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English-language Arts Standards

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

Standards-based education is now the norm in public and most parochial schools. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 25 years, standards-based instruction is now the instructional mandate in all 50 states. Although some states have rescinded their adoption of the Common Core State Standards and some, like Texas, never did adopt the Standards, each state has adopted its own set of standards and some have developed their own state assessment systems. Teachers and district administrators continue to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although the authors of the Common Core State Standards assert that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

This author, Mark Pennington, has written articles and developed free teaching resources on the Common Core ELA Standards and included these in his Pennington Publishing Blog to support fellow ELA teachers and reading intervention specialists. Mark’s assessment-based teaching resources are available at Pennington Publishing.

This article and resource compilation is jam-packed with FREE resources, lesson plans, and samples from grades 4–high school ELA and reading intervention programs, developed by teacher and author, Mark Pennington. Each of the following 25+ articles has multiple links to research, related articles, and free or paid resources:

Common Core Literalism

The Common Core State Standards were never written to be the Bible for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Read what the Common Core authors have to say and see how a common sense approach to teaching to the Standards can benefit both students and teachers.

FREE Instructional Resources: Syllable Awareness Assessment, 20 Advanced Syllable Rules, 10 English Accent Rules

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

Many teachers have never read the entire Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Sure, they’ve read their own district or state summaries of the Standards, but not the documents themselves. To understand the instructional role of the Standards, teachers must read the  appendices, which discuss important reflections and research regarding, for instance, reading intervention.

Grammar and the Common Core

More than any other Strand within the Common Core State Standards, the Language Strand with its focus on direct grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary instruction has been whole-heartedly embraced or intentionally ignored by teachers.

Common Core Instructional Minutes

With all the CCSS mandates, how can an ELA teacher allocate instructional time to be faithful to the Standards, while maintaining some sense of one’s own priorities? This article gets down to the minute-by-minute.

Common Core Academic Language Words

Of course, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4−8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

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

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4−12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60−90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language has its own seat at the table.

Common Core Grammar Standards

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Progressive Skills document emphasizes the essential grammar, usage, and mechanics skills, which need to be reviewed and reinforced year after year..

Common Core Curricular Crossover

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice? The short answer is…

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than “The Great Shift.” This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres.

Common Core Language Standards

Teachers are generally quite familiar with the CCSS Reading and Writing Standards, not so with the Language Strand Standards. The Language Strand includes the grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary Standards.

Standards and Accountability

Sometimes we teachers can be our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

The Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-to’s (think ELA Standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Middle School Spelling

Diagnostic Spelling Patterns Assessment

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

In the Whole Language Movement and concurrent National Writing Project popularity of the 1980s and 1990s, spelling was relegated to the editing stage of the writing process. Teachers were instructed to throw away their spelling workbooks and some states, including California, prohibited state funding for the purchase of spelling programs.

I, like other ELA teachers, cheerfully relegated spelling to the dumpster. After all, one less subject to teach! And, to be honest, the only spelling teaching I ever did was to pre-test on Monday, throw out a word search or crossword puzzle of the spelling words, tell students to study the list, and post-test on Friday. Hardly teaching at all.

During that period of time I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. The buzzword(s) of our program was balanced literacy. Upon reflection, I have no idea of what opposite ideologies were being placed in proper balance. We had no phonics (decoding) training, nor any spelling (encoding) training.

For my masters thesis I was able to convince my supervisor to approve a qualitative historical analysis, not the usual experimental design. I chose the reading instruction included in the McGuffey Readers. For 85 years, these readers were the primary instructional tool for American teachers. The readers were not just for primary students: intermediate and middle school tweeners also received instruction in this series.

The readers consisted of morally-based character education stories, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, and a few comprehension questions. As I pored over the editions from 1836 up to the 1920s, I found certain pedagogical refinements, but the instructional methodology was remarkably consistent. As a publisher, I understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy; however, consumers have always been suckered by the “New and Improved” marketing strategy, as well. The readers were largely unchanged, in terms of how reading and spelling were taught.

