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Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

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

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

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Grammar Mini-Lessons So Ineffective?

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

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

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

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

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How and When to Teach Adjectives

Adjectives come in many forms in English. Knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to adjectives. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, never fans of direct grammar instruction, have always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is an essential. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar. Parts of speech will come to their minds first.

But why do teachers have to re-teach adjectives every year? Is it the past teacher’s fault? Or is it simply the way we learn grammar? Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for adjectives with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Yes, a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps an unspoken wish re: the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key adjectival components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify adjectival components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each adjectival component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their noun components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students their knowledge of adjectives correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for adjectives…

It takes a lot of (idea) ________________ for a (person) ________________ to drive a (thing) ________________ to their (place) ________________.

Possible response: It takes a lot of SELF-CONTROL for a TEENAGER to drive a SPORTS CAR to their (place) to their HIGH SCHOOL.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning adjectives by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about adjectival components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessments

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as adjectives, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: articles but weaknesses in modifiers. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? One of the mysteries of life. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of adjectival components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching adjectives. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which adjectival components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

 

Adjectives Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

An adjective modifies (describes) a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with how many, which one, or what kind. An adjective is usually placed before the noun it modifies.

Examples:

How Many? The five teammates

Which One? took that bus

What Kind? to the old arena across town.

Articles

An article is an adjective placed before nouns and pronouns. Articles include a, an, and the.

The article a is used before a word starting with a consonant sound, for example a tiger; the an comes before a word starting with a vowel sound, for example an anteater.

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Simple Modifiers

A modifier describes the meaning of another word or words and makes it more specific or limits its meaning(s).

Example: I ate the big piece. The word big is a modifier, making piece more specific.

Comparative Modifiers

Use er for a one-syllable modifier to compare two things.

Example: big—bigger

Also use er for a two-syllable modifier to compare two things. However, if the word sounds wrong, use or more or less.

Examples: easy—easier, but gracious—more gracious

Adjective Tip: These comparative modifiers are irregular:

good/well—better, bad/badly—worse (not worser ), much/many—more

Superlative Modifiers

Use est for a one or two-syllable modifier to compare three things. However, if the word sounds wrong, use or most or least.

Examples: easy—easiest, but gracious—most gracious

Adjective Tip: Avoid the common mistake of using superlative adjectives to compare only two things.

Example: Problem—Of the two basketball players, James is the most improved. Solution—Of the two basketball players, James is the more improved.

Adjective Tip: These superlative modifiers are irregular. good/well—better— best, bad/badly—worse (not worser)— worst (not worstest), much/many—more worst—most

Determiners

Determiners are adjectives that indicate number, or expand or limit meaning. They come at the beginning of noun phrases, and usually we cannot use more than one determiner in the same noun phrase.

Examples: each, either, every, neither, no, any, some, much, many, more, most, little, less, least, few, fewer, fewest, what, whatever, which, whichever, both, half, all, several, enough

Middle School

Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives are adjectives that derive from proper nouns. In English, proper adjectives must begin with a capital letter.

Examples: American, Canadian, Mexican, German, Russian

Three-Syllable Comparative Modifiers

Use more or less for a three-syllable or longer modifier to compare two things.

Example: wonderful-more wonderful

Always use more or less for adverbs ending in __ly.

Example: quickly—less quickly

Adjective Tips:

  • Some long comparative modifiers are adjectives. Adjectives describe a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind?

Example: intelligent—The intelligent man was more intelligent than his father.

  • Some long comparative modifiers are adverbs. Adverbs describe an adjective, adverb, or verb with How? When? Where? or What Degree?

Example: angrily—She argued angrily, even more angrily than her mother.

Always use most or least for adverbs ending in __ly.

Example: quickly—most quickly

  • Some long superlative modifiers are adjectives. Adjectives describe a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind?

Example: intelligent—Of the many intelligent men in the group, he was the most intelligent.

  • Some long superlative modifiers are adverbs. Adverbs describe an adjective, adverb, or verb with How? When? Where? or What Degree? Example: angrily—Of the three arguing angrily, she argued most angrily.

High School

Participles

Participles are verb forms with _ing and _ed endings that serve as adjectives. Generally, participles end in either _ed or _ing.

The _ed ending means that the noun that is modified has a passive relationship with something else in the sentence.

Example: Scared at the noise, the boy hid under the covers.

The _ing ending means that the noun that is modified has an active relationship with something else in the sentence.

