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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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The Serial (Oxford) Comma | For the Want of a Nail

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

–Benjamin Franklin

Okay, let’s keep things in perspective, shall we? Comma rules are not the most important components of human communication, right? However, the simple comma does impact the specific meaning of a sentence, as well as how the sentence is interpreted.

For the want of a comma…

Comma Rules

22 Comma Rules

–A man’s civil rights were lost. The Louisiana Supreme ruled that accused and self-confessed rapist, Warren Demesme, was not asserting his right to counsel when he stated, “This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.”

The Orleans Parish district attorneys argued that the lack of the comma between “lawyer” and “dog” meant that the accused was asking for a “lawyer dog,” not a “lawyer, dawg.” Now, no one would defend the self-confessed actions of the accused, but Americans do uphold the Constitutional right of the accused to an attorney and the right “to remain silent.” The comma (or lack thereof) certainly has significance in this case.

For the want of a comma…

–Your grandfather was cannibalized. “Let’s eat Grandpa.” The comma (or lack thereof) would certainly matter to your grandfather.

Now to be clear, the above examples are issues of commas placed before nouns of direct address. No one argues that this comma rule is superfluous. However, Americans are divided in their views on the serial comma rule (also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma rule). For a refresher, the serial comma is a comma placed before the coordinating conjunctions and or or when listing three or more items. The use, misuse, or non-use of the serial comma has its own consequences:

For the want of a serial comma…

–$10,000,000 was lost in a Maine court judgment. In a class action lawsuit against a dairy company regarding overtime pay for its truck drivers, the workers prevailed because the state laws on overtime regulations did not include a serial comma. (See Daniel Victor’s March 16, 2017 article in the Washington Post for the details.)

In sum, punctuation, including the serial comma, does affect meaning. 

To include or not include the serial comma…

Now, I’m sure that most of you already have made up your minds regarding whether we should or should not use the serial comma. Those who don’t care have stopped reading by now or never looked at this article.

My take is that your views have been chiefly influenced by one or both of two factors: 1. What you read 2. Your most influential English teacher

  1. If you read online news, blogs, posts, texts, and emails as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text without the serial comma. If you read novels or technical materials, manuals, and reports as your primary daily reading, you are exposed to a high percentage of text with the serial comma. English teachers used to characterize these distinctions as informal and formal reading, but these lines have become blurred in the digital age.
  2. We tend to dig in and defend what we have been taught. Our English teachers taught us one way and marked us wrong if we used the other way. As an English teacher at the middle school, high school, and college levels and author of numerous grammar books and a writing style manual, I’ll let you in on a little secret: We English teachers don’t know the comma rules better than the average educated American. We never had a graduate level class on writing mechanics. 

My take? I value the use of the serial comma for three reasons: clarity, consistency, and conformity. However, its usage should be dictated by the writing genre.

How to Use Serial Commas

Serial Commas

Clarity

Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford, 2009) nicely clarifies the issue of clarity with or without the serial comma:

“Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it’s easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities whereas including it never will” (Garner 676).

A few specific examples demonstrate why the serial comma provides clarity and avoids ambiguity.

The serial comma permits the use of compound subjects or objects in lists. (Remember, compound means two or more.)

Example without the Serial Comma: For lunch I enjoy hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly and fish. In this example, “peanut butter and jelly” is a compound object. A serial comma following would add clarity and prevent a truly gross sandwich.

Additionally, I’m not comma crazy, but I would also use a comma when listing only two items in a list if the and or or coordinating conjunction joins a compound subject or object. Example without the Serial Comma: On our summer trip to Britain, we want to visit the Fox and Hound and Stratford upon Avon. Most would agree that a comma following “Hound” would clear things up quite a bit for the reader.

Failing to use the serial comma can produce problems with appositives. Remember that an appositive identifies, describes, defines, or explains what comes before or after a part of speech (usually a noun or a pronoun). Most of the funny examples that you see posted to argue in favor of the serial comma involve confusing appositives.