As you might imagine, the juxtaposition of my masters program reading philosophy and that of the McGuffey Readers caused quite a bit of consternation for me. I had just completed six years of middle school teaching and was now at the high school level. Every professional development class that I took and taught ignored the skills of reading and writing and focused solely on the content of literacy. If I mentioned that spelling had been an integral instructional component for most of our country’s history (including the New England Primer and others prior to the McGuffey Readers), it was only in the context of see what outdated forms of instruction those ill-informed educators used to teach.

However, subsequent to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read in 2000, I, like so many other ELA teachers who practiced their skills as reading specialists, was confronted with new, consistent reading research findings  that have made me backtrack and see the value of teaching the reading skills found in the McGuffey Readers. In reading terms, structural (or word) analysis is essential for above grade level, at grade level, and below grade level readers. Computer detection of eye-movement and the correlation of good readers look at the sound-symbol relationships within words was convincing. In other words, phonics and spelling (two sides of the same coin) matter.

I took a job as a district elementary reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District (the third largest district in California) and, along with a cadre of other bright program specialists, we were able to help improve elementary student reading proficiency percentiles from 45 to 72% within only a few years Elk Grove Unified School District. However, the same growth was not achieved by middle and high school students. Middle school reading proficiency continued to under-perform in the mid 40 percentiles. Our brilliant District Reading Coordinator and Associate Superintendent for Elementary knew why this was so, but the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education refused to move entrenched secondary teachers toward reading skills instruction.

The false dichotomy of elementary teachers teaching students to learn to read and secondary teachers teaching students to read to learn continues to contribute to the widely recognized middle school slump in reading ability. Only one-in-six of below grade level readers by grade 6 ever improve to at grade level reading. “In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers” (American Federation of Teachers, as published by Reading Rockets).

Middle Schoolers Need Spelling

Middle School Spelling

As a reading intervention specialist, the Response to Intervention movement of the last decade has largely focused on early primary reading intervention. Few middle schools have adopted comprehensive reading intervention programs, and even fewer high schools. Interestingly enough, I have found more remedial reading and writing programs at the community college level than at the high school level, here in California.

So what can middle school ELA teachers do? Advocate for your students, especially those one-in-six students, to develop effective Response to Intervention reading programs in your school and district. Take the plunge and differentiate reading instruction within your classroom. Risk the behavior management challenges and multi-level lesson plans for the good of your kids.

However, if the above seems un-do-able for now, or if you’re in the been there and done thaphase, what small (yet, significant) step can you take to make a difference for your middle school students? Teach spelling. Not the useless pre-test, word search or crossword puzzle, study, and post-test method I used to employ; not the useless pass out and memorize the list of all “No Excuse” spelling words; not the silly requirement to spell correctly your list of hard SAT, ACT, or Academic Word List vocabulary words, but a comprehensive spelling patterns program for grade-level spelling patterns instruction and remedial spelling patterns instruction. Teaching spelling for a small amount of time per week will give your middle school students the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of reading skills development.

Do your middle school students need spelling instruction? Absolutely? Still unconvinced? I challenge you to administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Recording Matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment FREE Resource:

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Curricular Maps for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

Curricular Maps for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer Plannin’ for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer plannin’ made easy! Day by day grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary plans for next year! A FREE curricular map completely aligned to the CCSS and ready to write in your planner. Want the grade-level CCSS alignment documents? They’re in there!

No need to re-invent the wheel this summer by applying the Common Core State Standards to your grade-level curricular mapping. For those “other than reading and writing” subjects we all need to teach (think grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary), check out these twice-per week curricular listings:

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 4  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 5  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 6  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 7  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

PREVIEW and DOWNLOAD the GRADE 8  CURRICULAR MAP HERE.

Following each curricular map are sample lessons from my own program (designed to teach each lesson in the curricular map), followed by the CCSS alignment documents.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

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

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

The Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES include these full-year grade level programs: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language ApplicationDifferentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit, plus many additional instructional resources. Each grade level BUNDLE was designed and classroom-tested as a seamless program to help your students master each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards and provides perfect instructional continuity among the grade levels.

