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Squinting Modifiers

Avoiding Squinting Modifiers

Squinting Modifiers

Not too many English teachers will read this article and teach this lesson plan. For the few who do, you need to know that you are really grammar nerding-out by examining the subject of squinting modifiers. I, myself, had never heard of the term until the advent of the Common Core State Standards. I was teaching eighth-grade ELA and found “squinting modifiers” listed as a Language Strand Standard. I knew all about misplaced and dangling modifiers, as no doubt you do, too; however, this old dog needed to learn a few new tricks.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen squinting modifiers in my students’ writing (and in my own). I had assumed that these writing errors were classified as misplaced modifiers. Not so. Neither were squinting and dangling modifiers the same. The latter distinctions are frequently misunderstood. Re-examine the Trump and Clinton graphic after reading the lesson and you’ll see why countless ELA teachers have mistakenly referred to the future POTUS comment as a dangling modifier. It’s quite clearly a squinting modifier, I’m sure you will agree. No huge matter; it’s a modifier error that needs fixin’, but the confusion is not a distinction without a difference. Teaching your students to identify the differences among modifiers will equip your students with specific revision strategies to avoid these errors.

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, and dangling modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Squinting Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying squinting modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that serves as an adjective or adverb to describe, limit, or add to another word, phrase, or clause.

A squinting modifier is a word or phrase placed between two words so that it could be misunderstood to describe either word. Revise by placing the modifier before or after the word, phrase, or clause that it modifies. Example: Walking up hills quickly strengthens your legs. “Quickly” could modify “hills” or “strengthens.

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A squinting modifier will create confusion for a sentence diagrammer, because the diagrammer will have some uncertainty as to where to place the modifier. Uncertainly is always a good clue that something is not quite right and must be revised. That’s why sentence diagramming can be an excellent tool for developing writers. 

Examine the sentence diagram on the left with the squinting modifier, and revise on the right.

Avoiding Squinting Modifiers

Squinting Modifiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by Francois de La Rochefoucauld (the French author), avoids squinting modifiers and uses contrasting modifiers to make a humorous point. Let’s read it carefully: ‘Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with contrasting modifiers. Create your own squinting modifier if you wish.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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.

Get the Squinting Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

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Dangling Modifiers

Avoiding Dangling Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

“Tossed high in the air, the dog caught the Frisbee®.” That poor dog! Obviously, “Tossed high into the air” was not intended to modify the dog. The writer meant the Frisbee®; however the one being modified is not identified, so we have a perfect case of a dangling modifier.

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Dangling Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying dangling modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that serves as an adjective or adverb to describe, limit, or add to another word, phrase, or clause.

A dangling modifier is an adjective or adverb that does not have a clear connection to the word, phrase, or clause to which it refers. A dangling modifier usually takes the form of a present participle (“__ing”), a past participle (“__d,” “__t,” “__ed,” “__ en”), or an infinitive (to + the base form of a verb). To eliminate the dangling modifier, place the do-er of the sentence as the subject of the independent clause or combine the phrase and independent clause. Example: Fired from your job, your car became your home. (Your car was not fired; you were).

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A dangling modifier will not fit properly in a sentence diagram, because it has nothing to modify. One great reason to teach sentence diagramming; if a word or phrase does not fit, it is misused. Where might the modifiers, “Our own” be misplaced within this sentence and so create confusion? Answers: Our children loved their own presents. Their children loved our own presents.

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

In the sentence diagrammed below, “After learning the facts, the article was helpful” includes a dangling modifier. Did the article learn the facts or someone else? Obviously, the person being modified is not mentioned: hence, the dangling modifier.

Avoiding Dangling Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by George Bernard Shaw (the British author and humorist), uses an adjectival phrase to modify “countries” for humorous effect. Let’s read it carefully: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with a modifying adverbial phrase. Create your own dangling modifier if you wish.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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.

Get the Dangling Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Misplaced Modifiers

Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced Modifiers

Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, superlative modifiers, dangling modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Misplaced Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying misplaced modifiers. Both adjectives and adverbs are modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson, circle or highlight the key points of the text, and study the examples.

A misplaced modifier modifies something that the writer does not intend to modify because of its placement in the sentence. Place modifiers close to the words that they modify. Examples: I drank only water; I only drank water. In these sentences only is the modifier. These sentences have two different meanings. The first means that I drank nothing but water. The second means that all I did with the water was to drink it.

Sentence Diagram

Modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. A misplaced modifier will not fit properly in a sentence diagram. One great reason to teach sentence diagramming; if a word or phrase does not fit, it is misused. Where might the modifiers, “Our own” be misplaced within this sentence and so create confusion? Answers: Our children loved their own presents. Their children loved our own presents.

