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English-language Arts Standards

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

Standards-based education is now the norm in public and most parochial schools. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 25 years, standards-based instruction is now the instructional mandate in all 50 states. Although some states have rescinded their adoption of the Common Core State Standards and some, like Texas, never did adopt the Standards, each state has adopted its own set of standards and some have developed their own state assessment systems. Teachers and district administrators continue to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although the authors of the Common Core State Standards assert that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

This author, Mark Pennington, has written articles and developed free teaching resources on the Common Core ELA Standards and included these in his Pennington Publishing Blog to support fellow ELA teachers and reading intervention specialists. Mark’s assessment-based teaching resources are available at Pennington Publishing.

This article and resource compilation is jam-packed with FREE resources, lesson plans, and samples from grades 4–high school ELA and reading intervention programs, developed by teacher and author, Mark Pennington. Each of the following 25+ articles has multiple links to research, related articles, and free or paid resources:

Common Core Literalism

The Common Core State Standards were never written to be the Bible for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Read what the Common Core authors have to say and see how a common sense approach to teaching to the Standards can benefit both students and teachers.

FREE Instructional Resources: Syllable Awareness Assessment, 20 Advanced Syllable Rules, 10 English Accent Rules

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

Many teachers have never read the entire Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Sure, they’ve read their own district or state summaries of the Standards, but not the documents themselves. To understand the instructional role of the Standards, teachers must read the  appendices, which discuss important reflections and research regarding, for instance, reading intervention.

Grammar and the Common Core

More than any other Strand within the Common Core State Standards, the Language Strand with its focus on direct grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary instruction has been whole-heartedly embraced or intentionally ignored by teachers.

Common Core Instructional Minutes

With all the CCSS mandates, how can an ELA teacher allocate instructional time to be faithful to the Standards, while maintaining some sense of one’s own priorities? This article gets down to the minute-by-minute.

Common Core Academic Language Words

Of course, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4−8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4−12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60−90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language has its own seat at the table.

Common Core Grammar Standards

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Progressive Skills document emphasizes the essential grammar, usage, and mechanics skills, which need to be reviewed and reinforced year after year..

Common Core Curricular Crossover

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice? The short answer is…

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than “The Great Shift.” This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres.

Common Core Language Standards

Teachers are generally quite familiar with the CCSS Reading and Writing Standards, not so with the Language Strand Standards. The Language Strand includes the grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary Standards.

Standards and Accountability

Sometimes we teachers can be our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

The Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-to’s (think ELA Standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

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

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

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Grammar Mini-Lessons So Ineffective?

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

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

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

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Grammar Quiz for Teachers

The Grammar Quiz for Teachers

Grammar Quiz for Teachers

See how much you know about grammar by taking the 10 Question Grammar Quiz for Teachers. Don’t worry; I’ll dispense with the usual “If you score 9 or 10 out of 10, you are…” Let’s keep things fun! Take out a pen and some scratch paper. Number from 1‒10.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. I wrote this quiz to sell my grammar books to teachers. I selected quiz items from the grades 4‒8 Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. Helpful links follow each question if you want to learn explore the grammatical topics.

The answers to the multiple-choice questions follow my promotional materials to ensure that you glance at my books. I would be happy to explain any of the distractors. Comments are welcomed (not welcome).

Grammar Quiz for Teachers

1. When multiple adjectives are used within a sentence, the adjectival types should follow this order:

A. Which one? How many? What kind? B. What kind? Which one? How many?

C. What kind? How many? Which one? D. How many? Which one? What kind?

http://bit.ly/2cs8vQD

2. When multiple adverbs are used within a sentence, the adverbial types should follow this order:

A. Where? What degree? How? When? B. How? When? What degree? Where?

C. When? How? Where? What Degree? D. What degree? How? Where? When?

http://bit.ly/2thRtQO

I know you’re craving examples at this point, but we need to teach the rules, so that students will be able to apply them and not solely depend upon oral language proficiency.

