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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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, Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core 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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core 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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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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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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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.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the
Common Core 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 Greek and Latinates

As we all know by now, the bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now 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. But not the grade levels most of us would expect.

Older, close-to-retirement teachers or parochial school expatriates remember the value of their own high school Latin classes. Both grammar and cognates significantly improved their writing and vocabulary. They swear by it. Also those colleagues trying to make a few extra dollars by teaching SAT or ACT prep classes will affirm the importance of learning Greek and Latin word parts for the reading sections of these tests. So, high school 9-12 CCSS Standards strongly emphasize Greek and Latinates, right? Wrong. There are no Greek and Latin vocabulary Standards for Grades 9-12.

Interestingly, the CCSS vocabulary Standards dealing with Greek and Latin affixes and roots begin at 4th Grade and end at 8th Grade. Here are these Standards for each of these grade levels:

Common Core Greek and Latinates

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L.4.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

  • Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
  • Now, recent reading research has supported emphasizing the morphological approach to vocabulary development in elementary and middle school.

Why is it important to study Greek and Latin word parts?

  • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989).
  • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
  • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
  • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” wordsthat Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
  • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots(Nagy & Scott, 2000).
  • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
  • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 
  • Learning Greek and Latin affixes and roots may help reduce the literacy gap.

So, which Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots should we teach?

It makes sense to begin with the most commonly used word parts.

Additionally, here are the most useful Greek and Latin word part lists I’ve found:

So, how many Greek and Latinates should we teach per week? I’d say from two to seven, depending upon grade level. Less is more. The more word play, analogies, writing, and games the better.

So how should we introduce the Greek and Latin word parts?

Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

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.


Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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

Time for the Common Core?

Teachers and district administrators are busy attending staff developments and planning days on aligning curriculum to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Experts are making their rounds at districts still lucky enough to have a few dollars allocated to staff development. Far more often it’s the sales reps from publishers, eager to cash in on Common Core-aligned curriculum, who are assisting educators in instructional planning.

For most English-language arts teachers, the chief question to be answered is not what to teach or how to teach, but how much to teach. By and large, English teachers will teach what they are paid to teach. Few teachers have real issues with the overall concept, parameters, design, or scope and sequence of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We may grouse about the shift to expository reading and writing, but beneath our posturing at staff meetings, we are really a compliant bunch. Just let us hang on to some semblance of sovereignty re: how to teach, and we will willingly accept the dictates of what to teach.

But the question of how much to teach is keeping English teachers up at night. All instruction is inherently reductive. It’s an agonizing process of give and take. If we give additional attention to this Standard, we necessarily take attention from this Standard. Gone are the days when we simply fretted over losing cherished projects such as building Medieval Castles, writing Anne Frank Diaries, or performing Romeo and Juliet. We’ve been on this no-frills Standards kick for quite a while. We’re down to bare bones, and any new instructional focus takes away from teaching an English Language Arts Standard.

And let’s just take a moment to call out those well-meaning colleagues who insist upon some hodge-podge all-inclusive Standards, akin to 1990s thematic education. You can’t teach specific reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language Standards in one easy unified lesson. Gone are the days when we pretended to teach everything by teaching nothing in detail. It all sounded good, but it never worked.

So how do we teach the CCSS English Language Arts Standards with fidelity and specificity and still have time to take roll? It’s not easy, but here are some thoughts.

How Much Time for the Common Core?

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My take on the CCSS English Language Arts emphasis of Standards is that a consensus is building toward a 35-30-25-10 plan. That would be 35% of class time spent on the Reading Anchor Standards (Literature and Informational Text), 30% of class time spent on the Writing Anchor Standards, 25% of class time spent on the Language Anchor Standards, and 10% of class time spent on Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards. Percentages include differentiated instruction in all instructional Strands.

Now percentages are useful in that we all have different instructional minutes and some of our history/social science, science, and technology colleagues are actually getting serious about teaching their fair share of the CCSS Literacy Standards. But detailed minutes get to the nuts and bolts of how much to teach.

