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Grammar | Teaching in the Social Context

Language Conventions Literacy Centers

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

We teach students to engage their audience in writing assignments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

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

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

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

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How to Teach Interactive Grammar

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

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

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

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

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

Two other points will keep us on that same page:

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

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

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

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

Instructional Format for Interactive Learning: The How To’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

The FREE Resources

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

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

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How to Teach Complex Sentences

Simply put: Learning to write complex sentences will improve your students’ writing. Perhaps no other revision tool produces a greater “bang for the buck.” However, even the best tools can be overused. A contractor may love her “go-to” nail gun, but sometimes a simple hammer may better fit the task.

Our job as writing teachers is to show developing writers how complex sentences help authors communicate efficiently, precisely, and coherently (three academic language words every student should learn). So often, with our justifiable focus on getting students to write in complete sentences during the primary grades, developing writers get caught in a pit trap of writing simple sentences only in the SUBJECT-PREDICATE-OBJECT pattern. Students need a sturdy ladder to climb out of this trap.

The complex sentence is aptly named. Understanding, recognizing, and producing complex sentences require a substantial amount of prior knowledge and experience in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. We can (and should) use a few short-cuts to get to the end goal of getting students to use complex sentences in their own writing, but we do no service to them by ignoring, simplifying, or generalizing the requisite scaffolds of academic language and syntax. Kids gotta learn how their language works. Yes, that involves plenty of grammar instruction and practice.

To scaffold how to teach complex sentences, teach each rung of the ladder well. Tighten up each of the wobbly rungs and don’t skip any. Your learners are diverse. Who knows what they know and don’t know? (Although you could give my diagnostic grammar and usage assessment to find out).

How to Teach Complex Sentences Ladder

How to Teach Complex Sentences

Connect to and Build Prior Knowledge

RUNG 1

“First, let’s review the characteristics of a simple sentence.”

Write or display these definitions and examples, read them out loud, and tell students to copy them.

“A simple sentence has three characteristics: 1. It tells a complete thought. 2. It has both a subject and a predicate. The subject is a noun or pronoun and serves as the “do-er” of the sentence. A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. A pronoun takes the place of a noun. The predicate is a verb or verbs and acts upon the subject or links the subject to something else in the sentence. 3. When read out loud, a simple sentence makes the voice drop down at the end of a statement or go up at the end of a question. Examples: Karen enjoys chocolate. Do you like chocolate?

Identify the Problem: Connect to Oral Language and Reading

RUNG 2 

Convince students that too many simple sentences strung together can be a problem, especially in essays. Reading out loud helps students identify the machine gun quality of repetitive simple sentences. Write or display this paragraph and read it out loud.

“Now listen to me as I read this paragraph of simple sentences. Afterwards, let’s read the paragraph out loud together as a class.”

     Thomas Alva Edison was born into a well-educated family. He had a lot of challenges to overcome. Tom was the youngest of seven children. Tom did not receive undivided attention from his parents. His parent had so many children. Thomas did not learn to talk as a young boy. His parents did not interact much with him. His siblings did not interact much with him. He finally learned to talk. He began talking at age four. Then he would not stop. He asked why and how questions about everything.

Debrief with your students: “What did you think about how this paragraph is written? How did it sound? Each sentence in the paragraph is a simple sentence. We can combine simple sentences with a conjunction to form another type of sentence: the compound sentences. A conjunction is a joining word. When we combine simple sentences, we change the name of a simple sentence to an independent clause. Let’s copy these definitions and example: A simple sentence is an independent clause. Two or more joined independent clauses form a compound sentence. Example: Then he would not stop, and he asked why and how questions about everything.

Another type of sentence is the complex sentence. Let’s listen to me as I read the same paragraph, revised with some revised complex sentences. Afterwards, we will read the paragraph out loud together as a class.”

Identify the Solution: Connect to Oral Language and Reading

RUNG 3

Convince students that adding sentence variety by including complex sentences makes writing more efficient, precise, and coherent. “Now listen to me as I read this paragraph of simple sentences. Afterwards, let’s read the paragraph out loud together as a class.”

     Although Thomas Alva Edison was born into a well-educated family, he had a lot of challenges to overcome. Tom was the youngest of seven children. Because his parents had so many children, Tom did not receive their undivided attention. Thomas did not learn to talk as a young boy since his parents and siblings rarely interacted with him. When he finally learned to talk at age four, he would not stop. He asked why and how questions about everything.