3. A past participle is best described by what part of speech?

A. Adverb B. Adjective

C. Verb D. Conjunction

http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/past_participles.htm

4. Examples of correlative conjunctions include the following:

A. unless, despite B. for, nor

C. either, or D. however, then

http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/correlativeconjunction.htm

5. Examples of coordinate adjectives include the following:

A. dark green moss B. homemade apple pie

C. heavy, bulky sweater D. delicious, low-fat, dessert

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/commas-with-adjectives

6. Which of the following does not describe a function of the present perfect verb tense (or form, if you prefer)?

A. A physical or mental action or a state of being happening or existing before the present

B. An ongoing action happening or existing now

C. An action that took place at some unidentified time in the past that relates to the present

D. An action that began in the past but continues to the present

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/tag/perfect-verbs/

Okay, so you’re probably not going to get all of these answers correct. I’m sure it’s just the way I’ve phrased the questions and/or answers.

7. Identify which answer provides James as the subject of this sentence:

A. Running helped James lower his body fat.

B. Why is James asking if Sheena wants dessert?

C. The teacher of the year is James.

D. The birthday party for James was orchestrated by his closest friends.

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/syntax-sentences-and-clauses/subjects-and-predicates/v/subjects-and-predicates-syntax-khan-academy

8. The grammatical problem in this sentence is a dangling modifier:

A. Re-reading the question clearly improves the accuracy of your answers.

B. I dusted always on Tuesdays.

C. He acted more conspicuously than I.

D. Fired from her job, her car became her home.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/597/1/

9. The grammatical problem in this sentence is the use of an indefinite pronoun reference:

A. He did have pens, but we didn’t need any right now.

B. I called Jesse’s work, but he never answered.

C. None were happier than he.

D. Peter was a brilliant chemist and teacher. That is why his students loved his class.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/pronouns/

10. Which one of the following sentences includes a direct object?

A. To him I gave my favorite ring.

B. “Is this Marsha?” “It is I.”

C. The popcorn seems too salty for most people.

D. Ismelda acts nicely when no one is looking.

http://www.write.com/writing-guides/general-writing/grammar/direct-and-indirect-objects/

Want to take the Mechanics Quiz for TeachersCheck it out after you correct your grammar quiz.

Quiz Answers

  1. A      2. D      3. B      4. C     5. C     6. B     7. B     8. D     9. C     10. A

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides 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 the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

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

─Julie Villenueve

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Grammar | Teaching in the Social Context

Language Conventions Literacy Centers

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

If we consider the traditional four communicative contexts of English-language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and add on a fifth, the visual context, thanks to the interesting research of Kress and van Leeuwen, we find that language never takes place in isolation. Even when my wife talks to herself, she does have an audience (and I’m rarely included).

A few examples (with good instructional links and the related Common Core Standards) will remind us of how we teach the language interactively:

We teach students to actively listen to a speaker by asking relevant questions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.C
“Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.”

We teach students to speak to their audience, using specific techniques to interest our listeners.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.4
“Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.”

We teach students to engage their audience in writing assignments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.3.A
Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

We teach students to maintain a dialog with the author when reading.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.5.4.A
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.

We teach students to analyze media and consider the choices in terms of content, editing, and production made by, say, a filmmaker, videographer, or graphic artist.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.7
Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium’s portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).

So, why are teachers so reticent to abandon teaching grammar in isolation?

Now, most of you are thinking that I’m referring to teaching grammar in isolation via drill and kill worksheets, divorced from listening, speaking, writing, and reading. I’m not. As an aside, while I certainly try to apply my grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to the instructional subject, I (like all teachers I work with at my school) find that some grammatical instruction is most efficiently accomplished in isolation. For example, when I teach sentence variety through modeled grammatical sentence openers in the context of revising process paper drafts, I always find that some re-teaching is necessary for some students. If half of my students still don’t know the definition of an adverb, its function, proper adverbial order, and some examples, they won’t be able to use a few of my grammatical sentence openers revisions to improve their process papers.  I see no reason not to bust out a down and dirty adverbs worksheet for those seventh grade students who need it.

What I mean by teaching grammar in isolation is didactic direct instruction (teacher talks to the class) or individual students complete a grammar worksheet and turn it in to the teacher to grade instruction.

Instead of those types of isolated learning experiences, I contend that grammar is best learned, interactively, in a social context.

Not to get to hung up on definitions, but let’s cite one:

“A grammar is the rules and constraints on what can be represented. A grammar is a social resource of a particular group” (Kress and van Leeuwen).