Example without the Serial Comma: I just finished mailing letters to my children, Santa Claus and Jimmy Fallon; At the banquet we dined with good old friends, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; At the Halloween party I danced with Mrs. Peabody’s two ex-husbands, Wonder Woman and Cleopatra.

Notice that in the above examples, appositives become confusing when the first item listed in a series is a common noun (an uncapitalized idea, person, place, or thing), followed by two or more proper nouns (a capitalized person, place, or thing).

Now, articles which purport to be objective regarding the serial comma usually trot out confusing appositives to argue why serial commas can be just as ambiguous as the lack thereof.

Example with the Serial Comma: We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, the reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift.

Those using this sentence example (serial killers? No, too harsh) suggest that three women may be inferred here. However, their argument sets up a straw dog to prove their point. The sentence is not an example of an ambiguous serial comma at all; it is a mistake in syntax (the order of words in a sentence). A good English teacher would suggest either of these two revisions: 1. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian (the reality television star) and the delightful Taylor Swift. 2. We ate dinner with Kim Kardashian, who is a reality television star, and the delightful Taylor Swift. The first sentence uses a parenthetical insertion and the second uses a non-restrictive relative clause.

Consistency

In addition to providing clarity, the serial comma rule is also consistent with other Standard American English punctuation. Specifically, the serial comma rule is consistent with other punctuation rules regarding the separation of items in a list.

For example, semicolons may be used to separate long phrases or clauses in a list. No anti-serial comma journalist would ever abandon the last semicolon in the following list:

Semicolon Example: The Martin landed on Earth; the Venetian attempted to communicate; and the Air Force Captain asserted her belief that extraterrestrials did, indeed, exist.

Moreover, the use of the serial comma appeals to our sense of parallelism. Parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation are characteristics of consistent, predictable, memorable, reader-friendly writing. As Mary Norris, writing in The New Yorker, states, “If a sentence were a picket fence, the serial commas would be posts at regular intervals.”

Example: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln’s example shows the impact of parallel ideas, grammatical structures, and punctuation. Without the serial comma in the sentence above, the cadence of the writing and speech would be altered and inconsistent with the other parallel forms in The Gettysburg Address.

Those proposing the elimination of the serial comma always seem to add the following caveat to their position: Drop the serial comma unless its elimination would be confusing to the reader. Inconsistency is built into their rule; such is not the case for the serial comma rule. Such is the stated position of the only major style guide which supports the elimination of the serial comma.

Conformity

Only the Associated Press (AP) stylebook supports dropping the serial comma “unless deemed absolutely necessary.” Admittedly, the AP position has wielded tremendous influence. Following AP style, newspapers uniformly omit the serial comma. Both prestigious papers, such as The New York Times and tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, avoid the comma. Some magazines, such as People and Variety, do so as well. Furthermore, the lack of the serial comma is also firmly entrenched in digital media, largely due to the AP influence. Because of the pervasiveness of such digital news, the serial comma’s days may be numbered.

However, the use of the serial comma is supported in the overwhelming majority of academic style guides: Chicago, Turabian, Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual 8.27, 8.28. Also, contrary to much of what you may have heard, the serial comma has not been abandoned in all periodicals. For example,  The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Magazine adhere to its usage.

Additionally, the respected Online Writing Lab of Purdue University (a favorite go-to guide for teachers and students) supports the serial comma rule.

Clearly we have a divergence of authoritative opinion and common usage regarding the serial comma. Despite the clear advantages of the serial comma in terms of clarity and consistency, conformity to the dictates of the writing genre (and the editor or teacher’s demands) makes the most practical sense. I’ll close with a few pragmatic applications:

  1. When writing a newspaper article, omit the serial comma.
  2. When writing an article for a blog or magazine, ask the editor whether or not to use the serial comma. Conform to whomever is paying the bills.
  3. When writing informally on the web, in letters, cards, emails, texts, posts,flyers, bulletins, etc., pick your poison, but be consistent as possible. Try not to judge others’ usage too harshly in this transitional “no-man’s land.”
  4. When writing reports, essays, narratives, novels, and documents, use the serial comma.
  5. Teachers should teach the serial comma and expect its usage in formal academic writing. However, the discussion of its use in different writing genre and in the evolution of our language is also productive. Using the serial comma to explain the purpose of punctuation and how it affects meaning is valuable.