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

 

 

 

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by George Bernard Shaw (the British author and humorist), uses an adjectival phrase to modify “countries” for humorous effect. Let’s read it carefully: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with a modifying adverbial phrase.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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.

Get the Misplaced Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Superlative Modifiers

Superlative Modifiers Lesson

Superlative Modifiers

If you’ve never taken a look at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” found on his hilarious Mandatory Fun album, you’re in for a treat. Certainly a must-see for any ELA teacher and for those reading this article on superlative modifiers.

By the way, for those of you who wish President Trump would use a Twitter screener (at least for his grammar, usage, mechanics, and word choice), I have a bit of fun at the president’s expense (and that of his English teachers). Check out a few of the more egregious examples of President Trump’s tweet and speech word crimes in this English teacher’s tongue-firmly-planted-in cheek lyrics and video spin-off of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes.” I call it “Word Crimes (Revisited).” Check it out!

In searching for my YouTube video, I happened upon a YouTube review (not worth the link) of Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” and 30 seconds into the review, the reviewer opined, “It’s not his bestest track on the album.” I quickly clicked out of that video.

Now, superlative modifiers can be more problematic that the aforementioned example. Even President Trump has problems with his use of “greatest.” Following is a quick lesson to help your students. If the lesson works for your students, check out these related lessons: comparative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Superlative Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying superlative modifiers. Remember that a modifier is an adjective or adverb that limits the meaning of a word or words. A comparative modifier compares two things, using the suffix ‘_er’ for a one-syllable modifier, more (less) or ‘_er’ for a two-syllable modifier, and more or less for a three-syllable (or longer) adjective modifiers and all adverbs ending in ‘__ly.’ Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson, circle or highlight the key points of the text, and study the examples.

The superlative modifier indicates which is the most or least. Use the suffix “_est” for a one-syllable superlative modifier to compare three or more things. Example: meanest

Use “_est,” most, or least for a two-syllable or longer superlative modifier to compare three or more things. Example: most interesting

Sentence Diagram

Superlative modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the superlative modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line.

Superlative Modifiers Lesson

Superlative Modifiers

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach

Sentence Diagramming.”

 

 

 

 

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by Charles Darwin (the author of Origin of the Species), uses superlative modifiers to contrast species. Let’s read it carefully: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned and compose a sentence with a two-syllable superlative modifier and a three-syllable superlative modifier.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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.

Get the Superlative Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comparative Modifiers

Comparative Modifiers Lesson

Comparative Modifiers

Following is a quick lesson to teach comparative modifiers. If it works for your students, check out these related lessons: superlative modifiers, misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, and squinting modifiers (CCSS L.1). These modifier lessons are excerpts from Pennington Publishing’s full-year Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Comparative Modifiers Lesson

Today we are studying comparative modifiers. Remember that an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson, circle or highlight the key points of the text, and study the examples.

A modifier is an adjective or adverb that limits the meaning of a word or words. Use the suffix “_er” for a one-syllable modifier to compare two things. Example: fewer than five

Use “_er” or more (less) for a two-syllable modifier to compare two things. Example: prettier, more often

Use more or less for adverb comparative modifiers ending in “__ly.” Example: less carefully.

Sentence Diagram

Comparative modifiers are placed to the right of the predicate after a backward slanted line in sentence diagrams. The object of comparison is placed under the comparative modifier and is connected with a dotted, slanted line. The unstated verb is marked as an “X” to the right of the main vertical line.Identify the comparative modifier and explain how it modifies other words in the sentence.

Comparative Modifiers sentence Diagram

Comparative Modifiers

 

 

 

 

Want to learn more about sentence diagramming and get free lesson plans? Check out “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming.”

Mentor Text

This mentor text, written by Martin Luther King Jr. (the civil rights leader and minister), uses a comparative modifier to contrast love and evil.

Let’s read it carefully: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Identify the comparative modifier and explain how Dr. King uses it to help make his point.

Writing Application

Now let’s apply what we’ve learned to respond to this quote and compose a sentence with a two-syllable comparative modifier and a three-syllable comparative modifier.

Remember that the above lesson is just an excerpt of the full lesson from my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Want the full lesson, formatted for display, and the accompanying student worksheet with the full lesson text, practice, fill-in-the-blank simple sentence diagram, practice (including error analysis), and formative assessment sentence dictation? You’ve got it! I want you to see the instructional quality of my full-year programs. Click below and submit your email to opt in to our Pennington Publishing newsletter, and you’ll get the lesson immediately.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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.