I’m fortunate to teach seventh grade English-language Arts in an eighty-minute block, five days per week. No, I won’t tell you where. You’re probably a better teacher than I, and I still have a few more years ‘til retirement. Adjust to your own instructional minutes, but here is how I make sense of allocating instructional time to the CCSS English Language Arts Standards:

  • Reading: 25 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty expository/informational, narrative/descriptive split.
  • Writing: 20 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty split of process pieces and essay strategies, sentence combining, quick writes, etc.
  • Language: 15 minutes each day of grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary development.
  • Speaking and Listening: 10 minutes each day of Speaking and Listening Standards: direct instruction and application in all facets of communication.
  • Differentiated Instruction: 10 minutes each day of specifically adjusting instruction to individual needs.

Homework: 20 minutes each day of independent reading at the student’s instructional reading level with interactive, graded discussion involving parents and book clubs.

Of course each day is not rigid according to this time frame and allocation of instructional minutes. I do tell a joke occasionally and take roll when I remember to do so.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the
Common Core 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, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , ,

Common Core Academic Language Words

The principal authors of the Common Core State Standards have rightly criticized the dumbing-down of reading text in Appendix A of the Common Core document. Citing the research detailed in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines that high school student scores in reading comprehension have dropped over recent years, the authors pinpoint two primary reasons for this trend. First, the level of K-12 text complexity has decreased. Second, too many teachers are reading novels out loud and explicating line by line such that their students have little practice in independently accessing meaning from text.

Of course, pinpointing text complexity as a problem begs the question of just what constitutes complex text. To their credit, the authors do a nice job evaluating reading level formulas and analyzing the semantic and syntactic features that contribute to reading levels. Although they spend some time discussing the impact of syllable number and word length, the authors fail to adequately bullet-point the chief variable in text complexity: the words themselves. To be fair, the authors certainly do emphasize the importance of vocabulary throughout the rest of the Common Core document.

So, which words make reading text complex? And, if we know what they are, how can we teach them most effectively? I try to answer the latter question in a complementary article, How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards, but following is part of my answer to the first question.

To teach the types of words that are included in complex reading text, the Common Core document lists its primary Vocabulary Standards in the English Language Arts Language Strand. The Standards focus on these kinds of words: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0).

So as not to chew on too much for one article, let’s focus on the academic language words (L.6.0).

These Tier Three Words (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) require explicit instruction and practice in a variety of reading and writing contexts. These words are not incidental vocabulary that will naturally be acquired through “free choice” independent reading of novels. Indeed, academic language words show up most of the time in complex expository text.

I can hear English language-arts teachers thinking… “Isn’t the Common Core all about sharing the literacy load? Shouldn’t history and science handle this complex expository text?”

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, 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. For example, tectonic plates will appear frequently in science textbooks, but rarely elsewhere. However, the word analyze will appear frequently in science textbooks and frequently in all other expository text. It’s the academic language that English-language arts teachers need to teach.

So, this is why the Common Core State Standards has begun the “Great Shift” from narrative to expository reading. 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 Academic Language Words

Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:

  • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
  • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
  • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

  • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
  • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
  • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
  • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.” http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist/information

The Academic Word list has been ordered into lists by frequency of use. Why not teach the academic language words that appear most often in academic text?

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts divides vocabulary development among a variety of instructional strands across the grade levels. For example, the Reading Strand in both Literature and Informational Text includes the same Standard (8.4): Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

and

The Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects Standards include Vocabulary Standard RST 8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.

However, most of the specific Vocabulary Standards are placed in the K-12 Language Strand. The CCSS L.4, 5, 6 Vocabulary Standards include the following:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

What 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. Obviously, incidental vocabulary acquisition from independent reading won’t “teach” the Standards listed above with any degree of fidelity. Nor will introducing a few “story-specific” or “content-specific” words prior to reading a selection from the literature anthology or social studies chapter. Not that there is anything wrong with these approaches to vocabulary development. The bulk of Tier One (conversational language) are certainly acquired primarily through independent reading.