Debrief with your students: “Does this revised paragraph  provide the same information as the first? What did you think about how this revised paragraph is written? How did it sound? Many of the sentences in this revised paragraph are complex sentences. Let’s copy this down: A complex sentence has one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. A dependent clause has three characteristics: 1. It begins with a subordinate conjunction.  Subordinate means less important than or under the control of someone or something else. 2. It has at least one noun or a pronoun and at least one connected verb. 3. When read out loud, a dependent clause does not makes the voice drop down at the end of a statement. Example: Although (subordinate conjunction) Mike (noun) and I (pronoun) listen (verb), (When read out loud the voice does not drop down.)

Now let’s figure out how the author formed complex sentences to make the our own writing efficient, precise, and coherent. Efficient means to be well-organized and not wasteful. Precise means to be specific and exact. Coherent means to be logical, orderly, and consistent.”

Common Subordinating Conjunctions

Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW Subordinating Conjunctions

Teach How to Write Dependent Clauses

RUNG 4 

“Write down this formula for writing dependent clauses: dependent clause = subordinate conjunction (Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW) + at least noun or pronoun + at least one connected verb + any other words. 

Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW is a memory trick to help you remember the common subordinate conjunctions. Copy down this list, underlining the first letter of each subordinate conjunction:”

before, unless, despite (in spite of), in order that, so, while, if, since, even though (if), because, until, that, how, once, than, after, although (though), as (as if, as long as, as though), whether, when (whenever), where (wherever)

Have students write and share five dependent clauses in their notebooks and pair share as you monitor this guided practice.

Teach How to Connect Dependent Clauses to Independent Clauses

RUNG 5 

“A dependent clause added onto an independent clause (a simple sentence) forms a complex sentence. The dependent clause may be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. Copy these sentences with their examples.

Place a comma after a dependent clause that begins a sentence. Example: After I sneeze, I always blow my nose.

Place commas before and after a dependent clause in the middle of the sentence. Example: I use a handkerchief, when I sneeze, to be polite.

Don’t place a comma before a dependent clause that ends a sentence. Example: I stop sneezing when it’s not allergy season.”

Assign a Formative Assessment to Determine Mastery

RUNG 6 

Write a short paragraph in which you use three complex sentences: one at the beginning of a sentence; one in the middle of a sentence; and one at the end of a sentence.

Extend the Learning: Writing Style

RUNG 7 

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Teach students to avoid using more than two complex sentences in a row in any given paragraph. Overuse of simple sentences is problematic, but the same is true with complex sentences. Review the revised paragraph above and analyze the different types of sentences, their placements within the paragraph, and the placement of the dependent clause within the complex sentences themselves. Analyze the types of sentences in both narrative and expository text.

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 grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

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. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

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Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: How to Revise Was and Were

Both developing student writers as well as professionals struggle with eliminating (or reducing) the overuse of the forms of the “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Any teacher knows that developing writers overdo the “to be” verbs in their writing. The narrative genre forgives the overuse more so than does the essay genre. After all, dialogue needs authenticity and speakers overuse the “to be” verbs even more than writers.

Students especially struggle when revising these “to be” verbs: was and were.

“Mr. Pennington, it is impossible to write this essay on what caused the Civil War without using was and were,” complained one frustrated eighth grader.

I turned to page 79 in my well-highlighted and dog-eared copy of Kenneth Stamp’s The Causes of the Civil War and read, ““Northern abolitionists probably exaggerated the physical cruelties that the Southern masters inflicted upon their slaves. Southern “fire-eaters” doubtless distorted the true character of Northern Yankees. Politicians in both sections kept the country in constant turmoil by and whipped up popular emotions for the selfish purpose of winning elections.”

Now I might disagree with Stamp’s sympathetic take on the exaggeration of slaveholder cruelty, but he sure can write. And, no, he did not have to use the was and were in the above excerpt. He did use a were in the next line 🙂

However, we do need to empathize with developing writers as they seek out vivid, “show me” verbs to replace the oft-used “to be” verbs. After all, six of the eight “to be” verbs appear in the top 43 highest frequency English words lists: is, are, was, were, be, been http://www.insightin.com/esl/1000.php

To help students eliminate the “to be” verbs, I’ve developed five strategies (See the detailed approach here) and specific lessons to apply each strategy. Let’s use third strategy: the Convert strategy to eliminate was and were by converting them to strong _t verbs. The _t verbs pack a punch because they are irregular in the past tense and past participle forms. The lesson will include a helpful worksheet.