Example: Running the bases, the baseball player kept his head down.

Predicate Adjectives

Predicate adjectives follow linking verbs and modify the preceding noun.

Examples: The girls were embarrassed.

The teacher seemed tired.

Writing Style

Don’t use descriptive adjectives instead of well-chosen nouns and verbs. Especially avoid using adjectives that do not add meaning to a sentence. For example, adjectives such as interesting, beautiful, nice, and exciting do not help your reader understand the nouns or pronouns any better. Be specific as possible with your adjectives. The sympathetic man is better than the nice man.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

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

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

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

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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How and When to Teach Pronouns

“No part of speech causes more problems for my students than pronouns.” True. And no part of speech requires as much prior knowledge about our language. Adults misuse pronouns frequently and no wonder. Proper pronoun usage can be complicated and often our oral language filter misguides us.

We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to pronouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. We do need to learn how to use pronouns correctly. Even the die-hard “only-teach-grammar-in-the-context-of-writing” folk, who too-often relegate direct grammar instruction to the garbage heap, would agree that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is a must. Ask any English-language arts teacher what they wish their students knew about grammar. Parts of speech would be the response.

But why can’t students retain what they already have “learned” about pronouns? Is it bad teaching? Is it the nature of grammatical instruction? How can we change the forgetting cycle and ensure mastery? Read on and learn an effective and memorable instructional approach that will help your students master and remember pronoun rules and proper usage. At the end of this article, I share an instructional scope and sequence for pronouns with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Not the best mnemonic, but effective. Perhaps a comment on the popular Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Students should memorize the definitions of the key pronoun definitions and proper usage. Rote memory is key to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Your students will love it. Test and re-test to lead students to mastery.

IDENTIFY Students should identify pronouns in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry provides model sentences and identification practice.

EDIT Students should practice error analysis for each pronoun definition by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help us understand what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master pronouns. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing transfers to long-term memory and correct application.

APPLY Students should apply pronouns correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for the he/him/his/himself pronouns…

________________ gave ________________ ________________ old fishing rod, but ________________ ________________ kept the new one.

Correct response: He gave him his old fishing rod, but he himself kept the new one.

REVISE Students should understand the importance and relevance of learning pronouns by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about pronouns to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share student revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, including pronouns, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery in subject case pronouns, but has weaknesses in object case pronouns. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Diagnostic assessments inform instruction.  Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is important. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only proves that the teacher has covered the subject, such as pronoun definitions, rules, and proper usage. Good teachers re-teach as needed and differentiate instruction according to formative test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses and eliminate repetitive instruction on what students have already mastered. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery re: pronouns and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design with targeted worksheets, monitored practice, and mini-conferences to assess mastery will ensure effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to involve impossible planning and impossible instructional implementation.

Pronouns Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • A pronoun is a word used in place of a proper noun or common noun.
  • First person pronouns take the place of the one speaking. These pronouns include the singulars I and me and the plurals we and us.
  • Second person pronouns take the place of the one spoken to. The singular and plural pronouns use the same word: you.
  • Third person pronouns take the place of the one spoken about. These pronouns include the singulars he, she, it, him, and her and the plurals they and them.
  • Possessive pronouns placed before a noun show ownership. These pronouns include my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.
  • Possessive pronouns with no connection to nouns also show ownership. These include mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs.

Pronoun Tip: Make sure the possessive pronouns his and their are not combined with self or selves.

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Subject Case Pronouns

Use the subject case pronouns, which include the singulars I, you, he, she, and it and the plurals we, you, and they in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the sentence subject. The sentence subject is the “do-er” of the sentence.

Example: She and I attended the concert.

  • when the pronoun is a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative follows a “to be” verb (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) and identifies or refers to the subject.

Example: The students who got into trouble are they.

  • when the pronoun is part of an appositive, such as after than or as. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify or explain it.

Example: Marty is smarter than I.

Pronoun Tip: When compound subjects are joined by or or nor, the pronoun that refers to the subjects agrees in number with the antecedent closer to the pronoun. Example: Neither water nor sodas did their jobs quenching my thirst.

Pronoun Tips: To test whether the pronoun is in the nominative case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: The last one to arrive was he. Rephrase—He was the last one to arrive.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: John and I play video games. Drop and check—I play video games.

Object Case Pronouns

Use the object case pronouns, which include the singulars me, you, him, her, it and the plurals us, you, and them in these grammatical forms:

  • when the pronoun is the direct object. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

Example: The challenge excited him.

