and mechanics skills and rules in the context of authentic writing, not in isolation.

The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program includes the following instructional resources:

 Assessments

  • Comprehensive and prescriptive whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments in multiple choice format—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Everything in the scope and sequence of instruction is assessed. Students complete targeted grammar and worksheets to practice and master the unmastered skills indicated on their diagnostic assessments.
  • A grammar and mechanics recording matrix makes assessment data entry simple and progress monitoring efficient.

Instructional Resources and Procedures

  • Get a full year of 64 Sentence Lifting lessons, formatted for classroom display. These scripted twice-per week lessons provide explicit and systematic direct instruction in the Common Core Standards of mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Lessons use mentor texts (student and literary examples), simple sentence diagramming, engaging grammar cartoons, sentence combining, and sentence manipulation activities. The only advance preparation is to select student sentence models.
  • All Sentence Lifting lessons follow the same format. First, the teacher selects either basic or advanced skills and introduces these with definitions and examples. Next, the teacher asks students to apply the skills and analyze practice sentences in a “What’s Right? and What’s Wrong?” interactive discussion. Then, the teacher reinforces the learning in the reading context with the Grammar Cartoon and in the writing context with the Literary Sentence Model and Student Sentence Model. Finally, students apply the skills in the simple Sentence Diagram and Sentence Dictations and then self-correct and edit their work when the teacher displays the answers.
  • Get 72 targeted grammar and mechanics worksheets, aligned to each skill tested in the diagnostic assessments. Each worksheet includes definitions, examples, skill practice, and writing hints about how to apply the skill within authentic writing. Students complete only those worksheets indicated as un-mastered skills by the diagnostic assessments.
  • Students complete a grammar and mechanics worksheet. Then they self-correct and self-edit from the answer sheets. After completing each worksheet, students take a short formative assessment and then mini-conference with their teacher to determine whether the skill has or has not been mastered. Again, teachers can use a simple point system to award students for their efforts.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a one-volume, non-grade level, standards-based curriculum and includes both basic and advanced skills for each lesson. For leveled grades 4-8 instruction for the entire Common Core Language Strand (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling vocabulary, and knowledge of use), please check out the comprehensive Teaching the Language Strand grade-level programs.

Print version includes the digital files of the complete teacher’s edition.

Grammar Comic! Preview

Sam and Friends Phonics Readers Preview

Preview the introductory video.

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Teaching the Language Strand

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand

Teaching the Language Strand
Grades 4-8 Programs

The comprehensive Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs provide the resources to help teachers teach and students master each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. A detailed instructional scope and sequence and alignment documents create a unified instructional plan to teach the Language Strand Standards with fidelity and efficiency.

Following are the instructional components:

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (CCSS L.1,2)

Teaching the Language Strand provides 56 interactive Language Conventions lessons, designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for classroom projection. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into each 25-minute lesson. The instructional scope and sequence also integrates review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills.

Biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests require students to define, identify, and apply their knowledge of these language Standards in the writing context. The accompanying Student Workbook includes an interactive worksheet for each Language Conventions lesson with the complete lesson text. Students take notes on and annotate the text, complete a practice section, fill out a simple sentence diagram, and use the mentor text to apply their knowledge of the grammar and usage concept. Students complete sentence dictations and then self-correct from the projected display.

Spelling (CCSS L.2)

Each grade-level program provides a comprehensive spelling curriculum with weekly spelling lists and spelling sorts based upon developmental spelling patterns. The instructional sequence is designed to review previously introduced spelling patterns and add new grade-level spelling patterns. Students create personal spelling lists to supplement these spelling patterns from spelling errors in their own writing and spelling resources found in the appendices. Syllable worksheets assist students in learning the skills of structural analysis. Students complete spelling pattern sorts for each weekly lesson in their Student Workbooks and self-correct from the projected display.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Teaching the Language Strand has 56 Language Application openers to help students apply the L.1,2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. These five-minute interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Students take margin notes on the lesson text and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets in their accompanying Student Workbooks and then self-correct from the projected display.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Student Workbook includes two independent Vocabulary Worksheets per week to help students learn all of the grade-level vocabulary Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Vocabulary Study Cards are provided for each lesson.

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Teaching the Language Strand Grade also includes all of the resources for teachers to meet the diverse instructional needs of individual students. The writers of the Common Core State Standards recognize the need for both review and remediation, especially in the Language Strand. In fact, a critical component of these Standards is the Progressive Language Review. The Teaching the Language Strand program has diagnostic grammar and usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments to determine the specific remedial needs of your students. The assessments are administered whole-class and mastery recording matrices allow the teacher to organize instructional materials and to monitor the progress of individual students at a glance.

Teachers want to teach the skills and concepts from previous grade-level Standards that their students have not yet mastered. However, many teachers abandon assessment-based instruction because they lack the instructional tools and management procedures. Teaching the Language Strand provides those tools and procedures for efficient and effective remediation. Teachers individualize instruction according to the results of each diagnostic assessment with 77 Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets and 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Students who fail to master the formative assessments in the Language Conventions lessons are assigned corresponding Language Worksheets. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, writing hints, a practice section and a short formative assessment. Students progress at their own rates to master previous grade-level Standards.

Appendices (CCSS L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The appendices in Teaching the Language Strand contain a wealth of practical resources for both students and teachers. Language convention appendices include grammar, usage, and mechanics resources, proofreading strategies and practice, supplemental spelling word lists, spelling review games, and Syllable Worksheets. The vocabulary appendix provides review games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

The Teacher’s Guide and Training Videos

The Teacher’s Guide is user-friendly. Both veteran and new teachers will appreciate the scripted instructional directions and flexibility of the Teaching the Language Strand program. Teachers are provided complete PDF files of the Teacher’s Guide, formatted for classroom projection and interactive instruction. The Teacher’s Guide includes classroom management plans for both grade-level and remedial instruction to maximize learning and minimize class time. Seven short training videos assist teachers to make full implementation of the program simple and successful. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets and reference materials on class websites for easy access at home.

Order the Teacher’s Guide from this website, via FAX (866-897-5386), or phone (888-565-1635). Purchase Orders are always welcomed. Please include the emails for each licensed teacher to receive the PDF files of the Teacher’s Guide and the links to the training videos.

The Student Workbook

Consumable student workbooks accompany and are necessary instructional components of the Teaching the Language Strand program. The 196-page Student Workbook includes the full instructional text of each language conventions, spelling, language application, and vocabulary lesson with interactive practice and formative assessments. One copy of the Student Workbook is included with the purchase of the Teacher’s Guide. Teachers are licensed to copy no more than four lessons of each instructional component to test-drive the product. Student Workbooks are priced at $12.99 per workbook (about the price of using your school copy machine). Order the Student Workbooks via FAX (866-897-5386) or phone (888-565-1635). Purchase Orders are always welcomed. Minimum order of 15 workbooks.

View the product descriptions here.

Preview the introductory video below.

View samples of the curriculum in the Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook or pilot the program with a two-week “test drive” of all the instructional components below.

Teaching the Language Strand Grade 4:Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook

Grade 4 TLS Test Drive

Teaching the Language Strand Grade 5: Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook

Grade 5 TLS Test Drive

Teaching the Language Strand Grade 6: Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook

Grade 6 TLS Test Drive

Teaching the Language Strand Grade 7: Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook

Grade 7 TLS Test Drive

Teaching the Language Strand Grade 8: Preview the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook

Grade 8 TLS Test Drive

View the Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence: TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8

View the Common Core alignment documents: Grades 4-8 Common Core Alignment Documents

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Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and Acronyms                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 2

Like many languages, English has many forms of written communication. English uses abbreviations and acronyms to shorten words. Actually, even with today’s instant messaging and texting, English and American writers used to use far more shortened forms of writing than today. file:///C:/Users/Mark/Desktop/pdf.pdf dsfdsfd

Today’s mechanics lesson is on when and when not to use periods in abbreviations and acronyms. Remember to use periods after abbreviated words and after beginning and ending titles of proper nouns, such as “Mr.” and “Sr.”

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Use periods following the first letter of each key word in an abbreviated title or expression, and pronounce each of these letters when saying the abbreviation. Examples: U.S.A., a.m., p.m.

But, don’t use periods or pronounce the letters in an acronym. Acronyms are special abbreviated titles or expressions that are pronounced as words. Most all acronyms are capitalized. Example: NATO

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Practice: David has worked outside of the U.S. in many foreign countries, but he now works for N.A.S.A.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: David has worked outside of the U.S. in many foreign countries, but he now works for NASA.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using an abbreviated title and an acronym.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Common Core Test Results

As teachers have focused on the reading and writing strands of the Common Core State Standards the past three years, the Language Strand Standards have been given short shrift. As the testing data from the 2015 SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the PAARC (Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and other state tests has been or soon will be released, teachers and district personnel are identifying the instructional gaps and rediscovering why a balanced literacy program, including explicit instruction in grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary is so essential.

As of August 30, 2015, full or preliminary scores have been released for these states: Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Each participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The second testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAARC) has not released any results. Several other states that developed their own exams tied to the standards have been released. Many states have adopted a cafeteria model, using some of the two consortia online assessments plus their own paper ad pencil achievement tests.

A Brief Case Study

In Elk Grove Unified School District, the fifth largest school district in California, teachers have received extensive training, including over a week of all day sessions at the district office in the Reading (Literature and Informational) and Writing Strands. Teachers have learned and practiced Close Reading strategies, text dependent questions, and analyzed district-created writing rubrics in the narrative, argumentative, and informational/explanatory Writing Standards. A passing nod has been given to the Speaking/Listening Strand, but only minimal professional development has been delivered in the Language Strand. Until now.

Elk Grove Unified and all districts in California have now received the assessment results for the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) mix of online and paper-pencil assessments, including the online SBAC English language arts/literacy (ELA) tests. The district results? Not nearly as good as expected for this high performing school district.

Parents will soon be receiving the CAASP test results.