I’m Mark Pennington, English-language arts teacher and reading specialist. More to the point, I am the author of the comprehensive grades 4–high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs and the Pennington Manual of Style, a useful reference and teaching tool. Click HERE for a complete list of the 22 comma rules with clear examples.

The Pennington Manual of Style

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

According the the authors of the Common Core State Standards…

“The importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated. Vocabulary has been empirically connected to reading comprehension since at least 1925 (Whipple, 1925) and had its importance to comprehension confirmed in recent years (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). It is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986) but that vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).” Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Words are important. Of course, every teacher would agree. But which words should we teach? And in what instructional order?

Here’s what the authors have to say about which words

Tier Two words (what the Standards refer to as general academic words) are far more likely to appear in written texts than in speech. They appear in all sorts of texts: informational texts (words such as relative, vary, formulate, specificity, and accumulate), technical texts (calibrate, itemize, periphery), and literary texts (misfortune, dignified, faltered, unabashedly). Tier Two words often represent subtle or precise ways to say relatively simple things—saunter instead of walk, for example. Because Tier Two words are found across many types of texts, they are highly generalizable. Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Tier Three words (what the Standards refer to as domain-specific words) are specific to a domain or field of study (lava, carburetor, legislature, circumference, aorta) and key to understanding a new concept within a text. Because of their specificity and close ties to content knowledge, Tier Three words are far more common in informational texts than in literature. Recognized as new and “hard” words for most readers (particularly student readers), they are often explicitly defined by the author of a text, repeatedly used, and otherwise heavily scaffolded (e.g., made a part of a glossary). Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

So, every teacher should be focusing on Tier Two words because they are generalizable and they are most frequently used in complex text. For example, the following Standards would be applicable for teaching Tier Two words in ELA classes:

The Language Strand: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, and 6) 

The Standards focus on these kinds of words: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). CCSS Language Strand

Tier Three words should be introduced in the context of content study. For example, the following Standard would be applicable for teaching Tier Three words in ELA classes:

The Reading Strand: Literature (Standard 4) Craft and Structure

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama. CCSS Reading: Literature Strand
 *****
Is there any research about the instructional order of Tier Two words

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

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

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

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

Furthermore, computer generated word frequencies have determined the frequency of Greek and Latin word parts. 

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

A Model Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 vocabulary instructional scope and sequence appears at the end of the document and include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Spelling Scope and Sequence.

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.


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

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Spelling Scope and Sequence

For many teachers, spelling instruction has taken a back seat to other instruction, especially in the ELA middle and high school classrooms. Perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was relegated to an editing-only issue at the tail end of the writing process. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as part to whole instruction rather than in the predominant whole to part instruction of whole language reading and constructivism. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as the stepchild of vocabulary. Spelling workbooks, once a staple in both the elementary and secondary classrooms, were removed from supplemental program lists at district and state levels. However, things are changing. Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns.

In fact, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching spelling. For example, students need to be able to spell plurals for singular nouns with an ending prior to learning that nouns ending in /ch/, /sh/, /x/, /s/, or are spelled with “es” prior to learning nouns ending in /f/ are spelling with “ves” prior to learning about irregular plurals such as children and deer prior to learning about Latin plural spellings such as “” and “ae.” In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, spelling instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, teachers will need to teach and re-teach the before spelling rule yearly from third grade through high school.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards… albeit less so in the spelling Standards.