Lesson Plan: Common Core State Standards W.3, 4, 5  L.2, 3 and Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, 3 (20−30 minutes)

Behavioral Objective: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify the eight “to be” verbs, explain the proper functions of these verbs, and convert the weak was and were verbs to the stronger _t verbs on the formative assessment.

1. Introduce the lesson by telling students that their task is to learn how to replace weak “to be” verbs with stronger verbs. Remind students To Be Verbsthat a “to be” verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being. You might want to reference this Parts of Speech article with my Parts of Speech Song to review the three basic functions of verbs (physical action, mental action, state of being). Tell students that writers generally avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing.

2. Write the eight “to be” verbs on the board: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

3. Say,”‘to be’ verbs are not always bad; sometimes writers must use ‘to be’ verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. A ‘to be’ verb  performs one of these five functions: (Write this list on the board, adjusting or deleting the grammatical terms to the level and prior knowledge of your students.) Any questions?”

  • Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  • Happens−The meetings are over.
  • Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  • Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  • Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

4. Say, “Let’s learn the Convert strategy to replace weak ‘to be’ verbs, which don’t serve these functions. Look at this sentence on the board: (Write the following sentence.) Juan was bringing the salad to the potluck. (Point to the list of ‘to be’ verbs). Which ‘to be’ verb appears in this sentence? Whole class answer on three (pause): 1, 2, 3 ‘was.’ Circle the ‘was’ on the board.”

5. Write this sentence on the board: Juan brought the salad to the potluck.

6. Ask, “How did I substitute the was in the sentence? How does each linking verb affect the meaning of the sentence?” (For older students, you may wish to explain that the was and were _ing verb construction is known as the past progressive form and indicates a continuing action that was going on in the past, while the _t verbs indicate a completed action that happened at one point in time.

7. Say, “We need some practice using the Convert strategy to replace weak was and were verbs with stronger _t verbs (Print and pass out the Convert Was and Were _ing to _t Verb Worksheet to each student and read the directions out loud.) Complete items #s 1−10, but don’t complete the formative assessment at the bottom.”

Note: For older students, you may wish to tell them that the British tend to use more _t verbs than their American cousins. Brits will say “He leant against the wall.” Americans will say, “He leaned against the wall.” Also, although still proper usage, the blest, burnt, dreampt, leapt, learnt, slipt, smelt, spelt, and spilt are anachronistic.

8. After most of the students have finished the worksheet, display the answer sheet and direct students to self-correct. Then say, “Now complete the formative assessment at the bottom of your worksheet.” (Tell students to pass in the worksheet and review to see if your student have mastered this lesson objective.

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

FREE RESOURCES: Enter your email above to subscribe to the Pennington Publishing Newsletter and we will send you two ready-to-use resources each week. In our welcome newsletter we’ll send out the 11 x 17 “To Be” Verbs poster (PDF file with printing directions) to post in your classroom and help your students eliminate “to be” verbs. We want you to see examples of the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4−8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes 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 for a concise overview of the program.

Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off of the purchase price and free shipping (purchase orders excluded).

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Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: Substitute with Stronger Linking Verbs Lesson

band-aid_big_frozen_381371163175_bilc

Using a “to be” verb is like putting on a BAND-AID®Simply open up the protective paper; peel back the two plastic sections; and apply over the wound. Quick and easy. However, removing that same BAND-AID® a few days later calls for bravery and a strategic approach. Slowly peal or rip? Often our strategy depends upon the wound itself. A slow peal around the edges for one that may leave a scar. A quick rip for a minor scrape.

Sporting a BAND-AID® or two doesn’t detract from your overall look. Some of them are quite stylish. In searching whether to capitalize the BAND-AID® product name or not, I see that the company really knows how to market their products. Any six year old girl would gladly scrape her knee for a Frozen BAND-AID®. However, wearing a dozen or so makes anyone look like the walking wounded. You can overdo anything.

Let’s face it; developing writers overdo the “to be” verbs in their writing. So let’s explore a strategy that developing writers can use to reduce the number of or eliminate the “to be” verbs in their essays.