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary program…

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

─Julie Villenueve

Program Overview

  • 56 language conventions (grammar, usage, and mechanics) lessons with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 28 spelling patterns tests and spelling sorts with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 writing openers language application with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 vocabulary worksheets
  • 28 biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests and summative spelling assessments
  • Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Diagnostic spelling patterns assessment with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Language application remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Complete syllabication program
  • Plus, so much more!

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The Hard and Soft c and g Spelling Rule

The Hard and Soft /c/ and /g/ Spelling Rule

Check out the song! 

Hard c Sound “c[a,o,u]” , “k[e,i]” , “__ck” , “__c” 

The hard c sound heard in kangaroo can be spelled “ca” as in cat, “co” as in comb, “cu” as in cut, “ke” as in ketchup, “ki” as in kit, “_ck” as in kick, and “_c” as in basic.

Hard g Sound “g[a,o,u]”                                      

The hard g sound heard in goose can be spelled “ga” as in gas, “go” as in got, and “gu” as in gun.

Soft c Sound “s” and “c[e,i,y]” 

 The s sound heard in seagull can be spelled “s” as in see, “ce” as in receive, “ci” as in city, and “cy” as in tricycle.

Soft g Sound “j” , “g[e,i,y]” ,  __dge”                 

The j sound heard in jackrabbit can be spelled “j” as in jump, “ge” as in gel, “gi” as in ginger, “gy” as in biology, “dge” as in badge.

Hard and Soft CG Blues

We shout ’em, “Hard /c/! Hard /g/!”

They come before ao, or u.

We whisper, “Soft /c/! Soft /g/!”

They come before ei, or y.

Oh yes they do.

The author of this song, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, 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, 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, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

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

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, 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 th

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How to Teach Speling

Spelling errors always catch our attention. When my wife and I moved up to a small town in Northern California years ago, we used to drive by a burger joint with a revolving marquee. Every week its advertised special had a spelling error on that marquee. I shook my head for the first few weeks until I caught on… Brilliant marketing!

Many of us have placed spelling on the back-burner as teachers have rightly focused on reading and writing Standards. But, spelling instruction is still critically important.

A principal came into my high school class years ago to observe my student teacher. The student teacher had misspelled a vocabulary term on the board. The principal motioned for me to step outside of the classroom. He told me he would never hire that student teacher because he didn’t care enough about his lesson to proofread his work.

And don’t forget how Vice-President Dan Quayle developed his reputation. Upon entering a teacher’s class with media in tow, he walked to the front of the class, picked up chalk, and corrected the teacher’s “misspelling” of potato. You guessed it, the teacher was right; he was wrong.

The question is how to fit a spelling pre-test, practice, and post-test into precious few class minutes. Here’s how to get it done in 13-20 minutes of class time per week:

  1. Prepare. Develop or purchase weekly spelling tests based upon a focus spelling pattern, such as the i before e rule. Never use vocabulary words or silly theme lists, such as days of the week, colors, or holidays. Here’s a comprehensive instructional spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns for grades 4˗8. Why reinvent the wheel?
  2. Pretest (7 minutes). Dictate the spelling test to all your students and have students self-correct from teacher dictation. Always record the dictation on your phone for other classes and make-ups. A lifesaver!
  3. Personalize (6 minutes). Have students create their own personal spelling list of words missed on the pretest, words missed in their own writing, and supplementary spelling lists, such as sight words, commonly confused words, and homonyms.
  4. Practice. (Students memorize their personal spelling lists and complete spelling sorts on the focus spelling pattern for homework).
  5. Posttest (7 minutes). Have students pair up, exchange personal spelling lists, and dictate to each other. Any words missed on the posttest go on next week’s personal spelling list. By the way, why not consider a bi-weekly spelling posttest based upon two spelling pretests?

Check out or purchase the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs. Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off.