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive spelling scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.D  Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.D  Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.E  Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.C  Use an apostrophe to form contractions and frequently occurring possessives.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.D  Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (e.g., cage → badge; boy → boil).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.E  Use conventional spelling for high-frequency and other studied words and for adding suffixes to base words (e.g., sitting, smiled, cries, happiness).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.F  Use spelling patterns and generalizations (e.g., word families, position-based spellings, syllable patterns, ending rules, meaningful word parts) in writing words.
  •  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.D and 5.2.D  Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.2.B, etc.  Spell correctly.
 After grade 3 the Common Core State Standards provide no specific spelling pattern Standards.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Spelling Instruction?

The simple to complex instructional order is clearly conducive to spelling patterns instruction. Students need to master the basic sound-spellings and sight words before moving on to more complex spelling patterns influenced by derivational affixes and roots. 

A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.

Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for spelling instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Students will not improve spelling by reading and writing alone. Students need more spelling instruction than a weekly pre and post test, a personal spelling errors notebook, or simply being required to spelling content vocabulary words correctly. Spelling instruction is sequential.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

Also check out the diagnostic spelling assessment and recording matrices on the Pennington Publishing website.

 

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.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Mechanics Scope and Sequence

We may not all agree on using the Oxford (serial) comma. Some favor oranges, apples, and peaches. Others favor oranges, apples and peaches. English teachers tend to prefer the former, but journalists seem hooked on the latter. We also may not agree on the place of mechanics* instruction within ELA instruction. Some favor direct instruction of these skills. Others favor editing groups and mini lessons to handle the instructional chore. I personally lean toward the former with additional “catch up” individualization through research-based worksheets targeted to diagnostic assessments. Of course, I do use peer editing before turning in published works.

*When most teachers refer to mechanics we mean the technical components of composition: punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations. Some will also include spelling, usage, and organization in this terminology. The Common Core authors use the umbrella term language conventions.

However, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching mechanics. For example, students need to be able to define, identify, and apply simple abbreviations (Mr.) before learning acronyms (UNICEF) and initialisms (FBI). In other words, the simple academic language and mechanics instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, mechanics instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, proper noun capitalization will be re-introduced in every grade, every year. Sigh… The Common Core authors agree.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive mechanics scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.A
Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun I

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.A
Capitalize dates and names of people.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.A
Capitalize holidays, product names, and geographic names.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.A
Capitalize appropriate words in titles.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.A
Use correct capitalization.

The Language Strand Standards provide no capitalization Standards beyond grade 4. Again, the Common Core authors certainly advocate review.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Mechanics Instruction?

  1. The simple to complex instructional order is clearly not conducive to the more eclectic and hodgepodge DOL or DLR (Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review) instruction without major revamping of either program. 
  2. A grammar, usage, and mechanics program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.
  3. Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for mechanics instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Just because acronyms are not mentioned in the Standards doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to teach them.

A Model Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Mechanics Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Spelling Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

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.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/TLS-Instructional-Scope-and-Sequence-Grades-4-8.pdf”]

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Punctuation of Indirect Quotations

Indirect Quotations Punctuation

Punctuation of Indirect Quotations

Punctuation of Indirect Quotations                   

Play the quick video lesson HERE and click the upper left back arrow to return to this lesson.

Common Core Language Standard 2

When students begin writing reports of information or summaries in elementary school, the often used teacher direction is “Put it in your own words.” Now paraphrasing and summarizing are useful skills; however, putting someone else’s idea into your own words does not make it your own idea. The writer must faithfully represent what the idea actually is and then credit the originator of the idea with a proper citation.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

An indirect quotation reports someone else’s words without quoting each word. Indirect quotations still require proper citations, but not quotation marks. A citation is the name of the source (the author’s last name or title, if no author is listed) and the page number of the print material where the author’s words are found. Example: Cheetahs are the fastest animals (Lee 5).

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: Tommy asked, “May I have some?” “Did he have to ask that question?” “Wow!”

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

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

Mechanics Practice Answers: Tommy asked, “May I have some?” “Did he have to ask that question”?“Wow!”