But Tier Two Academic Vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, Kucan), as discussed in the Common Core Appendix A, is different. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. In the words of the Common Core document:

This normal process of word acquisition occurs up to four times faster for Tier Three words when students have become familiar with the domain of the discourse and encounter the word in different contexts (Landauer & Dumais,1997). Hence, vocabulary development for these words occurs most effectively through a coherent course of study in which subject matters are integrated and coordinated across the curriculum and domains become familiar to the student over several days or weeks.

So which 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? After all, there are more Standards to teach.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Weekly Instructional Plan: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (L.4, 5, and 6)

Day One

  1. Introduce two multiple meaning words and read their definitions out loud. Write two sentences with the multiple meaning words on the board/projector and ask students to identify the use of the words. Direct students to compose their own sentences, using context clues to show the meanings of the words. (L.4.a.)
  2. Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word. (L.4.a.)
  3. Pass out dictionaries, display an online dictionary, or use other language resources. Teach students to use the guide words to find the word entry, if using a print dictionary. Read the primary definition of the word formed from the Greek and Latin word parts and compare to student guesses. Teach students the different between primary and secondary definitions and read the secondary definition to compare. Teach students the symbols used from syllable division, accents, and parts of speech. Direct students to divide their vocabulary word into syllables with slashes (/), mark the primary accent (´), write the abbreviated part of speech, and write the definition that best matches the Greek and Latin word parts. Write the answers on the board and tell students to edit their answers as necessary. (L.4.c.d.)
  4. List a grade-appropriate figure of speech on the board/projector and explain the literal image of the expression. Tell students to write down the figure of speech. Ask students for their explanations and interpretations of the figurative meaning of the expression. Validate the correct student responses or provide the correct meaning as necessary. Tell students to paraphrase the figurative meaning next to the figure of speech. (L.5.a.)

Day Two

  1. Introduce two grade-level vocabulary words that have special denotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to compose a compound sentence with a connecting transition word or phrase to define one word in terms of the other, using context clues. (L.5.b.)
  2. Introduce two grade-level words that have special connotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Explain the difference between denotation (dictionary definition) and connotation (definition in context). Explain that words have different shades of meaning when used in different situations. Explain what a spectrum is, using a rainbow as an example. Direct students to draw a four-word spectrum in which they place the two vocabulary words in connotative relationship with two already-known words with related meanings. (L.5.c.)
  3. Introduce two academic language words and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to draw two vocabulary four-squares, one for each academic language word. Quadrants are labeled “Key Words,” “Similar to…,” “Different than…,” and “Example.” Tell students to analyze the meaning of the academic vocabulary words by completing each square. (L.6.0)

 
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

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.

CCSS L.1 and 2 are titled “Language Conventions.” They include grammar, mechanics, and spelling which have traditionally been listed in the writing division. Despite the assurances from the Common Core collaborators that conventions should not be divorced from the communicative context, many anti-direct instruction of grammar are suffering heart palpitations now that these conventions stand on their own in the Common Core.

CCSS L.3 is titled “Knowledge of Use.” Essentially, these grade-level standards deal with language application and have traditionally belonged within the writing, listening, and speaking divisions.

CCSS L.4, 5, and 6 are titled “Vocabulary Acquisition and Use.” These standards have traditionally been placed within the reading division. They include multiple meaning words and context clues (L.4.a.), Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.), Language Resources (L.4.c.d.), Figures of Speech (L.5.a.), Word Relationships (L.5.b.), Connotations (L.5.c.), and Academic Language Words (L.6.0).

Here is how the CCSS document summarizes the Language Strand:

The Language standards include the essential “rules” of standard written and spoken English, but they also approach language as a matter of craft and informed choice among alternatives. The vocabulary standards focus on understanding words and phrases, their relationships, and their nuances and on acquiring new vocabulary, particularly general academic and domain-specific words and phrases.

One unique feature of the Language Strand is the “Language Progressive Skills” document. Perhaps recognizing the cyclical nature of language instruction and the value of differentiated instruction, the document specifies certain L. 1 and 2 Standards for “special attention” and “review.”