I call it the Substitute strategy and it helps writers replace most, but not all, of the is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been verbs with stronger verbs. If the strategy doesn’t work, use another that does (See all five strategies here).

Lesson Plan: Common Core State Standards W.3, 4, 5  L.2, 3 and Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, 3 (20−30 minutes)

Behavioral Objective: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify the eight “to be” verbs, explain the proper functions of these verbs, and substitute a strong linking verb in place of a weak “to be” verb on the formative assessment.

1. Introduce the lesson by telling students that their task is to learn how to replace weak “to be” verbs with stronger verbs. Remind students To Be Verbsthat a “to be” verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being. You might want to reference this Parts of Speech article with my Parts of Speech Song to review the three basic functions of verbs (physical action, mental action, state of being). Tell students that writers generally avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing.

2. Write the eight “to be” verbs on the board: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

3. Say,”‘to be’ verbs are not always bad; sometimes writers must use ‘to be’ verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. A ‘to be’ verb  performs one of these five functions: (Write this list on the board, adjusting or deleting the grammatical terms to the level and prior knowledge of your students.) Any questions?”

  • Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  • Happens−The meetings are over.
  • Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  • Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  • Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

4. Say, “Let’s learn the Substitute strategy to replace weak ‘to be’ verbs, which don’t serve these functions. Look at this sentence on the board: (Write the following sentence.) Juan was ready to help. (Point to the list of ‘to be’ verbs). Which ‘to be’ verb is found in this sentence? Whole class answer on three (pause): 1, 2, 3 ‘was.’ Circle the ‘was’ on the board.”

5. Write this list titled Strong Linking Verbs on the board: appear, become, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, and taste. Note: Some of the above verbs act as both linking and action verbs depending on usage.

6. Say, “Which linking verbs can substitute for the weak ‘to be’ verb ‘was’? Make sure to add the ‘s’ on to the end of the linking verb to match the singular subject, ‘Juan.’ (Write student answers on the board below the sentence.) How does each linking verb affect the meaning of the sentence?”

7. Say, “We need some practice using the Substitute strategy to replace weak ‘to be’ verbs with stronger linking verbs (Print and pass out the Substitute Strong Linking Verbs Worksheet to each student and read the directions out loud.) Complete items #s 1−8, but don’t complete the formative assessment at the bottom.”

8. After most of the students have finished the worksheet, display the answer sheet and direct students to self-correct. Then say, “Now complete the formative assessment at the bottom of your worksheet.” (Tell students to pass in the worksheet and review to see if your student have mastered this lesson objective.

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

FREE RESOURCES: Enter your email above to subscribe to the Pennington Publishing Newsletter and we will send you two ready-to-use resources each week. In our welcome newsletter we’ll send out the 11 x 17 “To Be” Verbs poster (PDF file with printing directions) to post in your classroom and help your students eliminate “to be” verbs. We want you to see examples of the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4−8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes 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 for a concise overview of the program.

Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off of the purchase price and free shipping (purchase orders excluded).

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Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: Convert Nouns and Adjectives into Vivid Verbs Lesson

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Ah, summertime! After a few weeks of avoiding any thoughts whatsoever about school, I’m now back in planning mode. How I can improve my students’ essays this next school year?

Get the Syllable Awareness Assessment FREE Resource:

Do you get sentences like this one? http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/downloads/get.php/Syllable-Awareness-Assessment

There are three reasons why it is important to know that “to be” verbs can be boring in essays.

This student makes a good point: Too many “to be” verbs in essays do bore me to death.

But, how can we get our students to reduce the amount of or eliminate the “to be” verbs in their essays to create precision of meaning, specificity, clarity, and just good old sentence variety? How do we get our students to use vivid “show me” verbs instead?

Teach the Convert Nouns and Adjectives into Vivid Verbs strategy. (See all five strategies here) Usually, nouns and adjectives are the easiest parts of speech to change to verbs.

Lesson Plan: Common Core State Standards W.3, 4, 5  L.2, 3 and Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, 3 (20−30 minutes)

Behavioral Objective: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify the eight “to be” verbs, explain the characteristics of a “show me” verb, and convert nouns to _ify verbs to eliminate a “to be” verb on the formative assessment.