CAASP Test Results for Parents

Elk Grove is not alone. At Los Angeles Unified School District, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability, said the preliminary results received by the nation’s second largest district are “lower than what people are used to seeing.” Christine Amario AP

The current mantra? “It’s just a baseline year for us.”

The game plan to improve overall and sub-group scores? Focus on the Language Strand.

The Big Picture

It’s the Language Strand that provides the tools of language, that is the grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary that makes reading and writing intelligible. Now as teachers and district personnel, such as in Elk Grove Unified, have begun to deconstruct what the Common Core tests actually assess, it is evident that the whole is made up of many parts. Part to whole instruction is making a comeback.

In the words of the Common Core authors:

To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively. They must also be able to determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use; come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content. The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts. http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/L/

When most teachers and district personnel think grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary, they think about writing. The performance-based writing assessments evaluate students’ abilities to 1. Develop ideas 2. Organize their writing and 3. Craft their grammar and language usage to narrate, argue, or inform. Teachers have done a wonderful job on 1 and 2. Students now understand the difference between the writing domains (genre). However, as the 2015 SBAC and PAARC assessment results show so clearly, it’s the ability to use the tools of language that our students lack.

But these relative weaknesses are not solely found in the performance-based writing components. The language tools are critically important in every testing component. Let’s take a look at some of the actual multiple-choice assessment reading components from both the SBAC and PAARC tests to see how integral the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary of the Language Strand is to success on the Common Core tests:

[pdf-embedder url=”http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Common-Core-Test-Items-Vocabulary.pdf”]

[pdf-embedder url=”http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Common-Core-Test-Items-Grammar-Usage-Mechanics-and-Spelling.pdf”]

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Common Core Diagnostic ELA Assessments

As a teacher-publisher, I get quite a few questions about my products. It is heart-warming to see the recent re-kindled interest in assessment-based learning. Specifically, teachers want diagnostic assessments to determine which of the Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards their students do and do not know to be able to plan effective direct instruction and remediation in prior grade-level Standards. Teachers are particularly interested in diagnostic assessments for the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards found in the Common Core Language Strand because of the level of instructional rigor required in these Standards. Here’s a set of questions from a potential customer on Teachers Pay Teachers re: my Common Core diagnostic ELA assessments. My answers should provide interested readers with the assessment-based resources they want to meet the needs of their students.

QUESTION: I notice that Pennington Publishing offers comprehensive whole-class diagnostic assessments with corresponding progress-monitoring matrices in grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. How many questions are on the tests, and how long do the tests take to administer? I teach sixth grade in a K−8 school. Are the diagnostic assessments different for each grade level? Also, if you don’t mind my asking… Why are you offering all of these assessments for only $3.00 if they are as good as you describe?

ANSWER: I’m happy to answer your questions. Even the last one. The grade 6 diagnostic grammar and usage assessment consists of 44 multiple choice questions and takes students about 25 minutes to complete.

The sixth grade mechanics assessment has 8 sentence answers with 32 discreet mechanics skills measured. (Students rewrite unpunctuated sentences.) The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

The spelling assessment is comprehensive, not random samples as found in qualitative spelling inventories. It covers each of the sound-spellings students should know up to sixth grade. The assessment has 89 words to be dictated in the word, word-sentence-word format. I just gave the eighth grade spelling assessment to my own class. It has 102 words and it took 26 minutes to administer. We took a short stretch break half-way through. *Suggestion: Record the test on your phone and upload to your desktop, so you won’t have to re-dictate for test make-ups, new students, etc.

Yes, the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 diagnostic assessments are different for each grade level in that they build upon each other. The assessments are based upon the Common Core grade level Standards and the recommendations of the Common Core authors in Appendix A of the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. As you know, Appendix A includes the research base supporting the key elements of the Standards. So, the grade 8 assessment will have more assessment items than the grade 4 assessment.

Of course, teachers often ask why Pennington Publishing offers these extensive diagnostic assessments with corresponding matrices for only $3.00. There is a method behind this madness.

Once teachers diagnose the specific deficits, e.g. you as a sixth grade teacher find out precisely which K-5 grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling skills your students know and do not yet know, you and other teachers will want your students to master each of the relative deficits. Although veteran teachers will have some of the resources to remediate these deficits, most will not want to reinvent the wheel. So…

Pennington Publishing’s Teaching the Language Strand grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs have corresponding worksheets for each of the assessment items. The worksheets are fantastic with clear definitions, examples, practice, and a short formative assessment in which students apply what they have learned. Notice that these are not “drill and kill” worksheets teaching skills in isolation from the writing context. Answers included, of course. Plus, the Teaching the Language Strand programs all provide direct instruction lessons for each of the grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of language Common Core State Standards lessons with both print and digital teacher’s edition and accompanying consumable student workbooks. With the Teaching the Language Strand program, students “catch up” while they “keep up” with the rigorous grade-level Common Core Standards.

So now I may have talked you out of the $3.00 purchase because the aforementioned programs also include the assessments. What a sneaky upsell! I do guarantee that these assessment-based worksheets will provide ALL the tools you need to teach ALL of your students with diverse needs. For example, the remedial worksheets have been carefully written with your special education and English-language learners in mind with concise and concrete instructional language and practice.

These worksheets have been written by a teacher for teachers and their students with a built-in management system to keep students productive and to minimize teacher preparation and correction. Different students will be working on different worksheets to practice the concepts and skills each needs to remediate. The students self-correct their own worksheets from the answer booklets to be able to learn from their mistakes (and save the teacher time). Then students complete the WRITE formative assessment in which students are required to apply what they have learned re: the focused concept or skill in a sentence or two.

Once completed, the student visits the teacher for a 20-30-second mini-conference. The teacher skims the practice and corrections and reads the formative assessment. If mastered, the teacher (or student) marks that mastery on the progress monitoring matrices. Teachers, students, parents, (and, yes, principals) love to see that measurable progress on the matrices. It’s simple and effective individualized instruction with a built-in management system to maintain a productive and orderly learning experience.

Oh, by the way, teachers are licensed to place the worksheets on their class websites for parents and their children to access at home.

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

I do hope this long answer addressed each of your questions. Why not check out the instructional scope and sequence and two week test drive found at the end of the grade level product details to see if the Teaching the Language Strand would be a good fit for you and your grades 4−8 teachers? Also, check out the brief introductory video. Have more questions or wish to place an order? Please contact your educational sales representative for Pennington Publishing.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , ,

22 MLA Citation Formats

Most mechanics manuals have either too few or too many of the MLA Citation Formats to be of real use to the student, author, or blogger. This one is just right with the most common 22 MLA citation formats. For the few sources that would not be well-suited to these 22, I recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s OWL and Son of Citation Machine. Of course, MLA (the Modern Language Association) is not the only citation format. Two others, APA (American Psychological Association) and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), are preferred by most social science professors. Here’s a great side by side comparison of all three.

Most would agree that mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. All academicians would agree that proper research citations do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 MLA Citation Formats from The Pennington Mechanics Manual to help you proper cite the most common sources in your Works Cited at the end of a research paper or article and in-text citations and the end of individual direct or indirect quotations. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? Get The Pennington Mechanics Manual PDF here. The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand, designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies program

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Mechanics Manual: 22 MLA Citation Formats

1 MLA Works Cited (Print Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA:   Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

2 MLA Works Cited (Print Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 1st ed. 1. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

3 MLA Works Cited (Print Journal) Pennington, M. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 1.1 (2010): 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

4 MLA Works Cited (Print Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 2010: 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

5 MLA Works Cited (Print Newspaper) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” London Bee 5 May 2011: B5. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington B5)

6 MLA Works Cited (Print Textbook or Anthology) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Ed. Jane Doe. El Dorado Hills: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

7 MLA Works Cited (Print Letter) Pennington, Mark. “To Jane Doe.” 5 May 2011. El Dorado Hills, CA: 2011. Print. Letter. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

8 MLA Works Cited (Print Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

9 MLA Works Cited (e-Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. e-Book. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

10 MLA Works Cited (Online Journal) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Journal 3.2 (2011): 1-3. Web. 26 Mar 2011.               < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 1-3)

11 MLA Works Cited (Online Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies 5 May 2011: 22-26. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

12 MLA Works Cited (Online Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 2. 3. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2011. Web. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 111-113)

13 MLA Works Cited (Web Document) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

14 MLA Works Cited (Web-based Videos or Images) “Sunset in Cancun.” Tropical Paradises. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (“Sunset in Cancun”)

15 MLA Works Cited (Blog) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Pennington Publishing. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

16 MLA Works Cited (Podcast) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Podcasts. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

17 MLA Works Cited (E-Mail) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Message to Jane Doe. 5 May 2011. E-mail.  In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

18 MLA Works Cited (Online Forum) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” 5 May 2011. Online Posting to Writing Forum. Web. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

19 MLA Works Cited (Online Government Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.departmentofdefense.gov>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

20 MLA Works Cited (Radio, Television, Film, or Recording) “Magical Kingdoms.” Behind the Scenes with the Mouse. Pennington Broadcasting Company: KTES, El Dorado Hills, 5 May 2015. Radio. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (“Magical Kingdoms”)

21 MLA Works Cited (Online Interview) Pennington, Mark. Writing Works. Interview by Oprah Walters. 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

22 MLA Works Cited (Lecture) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” English-language Arts Class. El Dorado Hills Unified School District. El Dorado High School, El Dorado Hills. 5 May 2011. Lecture. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

Information taken from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed., 2009, sections 6.4.8, 7.7.1, and 5.6.2.

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22 Quotation Mark Rules

The most misused and confused punctuation marks? Quotation marks have my vote. I have two theories as to why. 

The first is academic; the second is more a matter of mental illness.

First, Americans have the Brits to blame for our confusion (and they have the former colonists for theirs). The British use single quotation marks, when Americans use double quotation marks and we each reverse when using quotes within quotes. The Brits are also consistent in their placement of punctuation, while Americans are not. For example, the Brits place periods to the left of the citation, while we opt for the right. Example: Americans = “Over 22% were sterile” (Hampton 34).  British = “Over 22% were sterile.” (Hampton 34) For more of American-British differences, check here.