If grammar provides the tools (“the rules and constraints”) for communication, it makes sense that these tools would best be defined, identified, practiced, and applied in the context of collaborative communication (the “social resource of a particular group”). The classroom teacher certainly provides one important source of communication, but students themselves are often an untapped source of learning. Students can learn grammar from each other.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

Literacy centers provide an ideal social context for cooperative learning about grammar: parts of speech, syntax and sentence structure, standard and non-standard usage, word choice, dialect, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Now, of course your students need the right tools. We can’t have the blind leading the blind.

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students in a cooperative group or literacy center? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Interactive Grammar

If I’m going to entice you to read this article by offering some how-to’s and free resources to teach grammar interactively, we had best get on the same page about what we both mean by grammar.

I like to think of grammar as a community’s language tools.

The tools of grammar are usually known as language conventions. A convention means “a general agreement about basic principles or procedures; also : a principle or procedure accepted as true or correct by convention the conventions of grammar” (Merriam-Webster). The Common Core authors use “Conventions of Language” for the first two Language Strand Standards:

L.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

L.2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Two other points will keep us on that same page:

  1. Teachers usually separate usage from grammar as in standard and non-standard usage, or word choice, or figures of speech, etc.
  2. Teachers usually separate mechanics from grammar and usage. By mechanics, teachers mean punctuation and capitalization. Some would also throw in spelling under this category.

Since our language conventions tools are always applied in a social context, it makes sense to teach and learn grammar how we use grammar: in the social context. Specifically, I find literacy centers to be ideal collaborative settings in which students will actually use their language skills to learn what the tool is and its purpose, be able to identify it, know how to use it, and use it a bit to see its value and, hopefully, remember it.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

For grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, I’ve developed twice-per-week, twenty-minute Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers to teach the Common Core language conventions standards

Instructional Format for Interactive Learning: The How To’s

The Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center provides 56 lessons. Grades 4–8 alignment documents follow the lessons. Each Language Conventions lesson consists of four pages and takes 20 minutes to complete. Students work collaboratively to learn two tools per twenty-minute lesson: a mechanics skill and a grammar or usage concept, rule, or skill.

The first page is in Cornell Notes format and provides the content and skills in the Mechanics Notes and Grammar and Usage Notes sections. The Links and Response sections provide online resources for additional grade-level practice. Space is provided in this section for students to list key ideas, comment, make connections, and write questions. Additional space is provided at the bottom of the lesson for students to summarize the key mechanics and grammar content or skills.

The second page duplicates the lesson text of the first page, but adds examples for the students to copy in the spaces provided on the first page. The Links and Resources sections provide online resources for extended learning (acceleration) and additional practice (remediation).

The third page provides students with practice for both the mechanics and grammar content and skills. Students individually apply the lessons with identification, error analysis, sentence revisions, and sentence combining in the writing context.

The fourth page consists of the practice answers. Students self-correct as a group to learn from their mistakes.

The program provides biweekly unit tests in which students must define, identify, and apply the tools they have learned. Students use their lessons on the test. Teachers may elect to have students take the test individually or as a group.

The FREE Resources

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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Grammar and the Common Core

I hear the same two comments at English-language arts conferences all the time: 1. “I’ve heard that research has proven grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction doesn’t work.” 2. “I teach grammar and they seem to get it. They pass my tests and do okay on the standardized tests, but they don’t transfer the learning to their writing or speaking. And they just don’t retain what we’ve covered. Their next-year teacher always asks why I don’t teach grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.”

So, should we bother teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling? Some would say “No.” This is what Dr. Stephen Krashen recommends, at least until high school. Dr. Krashen finds that students learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary most efficiently through free voluntary reading, not explicit instruction or even writing, as my old National Writing Project colleagues would advocate. Now, to be fair, Dr. Krashen does see the value of teaching some usage issues and grammatical terminology. And he advocates teaching students how to use language resources, such as language handbooks, to correct errors and improve writing style. But he, and others of his ilk, certainly support the overall position described in the first comment listed above. My view is that the collective jury is still out on this research question.

Irrespective of the research into the effectiveness of explicit grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction, the writers of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) certainly affirm the need for instruction in these skill and content areas.  In fact, grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary now have their own CCSS Language Strand in the English Language Arts Standards. Apparently, language instruction is back in style.