  • when the direct object is described by an appositive phrase (a phrase that identifies or explains another noun or pronoun placed next to it).

Example: The teacher yelled at two students, Rachel and me.

  • when the pronoun is an indirect object of a verb. The indirect object is placed between a verb and its direct object. It tells to what, to whom, for what, or for whom.

Example: Robert gave him a king-size candy bar.

  • when the pronoun is an object of a preposition. A preposition shows some relationship or position between a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun and its object. The preposition asks “What?” and the object provides the answer.

Example: The fly buzzed around her and past them by me.

  • when the pronoun is connected to an infinitive. An infinitive has a to + the base form of a verb.

Example: I want him to give the speech.

Pronoun Tips:

To test whether the pronoun is in the object case, try these tricks:

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

Example: Joe smiled at all of them. Rephrase—At all of them Joe smiled.

  • Drop other nouns or pronouns when there is a compound subject and check if the remaining pronoun sounds right. Remember that English is a polite language; the first person pronouns (I, me, ours, mine) are always placed last when combined with other nouns or pronouns.

Example: She gave Kathy and me a gift. Drop and check—She gave me a gift.

The pronoun who is in the subject case. The who takes the role of the subject.

Example: Who is the best teacher?

Who and Whom

The pronoun who is in the subject case. In other words, it takes the place of a noun acting as the subject of a sentence.

Examples: Who did this?

Who is the best teacher?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting he for who and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use who.

The pronoun whom is in the objective case. In other words, it is takes the place of the direct object, the indirect object of the verb, or the object of the preposition.

Examples: Whom did Joan love?

I like whom you gave the award.

To whom does this letter concern?

Pronoun Tip: Try substituting him for whom and rephrase, if necessary. If it sounds right, use whom.

Relative Pronouns

The pronoun that can refer to people or things; the pronoun which can only refer to things.

Use the pronoun that when the clause is needed to understand the rest of the sentence.

Example: The movie that we watched was entertaining.

Use the pronoun which in clauses that provide additional, but not necessary information.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, was easy to train.

Don’t restate the subject with a pronoun.

Example: That dog, which is friendly, he was easy to train. Problem—The he is unnecessary and grammatically incorrect.

Middle School

Indefinite Pronouns

An indefinite personal pronoun does not specifically reference a common noun or proper noun and so can act as a singular or plural to match the verb. These pronouns include: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, someone, somebody, and something.

Pronoun Tip: Look at surrounding words for singular and plural clues.

An indefinite numerical pronoun does not indicate an exact amount and can act as a singular or plural depending upon the surrounding words. These indefinite numerical pronouns include all, any, half, more, most, none, other, and some.

Examples: in All of the food is wonderful, all is a singular pronoun. In All girls know best, all is a plural pronoun.

Pronoun Tip: When the object of the preposition is uncountable, use a singular pronoun to refer to the object. Example: All of the salt fell out of its bag. When it is countable, use a plural pronoun to refer to the object.

Example: All of the coffee beans fell out of their bag.

Pronoun Tip: The ending word parts body, one, and thing indicate a singular indefinite pronoun.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer to the subject, and intensive pronouns emphasize a noun or pronoun. Both are object case pronouns and include myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves.

A reflexive pronoun is essential to the sentence. You could not understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: He gave himself a pat on the back.

Intensive pronouns are not essential to the sentence. You could understand the sentence without the pronoun.

Example: I, myself, happen to love eating pizza.

Pronoun Tip: Notice that each has self or selves as the second syllable.

Pronoun Tips: A pronoun that refers to or replaces a previous common noun, proper noun, or pronoun is called an antecedent.

  • Make sure antecedents are specific. Otherwise, the pronoun reference may be confusing.

Example: When Bobby asked for help, they asked why.

Problem-Who is they? Get more specific. When Bobby asked for help from his teachers, they asked why.

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to the object in a prepositional phrase.

Example: In Twain’s The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County, he uses political humor. Problem—Who, or what, is he?

  • Make sure that the singular pronouns this and that and the plural pronouns these and those specifically refer to what is intended. Keep these pronouns close to their references.

Example: He made an egg, put the dog food in its bowl, and put this on his toast to eat. Problem—What is this?

  • Don’t have a pronoun refer to a possessive antecedent. A possessive is a common noun, proper noun, or pronoun that shows ownership.