The CCSS document summarizes the purpose of the “Language Progressive Skills”: 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 author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

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

Grammar, Usage, 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 (CCSS) in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year program includes all the instructional resources in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary to help students master these Standards. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has 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. Following are the program components of Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand).

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides 56 interactive lessons, designed for direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for LCD/overhead projection. Standards review, definitions, examples, practice, simple sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications with sentence combining and sentence manipulation, and formative assessments are woven into each lesson. The instructional sequence establishes scaffolded review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills. Students take margin notes, practice lesson components, and complete sentence dictations on 56 Language Convention Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 72 targeted Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets.

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. Each Spelling Patterns Test and Spelling Sort Answers page is formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection so students can self-correct. Students also complete spelling sorts on the Spelling Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Teachers individualize remedial instruction according to the results of the diagnostic assessment with 64 remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Extensive word lists, games, and proofreading resources supplement the direct and individualized instruction.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 fast-paced, interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Also provided are 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students adjust the voice, audience, purpose, and form of their writing. Students take margin notes and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets included in the accompanying student workbooks. Additional Language Worksheets help teachers remediate specific writing deficits.

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

The accompanying 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 Worksheets emphasize the Language Progressive Skills Standards.

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

The appendices in Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (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 Greek and Latin practice, vocabulary games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

Teachers are provided PDF files of the Teacher Guide, formatted for SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection to facilitate interactive instruction. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets, reference materials, and the Pennington Manual of Style on class websites for easy access at home. Teacher’s Guide consists of 919 pages in a three-ring binder. The accompanying Student Workbook has 252 pages in a quality soft cover binding.

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook serves as an integral instructional component of the comprehensive Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program. The workbook includes 252 interactive worksheets to help students master the Common Core Language Standards. Students practice and apply what has been learned in each lesson.

Language Convention Worksheets (CCSS L.1, 2)

Two Language Convention Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Conventions “openers.” The first worksheet provides definitions, examples, content, rules, or skills to master grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling Standards. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. The second worksheet includes a sentence diagram, mentor text with writing application practice, and the mechanics, spelling, and grammar and usage dictations. The dictations serve as formative assessments for the lesson. Students complete the worksheets and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Spelling Worksheets (CCSS L.2)

The Spelling Worksheets include the spelling rule or focus and a spelling pattern sort based upon the weekly spelling list. Students complete the spelling sort and then self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Language Application Worksheets (CCSS L.3)

The Language Application Worksheets accompany each of the teacher’s 56 Language Application “openers” to help students apply the Knowledge of Language L.1, 2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. Students annotate the text and take interactive Margin Notes based upon the teacher’s lesson. Then they read examples of the language application task and complete the language application revision. Students self-correct from the SMARTBoard or LCD/overhead projection.

Vocabulary Worksheets (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Student Workbook includes 56 Vocabulary Worksheets (two per week) to help students mastery all the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Teachers will need to correct these worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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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 (now called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest?

For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful. The Language Strand consists of the following: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6), as well as the review/special attention Standards of the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” Note: Grades 9-10 and 11-12 are combined throughout the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.

Let’s break down all of the gobbledygook.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” In other words… heavy doses of specific and rigorous grammatical constructions, throughout the grade levels with “special attention” and “review” in the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” These progressive skills begin with two Standards at Grade 3 and “staircase” to eighteen at Grades 11-12. Even a cursory glance at the Language Strand will convince die-hard DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language/Daily Language Review) practitioners or TGOitWP (Teach Grammar Only in the Writing Process) purists that direct instruction of these Standards, interactive practice, and plenty of writing application will be necessary to get the job done. The heaviest burden falls on elementary teachers, but most secondary teachers will have to “bone up” on their old McCracken to teach “coordinate adjectives” (L.7.2). Yes, it’s going to take time and a bit of effort to teach these Standards with any sense of fidelity.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.” Spelling gets short-shrift here with little specificity: “Spelling correctly” (L.6.2-12.2)