According to the CCSS writers, “Students must have a strong command of the grammar and usage of spoken and written standard English to succeed academically and professionally.” And, despite the comments of the CCSS writers designed to placate English-language arts teachers clinging onto a teach-grammar-only-through-writing approach, the pendulum has definitely swung back toward explicit instruction of these Standards.

Even the most recent National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement in the NCTE Guideline now stresses the importance of direct instruction in these areas with the caveat that instruction must be connected to reading, writing, and speaking. Regarding instructional approaches, the NCTE position might surprise some die-hard anti-grammar fanatics:

Experiment with different approaches until you find the ones that work the best for you and your students. Some teachers focus on showing students how phrases add rich detail to sentences. Other teachers find that sentence diagrams help students see the organization of sentences. Some use grammar metaphors (the sentence, for example, as a bicycle, with the subject as the front wheel and the predicate as the back). Some emphasize the verb as the key part of speech, showing students how the sentence is built around it and how vivid verbs create vivid sentences.

But, back to the teacher comments at the English-language arts conferences. The second comment listed above reflects the common experience of so many English-language arts teachers in their own classrooms. There just is no doubt that students tend to have troubles transferring their learning of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling to writing and (with grammar and usage) speaking, not to mention next-year’s-teacher.

The CCSS writers acknowledge and validate this common experience. The CCSS writers explicitly recognize the cyclical nature of formal and standard language acquisition in their narrative and in the Standards themselves. To wit, the Standards include specific “Progressive Language Skills” to review, practice, and build on key Standards precisely because of the “recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge.”

However, simply acknowledging the fact that students have trouble with language transfer does not solve the problem. Teachers do need to take a fresh look at instructional approaches. One approach would be to take a hard look at how students have learned some grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling and then devise instructional approaches to replicate this success for other un-mastered language content and skills. In other words, find out what has worked and do more of that.

What Works

1. We know from language acquisition research and classroom practice that new skills are best acquired when students notice and understand, before practice. That is, input is more important than output for student mastery of skills and/or content. This appears to be true for both primary language and secondary language students. Production, that is writing and speaking application and practice, should come after a certain degree of mastery has been acquired.

Application: Provide comprehensible input via oral language to learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary content and skills. Teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary through active listening and interactive discussion with plenty of examples makes sense. Use mentor texts to analyze how writers and speakers use the language skill and content.

2. We have to teach through successive approximation and build upon prior knowledge.

New learning best takes place in context of the old. The CCSS “Progressive Language Skills” identifies the key Standards to scaffold instruction. Expect the need to re-teach foundational language skills and content.

Application: Begin the year with extensive review of language skills and content. Reference and practice prior Standards, then build upon these foundations to extend learning.

3. Students can chew gum and walk at the same time. Teach language form and meaning concurrently. Form influences meaning and meaning influences form. The CCSS Standards integrate form and meaning: traditional and descriptive approaches to language learning.

Application: Target the specific skill or content to be learned and teach, then practice in all of the communicative contexts. Teach the academic language, show and practice the variety of grammatical structures, validate the different purposes and forms of communication and contrast to Standard English, and provide a meaningful rationale for learning “correct” English to motivate learning.

4. Practice output in both contrived and meaningful contexts.

Application: Use canned, repetitive practice in limited doses. Most students don’t have to do “all of the even number exercises on page 223” to master a skill and/or concept. “Drill and kill” worksheets never killed anyone. But, contrived practice needs to target specific skills, inform the student as to “what is correct and what is not” via immediate feedback, provide a basis for formative assessment, and help the student practice skills and content already learned (#s 1 and 2 above.) Teachers do need to provide authentic writing tasks to practice what has been learned and give immediate and specific feedback regarding task application.

5. Assess learning, adjust instruction to re-teach, and differentiate instruction.

Application: English-language arts teachers need to buy-in to formative assessment to teach at the point of individual student needs. What good is it if we’ve “taught it,” if they haven’t learned it? That next-year’s teacher does have a point. And tracking students into remedial, regular, and honors classes does not address this point. Tracking, whether beneficial or not, is about delivery of content and skills, not about differentiating instruction according to what students have or have not learned.

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Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides 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 the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

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

─Julie Villenueve

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