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How to Teach Helping Verbs

English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns.

“Now wait a minute (I can hear some of you thinking). Some writing necessitates using helping verbs to precisely communicate.” Quite true. Helping verbs can be useful to the writer. There… I just used two (“can be”). Feel any better? However, in most instances helping verbs tend to weaken writing, so students who master strategies to eliminate these “writing crutches” learn to write with greater precision and purpose. This article will help your students learn when to use helping verbs. Students will also learn when not to use them and how not to use them.

When to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Use these helping verbs: will and shall* before the base form of the verb to indicate the future tense. The future verb tense is used for an action or state of being that will definitely (according to plan) take place in the future. For the future verb tense, add a helping verb in front of the base verb form.

Example: Mr. Thomas will go to the meeting tomorrow.

* In American English, the helping verb shall is becoming archaic. Originally, shall was used for first person pronouns and will for second and third person pronouns. Example: I shall go, but you and he will remain. Additionally, shall implies a necessity, while will indicates an intention.

The helping verb will can been combined with has or have + the present participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs) to form the future perfect verb tense in which the verb form refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future.

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

2. Use these helping verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been (the “to-be-verbs”*) when the progressive form of the verb is necessary.

-The past progressive describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past.

Example: Amanda was entertaining her guests when her grandmother arrived.

-The present progressive describes an ongoing action happening or existing now.

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

-The future progressive describes an ongoing action that will take place over a period of time in the future.

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

* The “to-be” verbs can also serve as linking verbs in predicate adjectives such as in “She is nice” and in predicate nominatives such as in “I am he.” See How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs for helping teaching strategies.

3. Use these helping verbs: may, might, must, ought to, used to, need to, should, can, could, and would (the “modals”) before the main verb to modify that verb by in order to communicate respect, politeness, permission, possibility, necessity, a command, or state an opinion.

Example: I should know better by now, but I just might ask her anyway.

4. Use these helping verbs: do, does, and did to form negatives with the main verb.

Example: I said do not go in there alone.

-Also use do, does, and did to form interrogatives. Notice how these helping verbs can be separated from the main verb when used in questions.

Example: Did you go in there alone?

-Also use do, does, and did to show emphasis.

Examples: Did you break that? Do visit your grandmother.

-Also use do, does, and did to avoid repeating verbs.

Example: I enjoyed our visit and so did he.

5. Use these helping verbs: has, have, and had to form the perfect verb tenses.

-The past perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that was completed before a specific time in the past. The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: Cecil and Rae had finished their study by the time that the teacher passed out the test study guide.

-Another form of the past perfect verb tense is the past perfect progressive. The past perfect progressive describes a past action that was interrupted by another past event. It is formed with had been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: My dad had been driving for two hours in the snowstorm when the Highway Patrol put up the “Chains Required” sign.

-The present perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being happening or existing before the present. The present perfect is formed with has or have + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: He has already started his science project.

-Another form of the present perfect verb tense is the present perfect progressive. The present perfect progressive describes the length of time an action has been in progress up to the present time. It is formed with have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students have been writing for over an hour.

-The future perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future. The future perfect is formed with a helping verb such as the modals: cancouldmaymightmustshallshouldwill, and wouldhas or have + the present participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

-Another form of the future perfect verb tense is the future perfect progressive. The future perfect progressive describes the length of time an action will be in progress up to a specific time in the future. It is formed with will have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students will have been playing the same video game for two hours by the time their friends arrive.

When Not to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Don’t use helping verbs when an ongoing action is not meant. An ongoing action is the progressive form of the verb.

Example: Don’t say “I am watching cartoons every day.” “I watch cartoons every day” is correct.

2. Don’t use helping verbs when an action does not indicate some event that takes place before another action. An action that indicates that some event takes place before another action is the function of the perfect tense.

Example: Don’t say “I have watched the five cartoon shows today.” “I watched five cartoon shows today” is correct.

3. Don’t use helping verbs when the passive voice is not necessary.

Example: Don’t say “Canned foods were collected by me to feed the hungry.” “I collected canned foods to feed the hungry” is correct.

4. Don’t use helping verbs when a more specific verb form can make an action less vague.

Example: Don’t say “That point guard is good.” “That point guard dribbles, passes, and shoots well” is more specific.

5. Don’t use an unnecessary helping verb when an active, “show-me” verb will communicate the same thought in a more concise manner.

Example: Don’t say “John never does clean the house.” “John never cleans the house” is better.

Problem-Solving Strategies to Eliminate Helping Verbs

1. Substitute-Sometimes the writer can think of a stronger verb to directly replace a helping verb. For example, instead of “That apple pie sure is good,” substitute the “to-be” verb is with tastes as in “That apple pie sure tastes good.”

2. Rearrange-Start the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate helping verbs. For example, instead of “I could see the monster was creeping down the dark tunnel,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel I saw the monster creep.”

3. Change another word in the sentence into a verb-For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip and did serve as its illustrator,” change the common noun creator to the verb created and illustrator to illustrated as in “Charles Schulz created and illustrated the Peanuts cartoon strip.”

4. Combine sentences-Look at the sentences before and after the one with the “to-be” verb to see if one of them can combine with the “to-be” verb sentence and so eliminate the “to-be” verb. For example, instead of “You should complete your math homework. You must have studied for the math test. Then you can go outside to play,” a writer could revise as “Complete your math homework, study for the math test, and then go outside to play.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the Helping Verbs

1. Post a list of the helping verbs and the problem-solving strategies/examples listed above for student reference.

2. Share and practice the strategies one at a time.

3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the revision process, using the selected strategy on student writing samples. Demonstrate flexible problem-solving and don’t be afraid to show how you can’t always think of a solution to revise helping verbs.

4. Next, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with student writing samples. Ask students to volunteer their revision solutions.

5. Then, require students to revise student writing samples with helping verb individually. Correct whole class and praise the variety of effective revisions.

6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples.

Teaching the strategies to eliminate unnecessary helping verbs and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “crutches” in their own writing. The results of your instruction? More precise and purposeful student writing with active, “show me” verbs.

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

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

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

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

 

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

How and When to Teach Pronouns

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

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

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

1. DIE AR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Assessment

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

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

3. Differentiated Instruction

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

Pronouns Instructional Scope and Sequence

Primary Elementary School

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

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

Intermediate/Upper Elementary School

Subject Case Pronouns

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

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

Example: She and I attended the concert.

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

Example: The students who got into trouble are they.

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

Example: Marty is smarter than I.

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

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

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

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

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

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

Object Case Pronouns

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

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

Example: The challenge excited him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: I want him to give the speech.

Pronoun Tips:

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

  • Rephrase to check if the pronoun sounds right.

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

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

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

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

Example: Who is the best teacher?

Who and Whom

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

Examples: Who did this?

Who is the best teacher?

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

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

Examples: Whom did Joan love?

I like whom you gave the award.

To whom does this letter concern?

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

Relative Pronouns

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

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

Example: The movie that we watched was entertaining.

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

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

Don’t restate the subject with a pronoun.

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

Middle School

Indefinite Pronouns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

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

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

Example: He gave himself a pat on the back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrative Pronouns

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

High School

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

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

Pronouns and Writing Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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