Knowledge of Language (Standard 3) requires students to “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.” These Standards focus on using language and its conventions in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The L.3.3-L.12.3 Standards include the following: word choice and word order for precision and effect, sentence structure, sentence patterns, and sentence variety, sentence expansion, sentence combination, and sentence reduction, writing style, voice, mood, point of view, rhetorical stance, informal and formal language, standard and non-standard language, language variety, language context, language form, and MLA citations. Lots of writing application practice.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 4) requires students to “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade…level… reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.” Plenty of homonyms.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 5) requires students to “Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.” All the different figures of speech: similes, metaphors, idioms, adages, proverbs, alliteration, onomatopoeia, imagery, symbolism, personification, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, irony, puns, oxymorons, euphemisms, paradox, understatement. Plus denotative and connotative definitions with word resources (dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses, etc.) and word relationships (semantic spectrums, word analysis, four square activities, etc.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 6) requires students to “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” In other words, both direct instruction in academic language (Beck and McGowan’s Tier 2 and 3 Words). I highly recommend building “deep level” vocabulary instruction from the well-researched Academic Word List. Standards also include Greek and Latin morphemes from Grade 3-Grade 8. Note: Greek and Latin morphemes are not included, for some reason in the 9-10 or 11-12 Standards. I doubt if many high school teachers will abandon Greek and Latin vocabulary as they help prep their students for the ACT/SAT reading sections.

The Common Core State Standards also provides a review strand titled Language Progressive Skills.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics 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.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

One controversial component of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS has been the Language Strand. The Language Strand consists of the following 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).

The main point of contention, of course, has been the inclusion of Language as a separate strand with grammar, usage, and conventions divorced from writing instruction and vocabulary divorced from reading instruction.

In fact, the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go out of their away to alleviate the fears of writing-based and literature-based devotees with the following disclaimer: “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

A second issue has received far less attention than the aforementioned point of contention in curricular mapping committees and ELA forums, but has created more rumblings in the educational publishing world. This second issue will perhaps have a greater impact than the first on classroom instruction.

In the Language Strand, at the end of both the K-5 (p. 30) and 6-12 (p. 56) Language Standards is a document titled “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade” with 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.”

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.

Analysis and Implications of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards

…..

No Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6) are included-only Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3). In other words, grammar, usage, and conventions warrant this second document. Compared to previous state standard documents, the CCSS sees these components as specific building blocks to literacy, and not just incidental outcomes learned by some mysterious form of academic osmosis.

Of the 18 CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards, 14 are Grade 3-6 Standards. Clearly the writers of the CCSS have chosen to notch up the rigor of previous state standards by devolving most of the heavy instructional lifting of grammar, usage, and conventions skills to elementary teachers.

The CCSS defines grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills.” Skills are to be applied to the writing craft. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process advocates have been loath to accept this skills/craft instructional distinction.

Tacit acknowledgement is made that these grammar, usage, and conventions skills must be reviewed at each grade level. In other words, the cyclical nature of skills acquisition is affirmed. Unlike many previous state standards documents, the CCSS writers seem to get the fact that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The examples in Appendix A of the CCSS document are helpful in this regard.

Although the writers of the CCSS document have been careful to leave methodological autonomy to teachers, the inclusion of a separate language strand, the labeling of grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills,” and the review component of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards certainly promote some means of both direct and differentiated instruction in the Standards themselves.

The grammar, usage, and conventions skills require deep instruction, not just review practice, as with Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review methodologies. And that means intensive, direct instruction and guided practice following an instructional sequence that includes the review components as scaffolding to build onto with new skills. Periodic “mini-lessons” are just not going to cut it. Each of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards cries out for diagnostic assessments and differentiated instruction for the sake of instructional efficiency and individual mastery.

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

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.