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using an indirect quotation.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Grammar Instruction: Establishing Common Ground

Perhaps no instructional issue in English-language arts produces more contentious debate than the issue of how best to teach grammar. When most of us refer to grammar we mean the structure of the sentence, the components of the sentence, word choice, the order of words, style, and usage. Some will also include punctuation, capitalization and even, perhaps spelling in the grammar stew.

All too often we bog down in our discussion over the issue of instructional strategies. Should we teach these skills explicitly through direct instruction? Should we teach these skills implicitly at the point of student need? Should we teach these skills in isolation? Should we teach these skills in the context of writing? What are the most efficient and effective means of instruction? Which instructional strategies produce the most retention? How can we differentiate instruction?

It may be that we begin, but quickly end the discussion of how to teach grammar because in posing these questions we are placing the “cart before the horse.” Perhaps a more useful starting point for our discussion would be to come to consensus about what we expect students to know and when. Establishing a common ground on this issue can help us determine what to diagnostically assess in order to determine our students’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Only at this point does it make sense to discuss the instructional strategies that will address the needs of our students.

This goal of consensus can be easier said than done. Teachers are inherently protective of their own instructional sovereignty. We all enter teaching to be “queens and kings of our own castles.” We are, by nature, independent thinkers. Collaboration requires some levels of releasing that sovereignty and replacing some of that independence with dependence. Additionally, we are all afraid of exposing our deficiencies. Many of us have received little grammar instruction and less training in how to teach the skills outlined above. Colleagues can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit our weaknesses. Much easier to keep our ostrich heads in the sand regarding grammar and focus our efforts on what we do know.

However, for the sake of our students we need to acknowledge our “elephants” in the room and begin to trust our colleagues. A climate of collaboration can be nurtured among teaching professionals. This risk-taking climate takes time and requires sensitive leadership. Group norms need to be established and practiced to ensure success. But, the results will be worth the efforts.

What Should Students Know and When?

At first blush, teachers will latch onto to Common Core Language Strand Standards. Fine as a starting point and undoubtedly more rigorous than previous state standards which tended to emphasize grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction only in the writing context; however, standards only offer a basic blueprint for grammatical instruction. The devil is in the details. Defining these issues in meaningful ways that will impact both instruction and learning necessitates detailed conversations. We need to get specific.

It makes sense to establish a set of skills and expectations to be mastered at each grade level. Defining a specific year-to-year instructional scope and sequence (the Common Core Standards are far too generic) with colleagues provides a game plan and also defines the content for assessment. See the following author tag for a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence for Grades 4-8. These skills and expectations need to be hammered out in the context of vertical teaming and articulation. The complexity of English grammar and the recursive nature of grammatical instruction necessitate grade-to-grade level discussion and consensus-building.

At my middle school, we began the conversation with seventh and eighth grade teams. We then got release time to meet with our elementary and high school colleagues. We began the process of building a scope and sequence to help us move students from Point A to Point B to Point C. Our goals were to adopt a common academic language, establish grade-level expectations, and build in review to address the recursive nature of grammatical instruction. We found much more common ground on these goals than many of us had expected, especially because we have not addressed instructional strategies at this point of the conversation.

How Do We Know What They Know and Do Not Know?

Having agreed to 72 skills and expectations for our middle schoolers in our comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, we then began designing diagnostic assessments to inform our grammatical instruction. Our criteria for the diagnostic assessments included the following: The assessments must specifically focus on the 72 “common ground” components of our instructional scope and sequence. The assessments must be whole-class, easy-to-administer, easy-to-grade, and easy-to-record. The assessment components should be “teachable.” One such set of diagnostic assessments, based upon 72 “common ground issues” that we are using as starting points are my own multiple-choice Grammar and Mechanics Assessments.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Having established what students need to know and when, and having developed diagnostic assessments to determine what students do and do not know, the real fun begins. At this point, we are beginning the process of sharing the instructional strategies that seem to best meet the needs of our students. Explicit or implicit instructional strategies? How can we establish benchmarks to formatively assess skill acquisition?  How can we differentiate instruction, according to the results of our assessments?

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

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

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

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

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

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