Secondly, educated students and adults have access to a vast amount of correct and incorrect use of mechanics and grammar rules. With the Internet our publishing standards have declined as most of us do not hire copy editors, or God forbid use Spell Check and/or Grammar Review to publish on the Web. As is often the case, professionals such as teachers and editors are exposed to so many repeated mistakes that they truly begin to question what is right and what is wrong. As a teacher of 30-something years and author of numerous spelling and grammar, usage, and mechanics books, I would hazard to guess that I’ve seen as many mistakes using quotation marks as I’ve seen correct usage. I truly begin to doubt myself sometimes.

I distinctly remember a late afternoon, sitting alone in my classroom in Sutter Creek, California. I was teaching eighth grade English and I had one more essay to grade before hopping on my motorcycle to head home. The student spelled thier in his first sentence. I had a brief panic attack, thinking that the student must be right and that I had just red-circled at least thirty thiers on other student papers. I actually had to look it up in a dictionary. The older we get, the more mental illness of this sort sets in. We get confused about quotation marks because we so often see them abused. Check out this their, there, they’re cartoon to help you remember correct usage and spelling.

For additional use of quotation marks in academic research, I highly recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s The Owl.

Here’s the 22 quotation marks rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand, designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Quotation Mark Rules 

1 Double Quotation Marks Use double quotation marks to title parts of whole things, short things, or things which can’t be picked up from a table. Specifically, enclose titles of book chapters, articles, songs, videos, short poems, documents, reports, and short stories within double quotation marks. Example: The best chapter is titled “Mad Men.”

2 Double Quotation Marks for Special Use Words or Phrases Use double quotation marks to enclose words or phrases used in a different way than the norm. Example: With “friends” like that, who needs enemies? Use double quotation marks for technical terms. Example: The politician argued against “pork belly politics.”

3 Double Quotation Marks for Translation Double quotation marks or parentheses are used to enclose a translation. Example: The work was muy duro “very hard.”

4 Double Quotation Marks for Nicknames When used in the middle of someone’s full name, a nickname is enclosed in double quotation marks. Example: George Herman “Babe” Ruth

5 Single and Double Quotation Marks for Numbers When numbers are used for measurement, single and double quotation marks are used to show differences in number sets. Examples: The young woman stood 5’9” tall.

6 Double Quotation Marks in Dialogue Use quotation marks before and after dialogue with commas placed to the left of the quotation marks. Ending punctuation goes inside (to the left) of the closing double quotation marks. Begin a new paragraph for each new speaker. Examples:

———She said, “Call me.”

———“If I call,” he said, “it’ll be too late!”

———“So text me,” she replied.

7 Multiple Dialogue Sentences Separate speaker tags from multiple sentences used in a dialogue. Examples: “Call him tomorrow,” John urged. “Then text me what he says.” “Call him tomorrow. Then text me what he says,” urged John. 

8 Dialogue Ending a Paragraph Writers may choose to add dialogue to the end of a paragraph if the paragraph specifically relates to the speaker of the dialogue or the subject to which the dialogue refers. Example: Tom is so unpredictable. You never know how he will react. First, he said that he would not visit. Later, he texted me to call him that night, but I don’t think I will. “I’ll call him tomorrow, instead,” I said out loud.

9 No Punctuation before Dialogue or Direct Quotations If the quoted words flows directly without a pause from the first part of the sentence, no punctuation should be used. Examples: We asked him and he said “okay.” The author thought that “the evidence was quite clear” (Levy 76).

10 Period Placement with Uncited Direct Quotations Periods are placed inside (to the left) of ending double quotation marks for figures of speech and informal quotations. This is the rule even when ending the sentence with a quoted title. Examples: Everyone knows that “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” The music critic “loved everything the band performed.” She especially enjoyed “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree.”

11 Period Placement with Cited Direct Quotations Periods are placed outside (to the right) of the parenthetical citation following a direct quotation. Examples: According to the author, “Few remained to help” (Zaner 45). Ezekiel saw “what seemed to be four living creatures,” each with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1.5-10).

12 Question Marks and Exclamation Points with Cited Direct Quotations Question marks and exclamation points go inside (to the left) of the double quotation marks, if part of the quoted sentence, but outside (to the right) of, if not. Example: “Why should we care?” the author asked (Peavy 22). When asking a question about a quotation, remove the ending punctuation, add an ending quotation mark, and then follow with the question mark. Example: In The Declaration of Independence, did Jefferson say “…all men are created equal”?

13 Semicolons with Cited Direct Quotations Semicolons go outside (to the right) of the closing quotation marks. Example: George exclaimed, “I made twenty sales today”; however, George said he had only twelve.

14 Colons with Cited Direct Quotations Colons replace commas following beginning speaker tags to introduce long sentences or passages. Example: The researcher explained:  “No one knew whether the emergency doctor knew how to handle the medical crisis or not.” Colons go outside the closing quotation marks. Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”: these words were President John F. Kennedy’s most memorable. 

15 Removing Words from Direct Quotations When removing words from a direct quotation, use the ellipsis (…) inside the double quotation marks. Only remove information that is irrelevant to the quotation. Example: Did Madison say “…in order to form a more perfect union…”?

16 Long Quotations longer than three lines (not three sentences) should be indented one tab space as a block text. Block quotations are not enclosed with double quotation marks. The citation is placed following all ending punctuation, even periods.

Example:        

———No one knows me

———and no one seems to understand

———the things that I feel

———and the things that I don’t. (Pennington 43)

17 Indirect Quotations Indirect quotations do not need quotation marks because the ideas are paraphrased. Only indirect quotations of a general nature may be used without citations. Example: She told me everything about college life. Indirect quotations of any online or printed sources must be cited in the same manner as direct quotations, but do not need quotation marks. Indirect quotations still require citations. Example: Most credited General Washington’s inspiring leadership (Adams 34).

18 Single Quotations within Double Quotations Use single quotation marks before and after a title that is punctuated by quotation marks or before and after a quotation that appears within the double quotation marks enclosing dialog or a direct quotation. Examples: He asked, “What did Dr. King mean in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by the phrase ‘free at last’?”

19 Italicizing and Underlining Titles Italicizing and underlining are used for the same purposes. Italics are used in word processing; underlines are used in handwriting. Use italics or underlines to title whole things, long things, or things which can be picked up from a table. Specifically, italicize or underline titles of books (except religious books such as the Koran, albums/CDs, movies, television shows, games, magazines, newspapers, plays, blogs, and works of art. Example: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series.

20 Italicizing and Underlining Uncommon Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to an uncommon word or phrase. The scientist warned of the dangers of frackingthe process of injecting liquid at high pressure beneath the earth’s surface to force open existing fissures to be able to extract oil or gas.

21 Italicizing and Underlining References to Words Use italics or underlines to refer to words within a sentence. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. 

22 Italicizing and Underlining Foreign Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to a word or for an uncommon foreign words or phrases; use italics or underline instead. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. She certainly did not practice laissez-faire management.

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22 Punctuation Rules

Most of us got plenty of practice in elementary and middle school with commas and capitalization. We thought we were on secure footing until freshman English. At some point during that year, our English teacher tossed out a copy of E.B. White poetry and everything we learned about punctuation went out the door. Besides, we started reading articles and plenty of other expository text with weird things like  semicolons, colons, acronyms, and plural possessives with strange apostrophe placements. Who thought there were actual rules about dashes, brackets, parentheses, and such? And don’t get me started on parentheses. All we knew was that our frosh English teacher loved to use that red pen for the “other punctuation” and grammar rules. We needed, and most of us still need, a bit of help.

Here’s the 22 other punctuation rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand, designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Other Punctuation Rules 

1 Singular Possessive A possessive is a noun or pronoun that serves as an adjective to show ownership. For a singular possessive, place an apostrophe at the end of the noun and add an s. Example: His mom’s cookies are the best. Don’t use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun (yours, his, hers, ours, yours, its, theirs). Examples: That plate is your’s. Revision: That plate is yours.

2 Singular Possessive Ending in s or /z/ When ending in an s having a /z/ sound, place an apostrophe, then an s, or simply end with an apostrophe. Examples: Charles’s friend or Charles’ friend is fun.

3 Singular Possessive Gerunds A singular possessive noun can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as sentence subjects). Example: Joe’s cooking is not the best.

4 Singular Possessive Indefinite Pronouns Place the apostrophe before the s for singular indefinite pronouns. Examples: Now it is anybody’s, everybody’s, somebody’s, somebody else’s, either’s ballgame.

5 Plural Possessive without s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that doesn’t end in s, place the apostrophe after the s. If the singular and plural forms are spelled     differently, place the apostrophe before the s. Examples: The girls’ team is good, but the women’s team isn’t.

6 Plural Possessive with s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that does end in s, add “es” and then the apostrophe. Example: Our stove worked better than the Thomases’ stove.

7 Plural Possessive Joint Ownership When two or more words share joint ownership, the possessive form is used only for the last word. Example: Matt and Suzanne’s wedding was the social event of the season.

8 Plural Possessive Individual Ownership When two or more words are combined to show individual ownership of something, the possessive form is used for each of the words. Examples: Linda’s, Christie’s, and Wendy’s dresses were each individually designed. 

9 Period after Initials and Abbreviations When ending declarative and imperative  sentences with initials and abbreviations, use one period. When ending interrogative and exclamatory sentences, keep the period and add the question mark or exclamation point.  Examples: Is he John, Jr.? Viva U.S.A.!

10 Acronyms An acronym is any abbreviation formed from the first letters of each word in a phrase. Most frequently used acronyms do not require periods. Example: HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language).

11 Contractions A contraction is a shortened form of one or two words (one of which is usually a verb). An apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter(s) at the      beginning, middle, or end of the word. Examples: ‘Tis almost Halloween, but don’t light the jack-o’-lantern yet.

12 Semicolons Use semicolons to join independent clauses with or without conjunctions. Semicolons combine related phrases or dependent clauses. Example: Anna showed up late; Louise didn’t at all.