What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Autonomy is Maintained

The Common Core Language Strand dictates the what, but not the how of instruction. From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the 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.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Differentiated or Individualized Instruction is Validated

The Common Core Language Strand assumes that teachers will need to differentiate instruction to master both grade-level and previous grammatical standards. Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

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

“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.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Review is Emphasized

The Common Core Language Strand identifies specific standards and skills that are “particularly likely” to require review.

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*)  are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A considerable number of skills are marked with the asterisks throughout the K-12 language strand. To me, this indicates a basic acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of grammar instruction and the necessity for review and differentiated instruction in grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

Many Language Standards are Specific or Detailed

Examples of Specific or Detailed Language Standards

  • Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
  • Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood. L.5.2.

Many Language Standards Integrate Grammar into the Writing Context

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Application to Writing

  • Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. L.6.3.
  • Maintain consistency in style and tone. L.6.3.

I find a nice balance between focusing on the correctness of usage and application to writing. The standards go out of their way to assert that grammar, mechanics, and spelling are best taught within the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The Importance of Grammatical Correctness is Emphasized

“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… 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

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

  • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.1.

Most Common Core Language Standards are Rigorous

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Rigor

  • Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts. L.1.1
  • Form and use comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified. L.3.1.

What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Many Language Standards Lack Specificity or Details

Examples of Vague or General Language Standards

  • Spell correctly L.6.2-L.12.2.
  • Use correct capitalization. L.4.2.

Some Common Core Language Standards Lack Rigor

Examples of Language Standards De-emphasizing Rigor

  • Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences. L7.1 (Clauses are not introduced until seventh grade.)
  • Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. L8.1 (Verbals are not introduced until eighth grade.)
  • Parallel structures are not introduced until ninth grade.

Too Much of the Instructional Burden of the Common Core Language Strand is Placed Upon Elementary Teachers

Without getting lost in the specificity, the language strand clearly places the largest burden of grammar, mechanics, and spelling instruction on primary (first, second, and third) grade teachers. At the macro level (after deleting the vocabulary components from the language strand): first, second, and third has three pages of language standards; fourth and fifth has one page; sixth, seventh, and eighth has one page; and ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth has only half of a page.

The Common Core Language Strand De-emphasizes Spelling Instruction

Most notably, spelling gets short shrift in the Common Core State Standards language strand.

After third grade, here are the spelling standards:

  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. L.4.2. and L.5.2.
  • Spell correctly L.6.2.-L.12.2

It’s great to know that all American school children will require no spelling standards after third grade. Just wave the magic wand, I guess.

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

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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Common Core DI, RTI, and ELD

Writers of the new Common Core State Standards have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish the what, but not the how of instruction.

From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the 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.”

And more:

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

And more:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org

In other words, despite the fact that the Standards put all of us on the same page, in terms of grade-level expectations, teachers retain the autonomy to teach how they see fit.

Cyclical Instruction

The Common Core State Standards validate the need for review, as well as the cyclical nature of instruction by identifying the skills needed to scaffold higher level instruction and practice. These directions appear throughout the document:

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

Teachers advised to skip review of previous grade-level standards and concentrate on the grade-level standards that will be tested, now have firm legs to stand upon when they say “No” to administrators only interested in achieving AYP goals.

Common Core DI (Differentiated Instruction)

Implicit in the mandated review is the need for effective diagnostic assessments to determine what and how much requires re-teaching to establish a solid foundation for grade-level instruction. Using data to impact instructional decisions will help teachers decide which content and skills are best reviewed whole-class and which content and skills are best addressed via small group or individualized instruction.

For example, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that the whole class needs review of subjects and predicates, whole class instruction and guided practice will certainly be the most efficient means of review; thereafter, if the formative assessment on subjects and predicates shows that half a dozen students have not yet mastered these concepts, small group instruction or targeted individual practice makes sense. However, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that only half a dozen students have not yet mastered subjects and predicates, it would certainly be advisable to begin with differentiated instruction, rather than waste the time of students who have already mastered these concepts.

Common Core RtI (Response to Intervention)

Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“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 alongthe way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Common Core ELD (English Language Development)

“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.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies.

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