Example: In San Diego’s famous zoo, they treat their zoo-keepers well. Problem—Who are the they and their?

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns refer to nouns close to or away from the speaker. These pronouns include this, that, these, and those. The words this (singular) and these (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns close to the writer (speaker). The words that (singular) and those (plural) refer to nouns and pronouns away from the writer (speaker).

High School

Possessive pronouns can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as a sentence subject).

Examples: His cooking is not the best. Their cooking the dinner is not the best idea.

Pronouns and Writing Style

English is a polite language. Place others before yourself. For example, She and I enjoy a walk in the park, not I and she enjoy a walk in the park.

When use of a pronoun will create confusion, repeat the noun and omit the pronoun. For example, Eating their dessert caused the boys to lose their focus is more clear than Eating their dessert caused them to lose their focus.

Don’t use first and second person pronouns in essays. Focus on the subject, not the author or reader in essays.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

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

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

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

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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

How and When to Teach Nouns

“A noun is a person, place, or thing.” Well… partially right, but there is much more. And knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to nouns. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, who relegated direct grammar instruction to the pedagogical garbage heap in the 1980s, always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech is an essential. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar coming into their classes in the fall. Parts of speech will be their first, and perhaps only, answer.

But why do teachers have to re-teach nouns every year? Is it the previous teacher’s fault? Is it the cyclical nature of instruction? Is it something in the water? Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for noun components with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(Admittedly a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps a subconscious wish re: the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key noun components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Rap. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify noun components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each noun component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their noun components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students the noun components correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for common nouns…

It takes a lot of (idea) ________________ for a (person) ________________ to drive a (thing) ________________ to their (place) ________________.

Possible response: It takes a lot of SELF-CONTROL for a TEENAGER to drive a SPORTS CAR to their (place) to their HIGH SCHOOL.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning the noun components by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about noun components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share brilliant revisions that reflect these improvements as your own mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessment

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as noun components, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: proper nouns, common nouns, and noun phrases but weaknesses in abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and noun clauses. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? One of the mysteries of life. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of noun components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching the noun components. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which noun components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

Noun Components Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

  • Common Nouns, such as teenager, high school, sports car, freedom
  • Proper Nouns, such as Mary, Pinewood Elementary School, Microsoft Word®
  • Compound Nouns, such as baseball, playground, cartwheel
  • Single Nouns, such as desk, Ms. Brady, group
  • Plural Nouns (with spelling rules), such as books, churches, lives

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

  • Abstract Nouns (nouns that cannot be sensed), such as freedom, patience, thoughts
  • Concrete Nouns (nouns that can be sensed), such as ice cream, velvet, movie
  • Nouns as Simple Subjects, such as George left town.
  • Nouns as Compound Subjects, such as George and Sam left town.
  • Nouns in Compound Sentences, such as George left town, and Sam left, too.
  • Complete Nouns/Noun Phrases, such as Crazy George and his best friend left town.
  • Nouns as Objects of Prepositional Phrases, such as George and Sam left town for the vacation of a lifetime.
  • Collective Nouns (nouns that refer to groups with members), such as That herd of sheep was in the pasture.
  • Nouns to Avoid (things, stuff, etc.), such as The thing is… I already have that stuff.
  • Nouns as Abbreviations, such as I love the U.S.A.
  • Nouns as Acronyms, such as We had a guest speaker from N.A.S.A.
  • Hyphenated Nouns, such as English-language arts is my favorite subject.
  • Irregular Plural Nouns, such as deer-deer, child-children, foot-feet

Middle School

  • Noun Clauses, such as Whenever I studied, I passed my tests.
  • Greek and Latin Noun Plural Formations, such as cactus-cacti, crisis-crises, appendix-appendices
  • Nouns as Direct Objects, such as I left my wallet.
  • Nouns as Indirect Objects, such as I gave John my wallet.
  • Nouns as Gerunds, such as Smoking is hazardous to one’s health.
  • Nouns as Appositives, such as That nice couple, Juan and Tasha, brought us cookies.
  • Mass (non-count) Nouns (These nouns don’t form plurals and are usually abstract), such as mud, insurance, music

High School

  • Nouns as Nominative Absolutes (a separate phrase or clause that modifies the main noun and verb), such as “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed (Second Amendment to the United States Constitution).”
  • Nouns as Predicate Nominatives (a noun or pronoun following a noun and a linking verb that defines or re-names the noun), such as Joe is a murder suspect.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

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

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

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

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

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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