13 Colons with Ratios Use colons to show a relationship between numbers. Example: At 8:02 p.m. the ratio of girls to boys at the dance was 3:1.

14 Colons within Titles Use colons to show a relationship within titles. Example: Many people are familiar with “Psalm 23: 1” and refer to it as “The Lord is My Shepherd: Psalm 23.”

15 Colons in Business Letters Use colons after business letter salutations. Example: To Whom It May Concern: Thank you for your employment application.

16 Colons with Independent Clauses Use colons at the end of an independent clause to introduce information to explain the clause. Example: This is the most important rule: Keep your hands to yourself.

17 Exclamation Points Use one exclamation point at the end of a word, phrase, or complete sentence to show strong emotion or surprise. Phrases or clauses beginning with What and How that don’t ask questions should end with exclamation points. Examples: Wow! How amazing! The decision really shocked me!

18 Parentheses as Appositives Use parentheses following words as appositives to identify, explain, or define. Dashes or commas can serve the same function. Examples: That shade of lipstick (the red) goes perfectly with her hair color. The new schedule (which begins next year) seems confusing. The protocol (rules to be followed) was to ask questions after the presentation. 

19 Parentheses with Ending Punctuation Ending punctuation never is placed inside of parentheses, even when the parenthetical remark stands on its own as a complete sentence. Examples: I want that Popsicle® (the orange one). He was crazy. (He didn’t even know what day it was).

20 Dashes Use dashes, not hyphens, before and after appositives. Dashes are longer than hyphens and are found in INSERT > SYMBOL in Microsoft Word®. Appositives identify, explain, or define. Example: The best-loved movies−those with memorable plots−are worth repeated viewings. Also use dashes to indicate a numerical range. Example: Pages 4−29

21 Brackets Use brackets before and after words or ideas to make them more clear. Brackets add explanation or necessary background knowledge for the reader. Examples: George Washington [1732-1799] was gracious to Lord Cornwallis [the British general who surrendered at Yorktown].

22 Hyphens Use hyphens to divided words at syllables when more space is required at the end of a line. Also use hyphens to join words that are necessarily related, but are not compound words. Don’t capitalize the letter following the hyphen. Example: We read a spine-tingling story in English-language Arts.

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22 Capitalization Rules

When should you capitalize and when do you not? Contrary to popular belief, capitalization does not add importance, prestige, or respect. If you want to get real controversial, try taking a stance on capitalizing pronouns referring to God. Do you refer to He, Him, His or he, him, or his? Let’s not even go to the gender issue. Check out the controversy if you wish, but for the rest of us, what about those capitalization rules?

Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 capitalization rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer your capitalization questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats?  The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand, designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Capitalization Rules 

1 People and Character Names Capitalize people’s and characters’ names. Also, capitalize people’s titles, such as The President f the United States or Alexander the Great. Do not capitalize an article (a, an, the) that it part of the title, unless it begins the title. Example: President James Earl Carter worked to provide housing for the poor.

2 Place Names Capitalize place names. Do not capitalize a preposition that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Examples: Stratford upon Avon or Cardiff by the Sea.      Examples: Ryan visited Los Angeles to see the Holocaust Museum.

3 Names of Things Capitalize named things. Do not capitalize a conjunction that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Example: President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home is a national monument in Washington D.C. Example: The Old North Church and Fenway Park are in Boston.

4 Names of Holidays Capitalize holidays. Normally, it is proper form to spell out numbers from one through ten in writing. However, when used as a date name, the numerical number is used. Example: They celebrate the 4th of July, but not Easter.

5 Dates and Seasons Names Capitalize dates, but do not capitalize seasons. Example: The winter months consist of December, January, February, and March.

6 Titles of Things Capitalize the words in titles. Don’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and), or prepositions (with), unless these words begin or end the title. Examples: My favorite Jim Morrison song is “The End.” I like the movie Gone with the Wind.

7 Titles of Courses or Classes Capitalize the titles of specific academic course or classes, including any  connected letters. Example: Next spring Jake has to take Math Analysis 2C in order to stay on track for early graduation.

8 Hyphenated Titles Capitalize the first and second parts of hyphenated titles if they are nouns or adjectives that have equal importance. Example: The Twentieth-Century was haunted by two world wars. Don’t capitalize a word following a hyphen if both words make up a single word or if the second word is a participle modifying the first word. Examples: Top Twenty Large-sized Models and English-language Arts

9 Organization Names Capitalize the names of  organizations and the letters of acronyms that represent  organizations. More commonly now, writers drop the       periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: M.A.D.D. has both parents and teachers as members, as does the PTA.

10 Letter Salutations and Closings Capitalize the salutations and closings in both friendly and business letters, excluding articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that don’t begin or end the salutations or closings. Examples: Dear Son, … Love, Dad

11 Business Names Capitalize the names of businesses and the letters of acronyms that represent organizations and businesses. More commonly now, writers drop the periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: McDonald’s provided money for our school uniforms, as did IBM.

12 Language and Dialect Names Capitalize the names of languages and dialects. Examples: He spoke Spanish with a Castilian dialect.

13 People Groups Capitalize the names of people groups, including nationalities, races, and ethnic groups. However, do not capitalize colors, such as black or white, when referring to race. Examples: Both Aztecs and Mexicans share a common heritage.

14 Event Names Capitalize the names of special events. Examples: The New Year’s Day Parade was fun, but the Mardi Gras was even better.

15 Historical Period Names Capitalize named historical periods. Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the historical period. Examples: My favorite period of history to study has to be the Middle Ages or the Age of Reason.

16 Time Period Names Capitalize the names of special periods of time. Use lower case and periods for “a.m.” and “p.m.” Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the time period. Example: Next year we celebrate the Year of the Dog.

17 Quotation Capitalization Capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. Don’t capitalize the first word of a continuing quote that was interrupted by a speaker tag. Examples: She said, “You are crazy. However,” she paused, “it is crazy to be in love with you.” Don’t use a capital letter when the quoted material is only part of the original  complete sentence.

18 Capitalization Following Colons Capitalize the first word following a colon if it begins a series of sentences. Example: Good writing rules should include the following: Neatness counts. Indent each paragraph one inch. Proofread before publishing.

19 Lower Case Following Colons Don’t capitalize the first word (or any word) in a list following a colon if the first word of the list is a common noun. Example: Bring home these items: tortillas, sugar, and milk. Don’t capitalize the first word following a colon that begins an independent clause. Example: I just re-read Lincoln’s best speech: his Second Inaugural Address is brilliant.

20 Titles of People Capitalize the title of a person when it precedes the name. Don’t capitalize the title if it does not precede the name. Examples: I heard the senator ask Mayor Johnson a question. Capitalize the title of a person when it follows someone’s name-then a comma-in  correspondence. Example: The letter was signed as follows: John Pearson, Chairperson. Capitalize the title of a person when the title is used as a noun of direct address. Example: I do plead guilty, Your Honor.

21 Locational Names Capitalize the locational names on a compass when they refer to specific places. Leave directions in lower case. Examples: Ivan grew up here on the Lower Eastside of New York City, but I am from the South.  Ivan knew that we should head south for two blocks.

22 Titles of Agencies Capitalize the titles of  governmental agencies, including these words when connected to the agency titles: City, County, Commonwealth, State, and Federal. Example: The Federal Bureau of Investigation had targeted his operation.

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22 Comma Rules

When should you use a comma and when should not? It could be a life or death matter. After all, “Let’s eat Grandma” is considerably different than “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose.

Here’s the 22 comma rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer all of your comma questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? . The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand, designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Comma Rules 

1 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas after a beginning speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: He said, “I shouldn’t listen to what you say.”

2 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before and after a middle speaker tag to the left of both  quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “But if you don’t,” he shouted “you will never win.”

3 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before an ending speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “Okay. I will give you another chance,” he responded.

4 Appositive Use commas to set apart appositives. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify, define, or describe it. The     appositive can be a word, phrase, or clause. Example: That man, the one with the hat, left town quickly.

5 Commas in Series Use commas after each item in lists (except the last). Use commas after each item in lists, except the last one. Example: John, Jane, and Jose left early.

6 Introductory Word Use commas only after introductory words which receive special emphasis. Examples: Conversely, you could listen. Then I went home.

7 Introductory Phrase Use commas after introductory phrases when followed by a modifying noun or pronoun . Example: Bold and beautiful, the statue was popular. Don’t use commas if the phrase modifies the following noun or pronoun or if another part of speech follows the phrase. Examples: A bold and beautiful statue was popular. Bold and beautiful was the popular statue.

* Exception: Avoid using commas after short (four words or less) introductory prepositional phrases. Examples: Under the tree he hid. Under the shady oak tree, he hid.

8 Introductory Dependent Clauses A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Place a comma following introductory dependent clauses. Examples: Even though I listened, I didn’t understand.

9 Ending Dependent Clause A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Don’t  place a comma before an ending dependent clause. Example: I never got her letter although she did write.

10 Geography Place commas between related geographical place names and after the last place name,  unless it appears the end of a sentence. When the place name is a possessive, this rule does not apply. Examples: She lived in Rome, Italy, for a year. Rome, Italy’s traffic is congested.

11 Dates Use commas to separate number dates and years. Don’t place a comma following the year. Example: It all happened on May 3, 1999. On May 4, 1999 we went back home.

12 Beginning Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the beginning of the sentence, one comma follows. Examples: Kristen, leave some for your sister. Officer Daniels, I need your help. Whoever you are, stop talking.

13 Middle Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If in the middle of the sentence, one comma goes before and one follows. Examples: If you insist, Dad, I will. If you insist, Your Honor, I will.

14 Ending Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the end of the sentence, one comma goes before the noun. Examples: Just leave a little bit, honey. Just leave a little bit, best girlfriend.

15 Compound Sentence Use commas before coordinating conjunctions to join two independent clauses if one or more of the sentences is long. Example: I liked her, and she definitely said that she liked me.