  1. Begin by telling students that their task is to learn how to replace weak and vague “to be” verbs with strong and specific “show me verbs.”
  2. Write the eight “to be” verbs on the board: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been or create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board (perfect for Halloween!). Tell students that writers generally avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing.
  3. Teach students that when a writer uses a “show me” verb, the reader can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. Write this example on the board: Three beautiful pieces of furniture were in her bedroom. Discuss how the “to be” verb, were, does not show a picture to the reader.  Write this example underneath the first one: Three pieces of furniture beautify her bedroom.
  4. Say, “Let’s figure out the strategy I used to replace the weak and vague ‘to be’ verb, ‘were,’ with the strong and specific ‘show me’ verb, ‘beautify.’http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/downloads/get.php/Syllable-Awareness-Assessment First, I deleted the ‘to be’ verb (X-out the ‘were’ in the first sentence). Next, I  looked for other words in the sentence to convert to a ‘show me’ verb. Convert means to change the form of something or someone; like when people travel outside of the country, they have to convert U.S. dollars to other money or like when mild-mannered Clark Kent converts to Superman in order to save the planet. Nouns and adjectives can often convert to verbs.” (Circle the noun, ‘furniture,’ and the adjectives, ‘Three’ and ‘beautiful.'” Remind students that nouns are persons, places, things, and ideas. Adjectives modify and are usually placed before nouns or pronouns and answer Which One? How Many? or What Kind? You might want to reference this Parts of Speech article with my Parts of Speech Song to review nouns and adjectives in context.
  5. Say, “I couldn’t figure out how to convert the noun, ‘furniture,’ or the adjective, ‘Three,’ into verbs, but the adjective, ‘beautiful,’ worked fine. I changed the ending of the word to the ending verb form, ‘ify,’ to create the ‘show me’ verb, ‘beautify.'”
  6. Say, “We need some practice converting nouns and adjectives to ‘show me’ verbs. Let’s start with the nouns. (Print and pass out the Change Nouns into _ify Verbs Worksheet to each student and read the directions out loud.) Complete items #s 1−10, but don’t complete the formative assessment at the bottom.”
  7. After most of the students have finished the worksheet, display the answer sheet and direct students to self-correct. Then say, “Now complete the formative assessment at the bottom of your worksheet.” (Tell students to pass in the worksheet and review to see if your student have mastered this lesson objective.

    Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

    How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

FREE RESOURCES: Enter your email above to subscribe to the Pennington Publishing Newsletter and we will send you two ready-to-use resources each week. In our welcome newsletter we’ll send out the 11 x 17 “To Be” Verbs poster (PDF file with printing directions) to post in your classroom and help your students eliminate “to be” verbs. We want you to see examples of the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the step-by-step resources teachers need to teach the argumentative and informational-explanatory essays. The program includes 8 complete writing process essays with accompanying readings (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory), 42 sequenced essay strategy worksheets, 64 writing opener lessons, dozens of writing skill worksheets (like the “to be” worksheet above), plus writing fluency quick writes Also save time grading essays with the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Also, check out the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4−8 programs. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons and includes 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 for a concise overview of the program.

Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off of the purchase price and free shipping (purchase orders excluded).

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ELA/Reading Articles and Resources

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

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

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

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ELA/Reading Assessments

English-Language Arts and Reading Assessments

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

Grammar Assessment

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

Mechanics Assessment

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

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Paper Copy) 

Use this comprehensive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint all sound-spelling patterns learned from kindergarten through eighth grade. This 102 item eighth grade test pinpoints spelling deficits and allow the teacher to individualize instruction according to the assessment-data. The author’s Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs and the comprehensive Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide the appropriate test items according to grade level and targeted worksheets to remediate each unknown assessment sound-spelling. Each worksheet includes a spelling sort and formative assessment.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Audio File (22:38) 

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness

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

Phonemic Awareness Audio Files

Syllable Awareness Assessment (5:48)

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Syllable Rhyming Assessment (5:38)

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Phonemic Isolation Assessment (5:54)

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Phonemic Blending Assessment (5:53)

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment (5:21)

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

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

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (10:42) *

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

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

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (12:07) *

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Sight Words (Outlaw Words) Assessment

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

Rimes (Word Families) Assessment

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

Sight Syllables Assessment

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

The Pets Fluency Assessment

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

* Placement Assessments

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

Grammar Assessment Recording Matrix

Mechanics Assessment Recording Matrix

Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix

Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

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

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