Get the Comparative Modifiers Full Lesson FREE Resource:

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

Word Crimes (Revisited)

"Word Crimes (Revisited)" Video

“Word Crimes (Revisited)”

Let’s have a bit of fun at the president’s expense (and that of his English teachers). Check out a few of the more egregious examples of President Trump’s tweet and speech word crimes in this English teacher’s tongue-firmly-planted-in cheek lyrics and video spin-off of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” found on his hilarious Mandatory Fun album.

Remember, “We’re all role models: Kids are watchin’ and they’re listenin’.”

Following are the lyrics, YouTube video link, and crass commercial plugs for Mark Pennington’s grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs. Suitable for both Democrats and Republicans. Special 10% discount for White House staffers: Enter discount code 3716 at check-out.

Check out the YouTube video: “Word Crimes (Revisited)

WORD CRIMES (Revisited) © Mark Pennington 2018

I’m an English teacher; I care about our GRAMMAR‒SPELLING, PUNCTUATION, and PRONUNCIATION matter.

So, when “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped his “WORD CRIMES,” I played it for my students, and we laughed a THOUSAND TIMES.

But since the election, we haven’t been the same; the kids are laughing at the PRESIDENT and he’s to blame

for those CHORUS

WORD CRIMES

against the English language.

WORD CRIMES

He causes so much anguish;

WORD CRIMES

High crimes and misdemeanors;

WORD CRIMES

Can’t he get a Twitter screener?

WORD CRIMES

His teachers couldn’t teach him;

WORD CRIMES

I think we should impeach him.

His Favorite Word is BIGLY

BIGLY

He thinks that something BIGGER is always something better; that’s why he starts his common nouns with CAPITAL LETTERS.

His favorite word is “bigly,” and he brags about his hands. No HYPHENATION, nor QUOTATION MARKS he understands.

The only BIG THING we know for sure is an ego so HUGE we can’t take anymore

of those CHORUS

His pronunciation is nothing short of mangled; his usage and his word choice are twisted, forced, and tangled.

He mispronounces CHINA and always gets some laughs, but every speech he’s ever made is filled with countless gaffes.

Just one word I’d like to hear from his tweet: Is it covĕfē or is it covēfe?

It’s those CHORUS

Teachers, popstars, parents, politicians:

We’re all role models‒kids are watchin’ and they’re listenin’.

The only dumb mistake is one that is repeated

So, keep that in mind before you say it or you tweet it.

He says he has the power to pardon his own grammar. I think we ought to put his English teachers in the slammer.

He doesn’t know the difference between right or wrong: an adjective or adverb, a fragment or run-on.

Now, I “Ain’t [sic] saying we never make mistakes (except the President of the United States)

with his CHORUS

"Word Crimes (Revisited)" The Video

“Word Crimes (Revisited)”

*****

Thanks for listening. I’m Mark Pennington, ELA and reading intervention teacher-publisher and amateur songwriter. Check out my assessment-based grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs at Pennington Publishing. Let’s keep our kids from committing word crimes while we keep our sense of humor.

Need more of my songs? Check out “Quick Looks at Good Hooks” for a nice sampling of my repertoire.

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

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:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

r-controlled Vowels for Big Kids

r-controlled Vowels

The r-controlled Vowels

Although r, l, and do control (change from the usual) the vowel sounds, most phonics programs only include the r-controlled vowels. I agree with this approach. Try watching an l-controlled or w-controlled video lesson on YouTube and your head will start spinning. Much better to include the l-controlled vowels in the context of other sounds, such as the /aw/ diphthong for “al” and “all” and the schwa for the “_le” word parts. The w-controlled vowels are so crazy that they are most-easily learned as outlaw words (sight words). I do recommend showing two w-controlled vowels patterns via spelling sorts: the war /or/ as in warm and the wor /er/ as in word. Most speech therapists agree with this balanced approach, and they are the sounds experts.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of r-controlled vowel lessons and assessment at the end of the article. Plus, get the complete set of FREE diagnostic 13 reading assessments to see which of your BIG KIDS need help with which phonics elements.

How to Teach r-Controlled Vowels

The r-controlled vowels of ar, er, and ir.

The r-controlled Vowels

Introductory Definition: When an follows a vowel, the r changes the sound that the vowel makes. The vowel is called an r-controlled vowel. Sometimes teachers refer to the r as the “bossy r” because the r “bosses” the vowel to make the vowel change its sound.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ermine, armadillo, and orca each have an which controls the vowel sounds. Examples: /er/ as in her, /ar/ as in car, and /or/ as in for. The /er/ ermine has three different spellings, which can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a syllable.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching r-controlled vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the r-controlled vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the The r-controlled Vowels Lessons and Assessment FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,