16 Commas to Enclose Parenthetical Expressions Use commas before and after words that interrupt the flow of the sentence. If the interruption is minimal, you may leave out the commas. Example: The best way to see the game, if you can afford it, is in person.

17 Commas to Set Off Non-restrictive Clauses A nonrestrictive clause can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. The relative pronouns who, whom, whose, and which, but not that, begin nonrestrictive relative clauses. Use commas to set off nonrestrictive relative clauses from the noun or pronoun before the clause. Example: The girl, who sits in the corner, is sleepy.

18 Commas and Restrictive Clauses A restrictive clause can’t be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. A restrictive clause limits the meaning of the independent clause to which it is attached. Don’t use commas before and after restrictive clauses. Example: The student who wins the most votes will be elected Student Council President.

19 Comma and Abbreviations These abbreviations: Sr. (senior), Jr. (junior), and etc. (et cetera) are always preceded by a comma. Don’t place commas after these abbreviations. Examples: Howard, Sr. had Howard, Jr., take out the trash, water the lawn, pull weeds, etc.

20 Comma and Duplicate Words Place commas between repeated words when needed to improve clarity. Examples: Tommy and Pam moved in, in May.

21 Comma to Replace Missing Words Use commas to replace omitted words, especially the word that. Examples: I am a vegetarian; my wife, a meat-eater. Win some, lose some. What I mean is, she hasn’t changed her diet and followed mine.

22 Comma in Parenthetical Citations Place a comma after each author’s name, except the last in a multiple author citation. Don’t use a comma between the author(s) and the page number(s). Example: (Peabody, Jones, and Smith 14) Don’t place a comma between different authors or resource titles citing information; use a semicolon.

Examples: (Peabody 16; Jimenez 55) (The Nature of Change; Wrong Policy)

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How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

What do the Common Core authors have to say about spelling instruction?

The spelling Standards for Grades 4‒8 are as follows:

“Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.” (L.4.2e, L.5.2e)

“Spell correctly.” (L.6.2b, L.7.2b, L.8.2b)

Although lacking specificity in the Language Strand, the Common Core approach to spelling instruction is detailed in the Orthography section of Appendix A. This section includes examples of the sound-spelling patterns, syllable rules, and derivational suffixes (20‒22). Additionally, the K‒5 Reading: Foundational Skills Standards all require direct instruction of the phoneme-grapheme (spelling) correspondences (Reading: Foundational Skills) In other words, phonics and spelling.

The focus on spelling patterns draws heavily from the research of Dr. Louis Cook Moats, such as in Moats, L. C. (2008). Spellography for teachers: How English spelling works. (LETRS Module 3). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

*****

Each Teaching the Language Strand program includes a grade-level spelling patterns program with weekly spelling tests and spelling sorts. Students review previous grade-level spelling patterns and are introduced to new grade-level spelling patterns (including derivational and etymological influences) throughout the weekly lessons. Students create Personal Spelling Lists from those words missed on the weekly diagnostic spelling tests, from words misspelled in their own writing, and from the spelling resources provided in the program Appendix. The program also provides a complete syllabication program with syllable and derivatives worksheets.

Additionally, the program provides a comprehensive remedial spelling program tied to the TLS Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Each grade-level diagnostic assessment varies in complexity to test all previous grade-level spelling patterns and takes about 20 minutes to administer.

Students complete remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets for each unmastered spelling pattern as indicated by the test. Worksheets include the focus spelling pattern or spelling rule with examples, a spelling sort, word jumbles, and rhymes or book searches for the focus spelling pattern. Students self-correct and self-edit their answers from answer sheets to learn from their own mistakes. Finally, students complete a quick formative assessment labeled “Write” at the bottom of the worksheet to see if they can apply the focus spelling pattern within their own writing. Students mini-conference with the teacher and the teacher reviews the formative “Write” assessment. If mastered, the students record that mastery on the class recording matrix as detailed in the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics section above. If not yet mastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches the spelling pattern and students try the formative assessment until mastery has been demonstrated.

Teaching the Language Strand helps students learn the grade-level spelling patterns, the syllable rules, and the derivational spelling influences of our English orthography. The program also has the resources teachers need to individualize remedial spelling patterns‒exactly as described by the Common Core authors.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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How to Teach the Common Core Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Standards

In the “Language Overview” of the Common Core State Standards Appendix A, the authors explain how the Language Standards are woven into the Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands.  “The Standards take a hybrid approach to matters of conventions, knowledge or language, and vocabulary” (28).

The authors share examples of how the Language Strand Standards are incorporated into the other instructional strands and stress the importance of direct instruction within all of the communicative contexts: “The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, knowledge of language, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts” (28).

This approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instructions draws from the research of a variety of disciplines and authors (39, 40) including Dr. Mina Shaughnessy, such as in Shaughnessy, M. P. (1979). Errors and expectations: A guide for the teacher of basic writing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

How to Teach the Common Core Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Standards (L.1, 2)

The instructional resources of Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) reflect this hybrid instructional approach. Content and skills are introduced, practiced, applied, and assessed for mastery within the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts.

For example, each Language Conventions lesson requires students to listen to the scripted review and lesson context. Students read the lesson, take notes, and annotate the lesson text in their student workbooks. Next, students complete the practice section and the teacher leads a brief discussion about “what is right” and “what is wrong” according to the lesson content or skill. Then, students complete a sentence diagram and read a mentor text based upon the lesson. The teacher and students discuss the mentor text and students write a response to the author’s statement, applying the lesson content or skill. Lastly, the teacher dictates two sentences and students apply the mechanics and grammar/usage lessons to write the sentences correctly. The teacher reviews the sentence dictations and students self-correct and self-edit. Teachers use direct instruction to teach the grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards reading, writing, speaking, and listening‒exactly as prescribed by the Common Core authors.

In the “Development of Grammatical Knowledge” section of Appendix A, the authors explain that “The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication” (28).

Teaching the Language Strand includes an extensive instructional scope and sequence which revisits and builds upon K‒3 grammar, usage, and mechanics content and skills with increasingly greater levels of sophistication throughout grades 4‒8. For example, let’s take a look at this instructional progression with verb tenses.

*In grade 4 students review the basic past, present, and future verb tenses in Language Conventions Lessons 29‒31 and are introduced to the progressive tenses in Lessons 39‒41.

*In grade 5 students review past, present, future, and progressive verb tenses and are introduced to verb tense and time, sequence, state of being, condition, shifts in verb tense, and perfect verb tenses in Lessons 31‒35 and 44‒46.

*In grade 6 students review all aforementioned verb tenses and are introduced to these non-standard English verb tense usages: continuous forms, was and were-leveling, misuse of third person subject-verb agreements, deletions, substitutions, additions, and the misuse of the past participle and past progressive in Lessons 48‒56.

*In grade 7 students review all verb tense usages including those in non-standard English. Students learn more sophisticated usages of verb tenses within phrases and clauses and advanced rules of noun‒verb and pronoun‒verb agreement.

*In grade 8 students review the above verb tenses and usage and are introduced to infinitives in Lesson 44 and the use of verb tense with mood and condition: the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, subjunctive, and voice in Lessons 45‒50.

In addition to building upon levels of sophistication in knowledge and use of grammar and mechanics, the authors detail the second way in which the Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge: “…the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex” (28). These key skills and understandings are included in the Grades 3‒10 document titled “Language Progressive Skills” at the end of the grade-level Common Core Language Strands and on page 31 of Appendix A.

Each of the previous grade-level Language Progressive Skills Standards are reviewed within the Language Conventions lessons and Language Application writing openers. Additionally, the Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4‒8 programs include the TLS Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the TLS Mechanics Assessment. These whole class diagnostic assessments vary in complexity to test all previous grade-level Standards and each takes less than 25 minutes to administer. Teachers grade and record the results of these assessments on recording matrices with a slash (/) for each error.

Students complete remedial Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics worksheets for each unmastered content or skill as indicated by the tests. Worksheets include definitions, examples, and explanation of how the grammar, usage, or mechanics content or skill applies to writing. Students complete a short practice section and self-correct and self-edit their answers from answer sheets to learn from their own mistakes. Finally, students complete a quick formative assessment labeled “Write” at the bottom of the worksheet to see if they can apply the content or skill within their own writing. Students mini-conference with the teacher and the teacher reviews the formative “Write” assessment. If the content or skill has been mastered, the student changes the slash (/) into an “X” on the class recording matrix. If not yet mastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches the content or skill and students try the formative assessment once again or the teacher may elect to assigned additional Language Worksheets provided in the program.

In summary, Teaching the Language Strand provides the specific resources teachers need to teach the grammar, usage, and mechanics review Standards through both direct and individualized instruction‒exactly as is suggested by the Common Core authors.

Note that the Common Core authors validate teacher autonomy as to how the Language Standards are to be met:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” (Myths vs. Facts).

Furthermore, the authors address how teachers and schools share the responsibilities of remediating and differentiating instruction for students performing below grade level, English language learners, and students with special needs:

“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.

It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives” (English Language Arts Standards Key Design Considerations).

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand is the only Language Strand program designed to equip teachers with the diagnostic assessments and corresponding resources to remediate and differentiate instruction to intervention students, ELL students, and Special Education students‒exactly as discussed by the Common Core authors.

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Selective Implementation of the Common Core

Cherry Picking Which Common Core Standards to Teach

In a related article I focused on the “cherry picking” of certain Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Standards by district curriculum specialists and teachers. I said that cherry picking can mean picking the easiest fruit on the tree, picking the best fruit on the tree, or picking just the fruit on the tree that we want and ignoring the rest. Straight off wikipedia, so you know that it’s the truth.

I suggested that the latter use of “cherry picking” would seem to apply to many districts and teachers as they have begun implementing the Common Core ELA/Reading Standards. Of course we all tend to teach what we know, but we also teach what we want to believe. The former I could classify as unconscious cherry picking. The latter is conscious cherry picking and has a hidden agenda.

We Tend to Teach What We Know: Unconscious Cherry Picking

Elementary and middle-high school English-language Arts teachers are generally well-trained and/or interested in teaching reading and writing—less so in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, listening, and speaking content and skills. After all, how many grammar classes are required for teachers earning their elementary or secondary English credentials? 0. Thus, when districts and teachers began implementing the Common Core State Standards in 2011 and 2012, district curriculum specialists and teachers initially gravitated toward the known and put the unknown on the backburner. In my school district we’ve had plenty of Common Core reading and writing trainings, but not one moment of training dedicated to the Language, Speaking, or Listening Standards. Conscious cherry picking—but perhaps a reasonable approach, given the paramount importance of reading and writing to literacy.

However, having acclimated themselves and their students to the Common Core Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, and Writing Strands over the last four years, many teachers are now ready to teach the well-balanced approach intended by the Common Core writers—including all of the Strands.

Indeed, these other Strands are trending. As an educational publisher I use my blog to promote my books. I have to keep track of search results and key search terms to drive traffic to my blog. My blog drives traffic to my website and sells my books. As states “raced to the top” to adopt the Common Core State Standards in 2011, googling “Common Core Reading Standards” and “Common Core Writing Standards” got the most search results in the field of English-language Arts/Reading. Googling “Common Core Language Standards” and “Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards” got negligible amounts of search results.

I just googled the same search terms and found 42,500,000 search results for “Common Core Reading Standards” and 27,200,00 for “Common Core Writing Standards.” However, I was shocked to see the increase in search results for “Common Core Language Standards.” 40,600,000 results! Teachers may have initially gravitated toward what they know, but now they are shifting focus to what they want to know.

So why aren’t district trainings responding to this need? Why aren’t many district curricular specialists and university professors promoting the Language, Speaking, and Listening Strands? Why aren’t budgetary allocations being funneled into all of the Common Core ELA/Reading Strands?

We Also Teach What We Want to Believe: Conscious Cherry Picking

Many state, county, and district curriculum specialists, as well as university professors don’t want teachers to implement all of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

Specifically, many of these “movers and shakers” were inculcated in the 1980s whole language philosophy of implicit whole to part learning. Age is a factor in educational decision-making. The educational “movers and shakers” are now in their 50s or 60s. And all of us, to a certain extent, are products of our times. These educational decision-makers were taught that explicit part to whole language instruction was useless or even counter-productive. Educational research studies which confirmed this philosophy were trumpeted; studies which pointed in the other direction were brushed aside. Unlike the unconscious cherry picking, this was conscious cherry picking.

Choosing to make selective choices among competing evidence, so as to emphasize those results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it, is a practice known as “cherry picking” and is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science.

— Richard Somerville, Testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, March 8, 2011.

In terms of instructional approaches to literacy, this meant that explicit part to whole phonics, spelling patterns and rules, structured approaches to writing, explicit vocabulary strategies, grammar, usage, and mechanics practice were disparaged and even forbidden in some states.

At the height of the whole language movement fanaticism in California, principals were even instructed to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers.

By the late 1990s most school districts and teachers had abandoned the whole language philosophy in reading. Failing test scores demanded the switch to explicit phonics and spelling instruction. However, because standardized tests emphasized reading and math, the whole language philosophy maintained its influence on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary acquisition, speaking, and listening content and skill development.

For many educational “movers and shakers,” this hidden agenda remains.

Many district curriculum specialists are simply not providing training and budget allocations for the other Language Strand and Speaking and Listening Strand precisely because they don’t want to emphasize the explicit part to whole instruction called for in the Common Core State ELA/Reading Standards. To fail to choose is a choice.

Additionally, neither the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments focus on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, speaking, or listening Standards. So even for the less philosophically-driven and more pragmatic teach-to-the-test district decision-makers, it’s reading and writing that remains the focus.

However, younger teachers are beginning to experience some instructional cognitive dissonance. Although still force-fed much of the whole language philosophy at district level trainings and in university coursework, they see things differently in their classrooms. They don’t believe that their students will “catch on” to grammar or spelling by just writing a lot or through the editing process or via simplistic mini lessons or via writing “warm ups” such as Daily Oral Language. They don’t believe that students will acquire necessary academic vocabulary solely through reading. In other words, younger teachers tend to believe in explicit, not implicit, instruction. What is “taught” works better than what is “caught.” And retired teachers who gutted out the whole language movement of the 1980s and kept passing out their phonics, grammar, spelling, and mechanics “drill and kill” worksheets are smiling. And so are many of their former students.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , ,

Cherry Picking the Common Core

One of our more flexible idiomatic expressions in English is “cherry picking.” Cherry picking can mean picking the easiest fruit on the tree or picking the best fruit on the tree, or picking just the fruit on the tree that we want and ignoring the rest.

The latter use of “cherry picking” would seem to apply to many districts and teachers as they have begun implementing the Common Core Standards. To get a bit technical, many have bought into the fallacy of selective attention, known as confirmation bias.

As elementary and middle-high school English-language Arts teachers began unraveling the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects in 2011, they tended to gravitate to the Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, and Writing Strands.
Although some decried the “loss” of literature with the new focus on expository reading text, most began interpreting the Standards as “basically teaching what they already teach” with a few added tweaks. In my school district the mantra at all district Common Core trainings has been “Common Core-ize it!” In other words, keep on doing what we have been doing, but add on a few close reading strategies and some expository text and “You’re good to go!”

It’s human nature. We interpret new sensory input in light of previously acquired sensory input. Cherry picking.

Now, some of this Standards-cherry-picking does make sense. Now let me mix my food metaphors a bit. Obviously, reading (the meat) and writing (the potatoes) remain the cornerstones of literacy and should be instructional priorities. Additionally, there is some practical rationale to not introducing everything at once, so stair-stepping in the Standards would seem to be a prudent approach. However, we are in year four of implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The full dinner includes more than just meat and potatoes.

The cherries many have been avoiding would include the Language Strand and Speaking and Listening Strand. Scant attention has been paid to either of these Strands. I’ve asked countless district curriculum specialists and teachers whether they have read either of the Strands, and if they have, could they name one of the Standards in that Strand, and if they can, have they implemented any of the Standards in their district trainings or in their classrooms. You know their answers.

It’s time to set the table with a well-balanced meal.

Teachers are ready. Teachers can chew gum and walk at the same time. Teachers can implement the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects as they are designed–each part working to better the whole. I just googled “Common Core Reading Standards” and got 42,500,000 (not surprising) search results. “Common Core Writing Standards” got 27,200,00 (not surprising) search results. But these search results did surprise me: “Common Core Language Standards” got 40,600,000 results. Obviously there is significant interest in moving beyond the implementation of just the reading and writing Standards.

Now of course I am biased as well. As an educational publisher, I’m selling curriculum to address these up to this point ignored Standards. So, you would expect my own cherry picking. But I also feel that our students deserve a well-balanced diet. They need the full meal–not just the meat and potatoes. My take is that a diet of meat and potatoes can only take our students so far. Students also need the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, speaking, and listening knowledge and skills to inform and equip them in their reading and writing.

And how about cherries jubilee for dessert?

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

 

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Progressive Skills Review

Although English-Language Arts teachers have rightly focused on the Reading Standards for Literature, the Reading Standards for Informational Text, and the Writing Standards Strands of the Common Core State Standards, other Strands now deserve our focus as well.

The Language Strand has been one of the more controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Strand includes the following Standards for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).

Whole language (whole to part) writing and literature-based devotees have been chagrined at the inclusion of Language as a separate Common Core Strand. Anticipating this reaction, the Common Core writers went out of their way to placate the purists who believe that grammar, usage, and conventions (mechanics and spelling) taught in isolation from writing instruction and vocabulary taught in isolation from reading instruction are mortal sins.

“The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Less controversial, but still noteworthy, has been the inclusion of specific grammar, usage, and mechanics skills that need to be reinforced throughout the Grades 3‒12 Standards. These Language Progressive Skills found at the end of both the K-5 and 6-12 Language Standards include this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

The tacit admission that some skills-based instruction in language conventions is, indeed, desirable, and is, in fact, necessary to acquiring advanced literacy has been a tough pill for some purists to swallow. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process fellows have been loath to accept this distinction between skills and craft. Grammar rules are back in style.

However, most teachers have welcomed the emphases of these language skills across the grade levels. In fact, the repetition of the skills in the Common Core document validates what teachers have long been saying: Language acquisition and mastery is a cyclical and developmental process and not the introduction-reinforcement-mastery model that direct instruction gurus have long advocated. In other words, “No wonder we have to teach the same stuff year-to-year and over and over again before it starts to sink in. Maybe last year’s teacher really did teach this stuff after all.”

Let’s take a quick look at these 18 Language Progressive Skills:

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

  1. 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
  2. 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
  3. 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
  4. 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their).
  5. 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
  6. 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
  7. 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
  8. 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
  9. 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
  10. 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
  11. 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  12. 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
  13. 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
  14. 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
  15. 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
  16. 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
  17. 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
  18. 910.1a. Use parallel structure.

Of course these Language Progressive Skills Standards beg these two fundamental instructional questions: How do we teach these skills? How do students best learn these skills?

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Increasingly, teachers are answering this question with assessment-based instruction. Check out the helpful free diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring matrices for grammar, usage, and mechanics in the upper right dropdown menu of the author’s website.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the
Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , ,

Writing Openers

These 112 Writing Openers are quick YouTube videos culled from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4−8 Language Convention lessons. Completely aligned to the Common Core State Standards, these simple and quick writing openers are suitable for upper elementary and middle school. Following is an overview of the 56 grammar and usage lessons and the 56 mechanics lessons.

Each of the 112 Writing Openers follows the same instructional sequence:

  • The teacher reads a brief introduction to introduce the grammar and usage or mechanics lesson focus (the lessons alternate) and the Language Strand Standard. The introduction connects to prior learning and/or defines key terms.
  • The teacher and students read the targeted grammar and usage or mechanics lesson with examples. The teacher explains and clarifies, as needed, while the students summarize the key points in composition books or on binder paper.
  • Students copy the practice sentence(s) and apply the content and skills learned in the lesson to highlight or circle what is correct and revise what is wrong.
  • Students review the practice answers, self-correct, and self-edit their work.
  • The teacher reads the writing application task and students compose a sentence or two to apply the lesson content or skill.

What’s in the Teaching the Language Strand language conventions lessons that are not provided in these 112 Writing Openers?

  1. Teaching the Language Strand consists of five Grades 4−8 programs. Check out the comprehensive instructional scopes and sequences.
  2. Teaching the Language Strand includes completely scripted teacher’s guide with accompanying PDF files for interactive display.
  3. The accompanying student workbooks provide the full text of each lesson to highlight and annotate. Workbooks also have the practice sentences and simple sentence diagrams for each lesson.
  4. Each lesson has exemplary mentor texts which apply the focus of each grammar and usage lesson. Students apply the grammar and usage lesson to respond to these texts.
  5. Each lesson has a grammar/usage and a mechanics formative assessment to ensure mastery of the lesson components. Students self-correct these sentence dictations.
  6. Teaching the Language Strand has a comprehensive assessment plan including bi-weekly unit assessments in which students define, identify, and apply each grammar, usage, and mechanics lesson content or skill.

Plus, the grade-level Teaching the Language Strand programs also include the following instructional resources in both the teacher’s guide and student workbook to ensure that your students master each of the Common Core Language Standards:

  1. Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments with recording matrices and corresponding worksheets to remediate previous grade-level (L.1, 2) grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards. Each worksheet has definitions, examples, practice, and a formative assessment.  Students self-correct the practice sections and mini-conference with the teacher to review the formative assessments.
  2. A complete spelling patterns program with weekly word lists, spelling sorts, and syllable worksheets. Plus, a comprehensive diagnostic spelling patterns assessment with recording matrices and corresponding worksheets to remediate previous grade-level (L.2) spelling Standards. Students self-correct the practice sections and mini-conference with the teacher to review the formative assessments.
  3. Twice-per-week Language Application Openers to teach and practice the (L.3) Knowledge of Use Standards.
  4. A complete vocabulary program with weekly word lists based upon the grade-level Academic Word List, multiple meaning words, context clues practice, idioms, semantic spectrums, Greek and Latin word parts, dictionary and thesaurus skills with flashcards and bi-weekly unit tests.
  5. Answers to all worksheets and tests.
  6. Training videos. Check out the introductory training video.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

    Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Program.

Want to purchase access to these 112 writing opener videos. Visit TeachersPayTeachers here.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language

Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach theCommon Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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

Latin Abbreviations for Time

Latin Abbreviations for Time                                                        

Common Core Language Standard 2

We all know that a.m. and p.m. are used to show time. But what do these abbreviations stand for and why do we use them? Before we get to our lesson and answer the question, it’s helpful to understand a bit about how time works. Since the earth is a sphere, it has 360 degrees. In our 24 hour clock each hour would be 15 degrees. The math is simple: 360 divided by 24 = 15. The imaginary longitude lines that go from the North to the South pole are called meridians when we talk about time. Each meridian has 15 degrees, or 1 hour of the 24 hours. Since the earth spins on its axis, but the sun does not, time changes as we go from morning (before noon meridian) to evening (after noon meridian).

Today’s mechanics lesson is on using Latin abbreviations for time. Remember that periods end declarative statements, such as “That is my pen” and imperative commands, such as “Give me my pen.”Periods are also used to abbreviate words and phrases.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Use periods to abbreviate the Latin expressions we use to indicate before noon and after noon. Antemeridian is the time from midnight until noon and is abbreviated as “a.m.” Postmeridian is the time from noon until midnight and is abbreviated as “p.m.” Examples: 7:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: I woke up this morning at 7:30 AM. because I fell asleep last night at 10:00 p.m.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: I woke up this morning at 7:30 a.m. because I fell asleep last night at 10:00 p.m.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write a sentence or two, using both an antemeridian and a postmeridian time. 

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , ,

Proper Nouns

Proper Nouns                                                        

Common Core Language Standard 1

Everyone knows that a noun is a person, place, or thing. But, of course, there are different kinds of people, places, and things.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on proper nouns. Remember that there are two kinds of nouns: proper nouns and common nouns.

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

A proper noun is the name of a person, place, or thing and must be capitalized. A proper noun may be a single word, a group of words (with or without abbreviations), or a hyphenated word.

Examples: John, President of the U.S., African-American

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: At the ceremony held in the State Rotunda, principal Taylor accepted the Blue Ribbon award on behalf of his students, parents, and teachers at Pinewood Middle School.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: At the ceremony held in the State Rotunda, Principal Taylor accepted the Blue Ribbon Award on behalf of his students, parents, and teachers at Pinewood Middle School.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using both an abbreviated and hyphenated proper noun.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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

Common Nouns

Common Nouns                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 1

Common nouns have two functions different than proper nouns: They are un-named and they include ideas. Because they are un-named, common nouns are more general than specific proper nouns. Common nouns include people, places, and things just like proper nouns, but they also add ideas. Think about it. Without common nouns we would have no freedom, liberty, justice, peace, or love. Maybe common nouns are the most important part of speech after all.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on common nouns. Remember that there are two kinds of nouns: proper nouns and common nouns. A proper noun names a person, place, or thing and is capitalized. A common noun is a bit different.

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

A common noun is an idea, person, place, or thing. It can act or be acted upon and is capitalized only at the start of a sentence. A common noun can be a single word, a group of words, or a hyphenated word. Use common nouns to generalize ideas, persons, places, or things.    Examples: liberty (idea), human (person), capital (place), eye-opener (thing)

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: We Americans sometimes forget that peace has been achieved by brave men and women who left their Country to fight in distant Lands.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: We Americans sometimes forget that peace has been achieved by brave men and women who left their country to fight in distant lands.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a common noun idea.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , ,

How to Use the Spelling Pretest

The Monday spelling pretest: it’s as American as apple pie. Each of my three sons routinely scored 20/20 on the Monday spelling pretest. They were required to “study” and “practice” these words with an obligatory worksheet, crossword puzzle, or write-the-word-ten-times assignment. They were then tested on these same words on Friday. They learned zilch about spelling from this instructional practice.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The first task of an informed teacher is to determine what students already know and don’t know. The second task of an

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

informed teacher is to make use of the diagnostic data to differentiate and individualize instruction.

Here’s how to make sense of the spelling pretest and teach according to the results: Simply follow these five steps:

How to Use the Spelling Pretest

1. Prepare
Create Supplemental Spelling Lists for each student.
A. First, administer a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment to determine individual mastery and gaps. (Avoid qualitative inventories which do not clearly identify spelling patterns.) Grade the assessment and print grade-level resource words for each of the spelling pattern gaps.
B. Second, find and print these resources: For remedial spellers−Outlaw Words, Most Often Misspelled Words, Commonly Confused Words. And these: For grade level and accelerated spellers−Greek and Latinate spellings, Tier 2 words used in your current instructional unit. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources.
C. Third, have your students set up spelling notebooks to record the spelling words which they, their parents, or you have corrected in their daily writing.
Now you’re ready to teach.

2. Pretest
Dictate the 15—20 words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students on Monday. Of course, the words do matter. Rather than selecting unrelated theme words such as colors, holidays, or the like, choose a spelling program which organizes instruction by specific spelling patterns. Here’s a nice  CCSS L.2 Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence for spelling.

Have students self-correct from teacher dictation of letters in syllable chunks, marking dots below the correct letters, and marking an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. This is an instructional activity that can be performed by second graders. Don’t rob your students of this learning activity by correcting the pretest yourself.

3. Personalize
Students complete their own 15−20 word Personal Spelling List in the following order of priority:
• Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto a Personal Spelling List. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern.
• Last Week’s Posttest Errors: Have students add up to three spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
• Writing Errors: Have students add up to three student, parent, or teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
• Spelling Pattern Errors: Have students add on up to three words from one spelling pattern deficit as indicated by the comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources: Spelling Pattern Worksheets with the spelling pattern/rule clearly explained, example words, spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, writing application, and a short formative assessment.
• Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select words from these resources to complete the list.

4. Practice
Have students practice their own Personal Spelling Words list.
A. Use direct instruction and example words to demonstrate the weekly spelling pattern.
B. Have students create their own spelling sorts from their Personal Spelling List.
C. Provide class time for paired practice. Spelling is primarily an auditory process.

5. Posttest
On Friday (or why not test every two weeks for older students?) tell students to take out a piece of binder paper and find a partner to exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List words. Now, this makes instructional sense—actually using the posttest to measure what students have learned! But, you may be thinking…what if they cheat? For the few who cheat…It would be a shame to not differentiate instruction for the many to cater to a few. Truly, they are only cheating themselves.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Making Sense of Community College and Trade School Instruction

As an educational publisher, I receive many emails asking for assistance with products and/or instruction in a variety of settings. Although most of my business is in the K-12 market, I do get plenty of response from community college and trade school professors. Having taught three years (part time) in that setting, I do understand the challenges and rewards of working with adult learners. Those of us in the K-12 community who complain about how tough it is working with our diverse learners should walk two moons in the moccasins of our colleagues at the community colleges and trade schools before we cry “Woe is me.”

Here’s the email (used with the author’s permission).

Wondering what products you might suggest to me as an adult instructor of students 18 -70+ years old enrolled in a jobs training program.  My adult learners in general do well being highly motivated with strong self-initiative.  However, they have problems taking tests written for the specific class subject matter.  My feeling is that some of the lower achievers bring along a suitcase (even a trunk load) of bad study habits; unresolved conceptual learning issues; and other bad life experiences preventing their higher achievement.  Simple things like reading comprehension of test questions; basic math concepts and practical usage, etc. 

The program consists of technical classes such as 40-hour Hazwoper; Confined Space Entry; Stormwater Managment; Chemical Safety Awareness; Underground Storage Tanks; Mold Inspection & Remediation; Alternate Remediation Technologies.  These classes follow federal and state guidelines thus requiring success at 80% levels.

I work to help each student, but it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong (carrying the ones instead of tens in whole number addition) and then figuring out why they are doing what they are.  In the end we work to try to find solutions which they use to see better results on exams, exercises, etc.

Thank you for your help,

Chris Goodman Lead Instructor

Making Sense of Community College and Trade School Instruction

Chris,

Your email is quite similar to many I’ve received, asking for targeted resources for adult learners. You have a tough, but rewarding job. I’ve been there and done that! I taught part time in a community college setting for three years with a student population quite similar to yours. Entering and re-entering the work force at any age can be difficult. I’ve decided to respond at length to your thoughtful email to both commiserate and offer some solutions to your challenging instructional needs based upon my own experience.

At the community college I taught lecture classes and also served in the Learning Resource Center. In this large complex, professors staffed the Reading Center, Writing Center, and Math Center from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.

The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant strengths:

  • Diagnostic reading, writing, and math exams were administered and scored in the Counseling Center. “Cut-off” scores were established and students who scored below were assigned to the relevant center for tutorial instruction while concurrently taking required classes in their selected instructional programs. Completion of the tutorial instruction served as prerequisites to certain core classes.
  • Learning was self-paced with the Learning Resource Center open twelve hours a day for student drop-in. So important for working adults.
  • Students completed  individualized learning plans and set their own learning goals.
  • Content professors “bought into” the instructional design and referred students for tutorial assistance.
  • We professors wrote, purchased, or “borrowed” curriculum catered to both student interest and need.
  • Credit was variable and flexible: Students worked on short-term specific learning modules in reading, writing, and math with check-in and review by the professors. Most modules were designed to be completed within 7.5 hours for the average student, and students earned .5 units. Some comprehensive modules were designed to be completed within 45 hours with students earning 3.0 units. Other modules ranged in between these extremes. Many of the learning modules permitted students to work together to complete the learning tasks. This “learning community” was nurtured by caring professors.
  • Much of the generic study skills curriculum was excellent and appropriate for most all students in each of the three centers.

The instructional design of each of the Learning Resource Centers had some significant weaknesses:

As you mentioned in your email, “… it is difficult to first analyze what is wrong.”

Despite the appropriate entry-level reading, writing, and math assessments, no further specific diagnostic assessments were given within the respective centers. Thus, professors knew that the student “had a problem” in reading, writing, or math; however, trial and error via student feedback and completed work was the only means of more refined assessment of student need. Highly inefficient. Plus many students failed in their first learning modules until their completed work was analyzed by a professor; others students completed work on content and skills already mastered.

With no specific diagnostic assessments, the curriculum did not match the diagnosed learning deficits of the individual student. Furthermore, few formative assessments were built into the instructional design of the individual modules. Although student did complete the modules, professors had no vehicle to assess whether the content or skills had been mastered as a whole and no item analysis to be able to refine and assign remedial learning tasks to help students achieve mastery.

In subsequent years I’ve written English-language arts curriculum to address these weaknesses. My credo has been “Help students catch up, while they keep up with age or grade-level

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

instruction.” Resources include the specific diagnostic resources (simple, short, and comprehensive and administered “whole class,” … not individually) with self-paced curriculum designed to address each diagnostic need. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, practice, application, and a quick formative assessment. Supplementary resources provide additional practice with unmastered content and skills. Recording matrices help teachers and students track individual progress.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. 

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

Nonrestrictive Relative Clauses

Nonrestrictive Relative Clauses                                                    

Common Core Language Standard 1

Sometimes the terms we use to label grammatical structures seem just crazy. However, the wording of grammatical terms is important. Using precise, or exact, academic language helps us compare, contrast, and categorize. These grammatical terms allow to say exactly what we mean and have meaningful conversations about how to improve our writing.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on nonrestrictive relative clauses. Remember to use commas to set off nonrestrictive relative clauses from the noun or pronoun before the clause.

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

Nonrestrictive relative clauses serve as adjectives to modify the preceding noun or pronoun, but they do not limit, restrict, or define the meaning of that noun or pronoun. The clause could be removed without changing the basic meaning of the sentence.

The relative pronouns who, whom, whose,and which, but not that, begin nonrestrictive relative clauses. The who refers to people and which refers to specific things. Example: The man, whose watch is gold, asked me for help.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: The woman which never told the truth claimed to have seen a spaceship, which no one else happened to see.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: The woman, who never told the truth, claimed to have seen a spaceship, which no one else happened to see.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a nonrestrictive relative clause at the end of the sentence.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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

Compound-Complex Sentences

Compound-Complex Sentences                                                     

Common Core Language Standard 1

Good writers focus on their readers. Readers understand more of what is written when there is some sentence variety. If every sentence is a short, simple sentence, the reader will be bored quickly. The same is true if every sentence is long.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on compound-complex sentences. Remember that a simple sentence has one independent clause and no dependent clause. A compound sentence has two or more independent clauses, but no dependent clauses. A complex sentence has an independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and a dependent clause. Example: I like him and he likes me, even if we don’t see each other very much.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: I let them talk since I had already spent time with her and I loaded the car.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: Since I had already spent time with her, I let them talk and I loaded the car.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a compound-complex sentence.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive Pronouns                                                

Common Core Language Standard 1

To possess means to own or control something. We might say that you possess a smart phone or you possess the ability to learn. Both nouns and pronouns can be in the possessive case because they can own or control something.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on possessive pronouns. Remember that a pronoun takes the place of a noun. A pronoun may also modify a noun.

Now let’s read the grammar and mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Possessive pronouns show ownership and may be used before a noun or without a noun.

Before a noun—my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their

When a possessive pronoun is used before a noun, it modifies the noun. The verb matches the noun, not the pronoun. Example: Our house seems small.

Without a noun—mine, yours, his, hers, ours, yours, theirs

When a possessive pronoun is used without a noun, the verb must match the noun which the pronoun represents. Example: Mary said that my jacket is nice, but hers is nicer.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and mechanics lesson.

Practice: We took our donations to the shelter. Their clothes were brand new, but my were used.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Mechanics Practice Answers: We took our donations to the shelter. Their clothes were brand new, but mine were used.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentences using a possessive pronoun before a noun and a possessive pronoun without a noun.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Subject Case Pronouns

Subject Case Pronouns                                                        

Common Core Language Standard 1

Just like nouns, English has different types of pronouns for different purposes. To know when to use a “she,” “her,” and “hers” requires a bit of practice.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on subject case pronouns. Remember that a pronoun takes the place of a noun. Using subject case pronouns avoids repetitious nouns, especially in dialogue.

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

Writers use pronouns to take the place of nouns. One type of pronoun is called a subject case pronoun because it acts as the subject of a sentence. The subject is the “do-er” of the sentence.

These are the subject case pronouns:

Singular—I, you, he, she, it, who        Plural—we, you, they, who

Example: They brought a basket of flowers.

Also use subject case pronouns following “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) to identify or refer to the subject as predicate nominatives. Example: It is I.

Place the first person singular pronoun (I) last in compound subjects. Example: Paul and I left. If unsure whether a pronoun should be in the subject case, rephrase the sentence with the pronoun at the start of the sentence. Example: The winner was me. Rephrase: I was the winner.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Practice: Pedro and I just want to know if the burglar really was him or his friend.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: Pedro and I just want to know if the burglar really was he or his friend.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using singular and plural subject case pronouns.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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

How to Teach Alphanumeric Outlines

Common Core Language Standard 2
How to Teach Alphanumeric Outlines: Mechanics Lesson 4

How to Teach Alphanumeric Outlines                                                    

Learning how to take notes from reading and lectures is essential to your success as a student. Note are summaries of the key ideas and include main points, major details, and minor details. We often use symbols to represent these levels of organization.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on using periods in alphanumeric outlines to indicate levels of ideas. Display Instructional PowerPoint Slides

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Alphanumeric Outlines use numbers, letters, and periods to organize information. The first letter of the word, group of words, or sentence that follows each symbol is capitalized.

  • Main ideas are listed as Roman numerals on the left margin and are followed by periods. Examples: I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X.
  • Major details are listed as capital letters and are indented on the lines below the main ideas. Major details modify the main ideas. Modify means to describe, change, or limit. The Arabic numerals are capitalized and are followed by periods. Examples: A., B., C.
  • The first minor detail modifies the major detail and is double indented on the next line. It begins with the Arabic numeral 1 followed by a period.
  • The second minor detail is double indented on the next line and listed as 2.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: The sixth main idea is IV; the fourth major detail is d; and the third minor detail is 3.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: The sixth main idea is VI; the fourth major detail is D; and the third minor detail is 3.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own alphanumeric outline to describe your ideal birthday dinner.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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

How to Teach Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words 2

Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words                                                       

Common Core Language Standard 1

We speak differently in different social situations. Hopefully, you talk to your mom and teacher differently than the way you talk to your friends. Most of us text differently than the way we write an essay. After all, beginning an essay with “BTW some so reb ldrs thot they really would win the civil war LOL” will probably not impress your history teacher. Students definitely need to learn the fine art of “code switching.” To code switch means to consider your audience and adjust what you say or write and how you do so. Using non-standard English in the wrong setting, such as in the classroom, is important to recognize and avoid.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words. Remember that Non-standard English often differs from Standard English because of regional or cultural dialects. Often we are used to hearing and saying words or expressions that are not Standard English. Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples. 

Following are commonly misused words:

  • Additions: We should say anyway, not anyways. We should say toward, not towards.
  • Deletions: We should say used to, not use to. We should say nothing, not nothin’. something, not somethin’, and anything, not anythin’. Example: I used to play guitar.
  • Misused Phrases: We should say I couldn’t care less, not I could care less. We should say once in a while, not once and a while. We should say any more, not no more. We should say could have, not could of. And no would of, should of, might of.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice:  I could care less if you put somethin’ towards the balance of the loan. That amount doesn’t matter much anyways.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers:  I couldn’t care less if you put something toward the balance of the loan. That amount doesn’t matter much anyway.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a commonly misused phrase.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,