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30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

Poor Spellers Are Not Born That Way

Spelling is Not Genetic

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. Following are the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Now, with my ambitious goal of providing 30 questions, answers, and resources, I’ve got to be concise. I won’t be going deep into orthographic research (much of which is contradictory and incomplete) or into detailed instructional strategies. Also, a disclaimer is certainly needed: I am a teacher-author of several spelling programs, some of which I will shamelessly promote at the end of the article. But, to be fair, I do have some relevant expertise and experience in spelling to share. I have my masters degree as a reading specialist (in fact I did my masters thesis on the instructional spelling and reading strategies used in the the 19th Century McGuffey Readers). More importantly, I have served as an elementary and secondary reading specialist and have taught spelling at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels. So, enough for the credibility portion of the article and onto why you are reading and what you hope to learn, validate, invalidate, and apply in your classroom.

Why Teach Spelling?

1. Why is spelling such a big deal? If Einstein couldn’t spell, why does it matter? Won’t spell check the best way to solve spelling problems? Whether justified or not, others will judge our students by their spelling ability. Spelling accuracy is perceived as a key indicator of literacy. And spelling problems can inhibit writing coherency and reading facility. Spell check programs do not solve spelling issues. They  just takes too long to correct frequent misspellings and cannot account for homographs.

2. Can you teach spelling? Aren’t some people naturally good or bad spellers? Isn’t it learned through extensive reading and writing? Yes, poor spellers and good spellers can be taught to improve their spelling abilities. No brain research has demonstrated a genetic predisposition for good or bad spelling. There is no spelling gene. No, spelling isn’t learned through reading and writing, but there are positive correlations among the disciplines. They are each separate skills and thinking processes and need specific instruction and practice accordingly.

Whose Job Is It to Teach Spelling and to Whom Should We Teach It?

3. Isn’t spelling the job of primary teachers? Please, God, let this be so. Yes and no. Primary teachers are responsible for much of the decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) foundations, but intermediate/upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers have plenty of morphological (word parts), etymological (silent letters, accent placements, schwa spellings, added and dropped connectives), and derivational (Greek, Latin, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German language influences) spelling patterns to justify teaching spelling patterns at their respective grade levels.

4. Should content teachers teach spelling? Yes. The Common Core State Standards emphasize cross-curricular literacy instruction. Upper elementary teachers in departmentalized structures, middle school, and high school teachers should certainly come to consensus regarding spelling instruction and expectations.

5. Should we teach spelling to special education students? Yes, even though spelling is primarily an auditory skill and many special educations have auditory processing challenges. These students require more practice, not less. Gone are the days when special education teachers said Johnny or Susie can’t learn spelling. however, some visual study strategies do make sense.

6. Should we teach spelling to English-language learners? Yes. We cripple our English-language learners when we solely focus on reading skills and vocabulary acquisition. Besides, Spanish has remarkably similar orthographic patterns as English.

How Does Spelling Connect to Other Literacy Skills?

7. How are spelling and phonemic awareness related? The National Reading Panel stressed the statistically significant correlation. Spelling is an auditory, not a visual skill, and so the connection between phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is clear. Check out the author’s free phonemic awareness assessments.

8. How are spelling and reading related? Spelling (encoding) and reading (decoding) are both sides of the same coin. So many of our syllable pronunciations depend upon spelling rules. Check out this relationship in these teachable resources: Ten English Accent Rules, Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules, and How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules.

9. How are spelling and vocabulary related? Spelling is highly influenced by morphemes (meaning-based syllables) and language derivations. Read this article on How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction for more.

How Should We Teach Spelling?

10. How much of a priority should spelling instruction take in terms of instructional minutes? I suggest 5 minutes for the spelling pretest (record on your phone to maintain an efficient pace and to use for make-ups); 5 minutes to create a personal spelling list; 10 minutes to complete and correct a spelling pattern sort; 10 minutes of spelling word study (perfect for homework); and 5 minutes for the spelling posttest (every other week for secondary students).

11. Should we teach spelling rules? Absolutely. Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up. Check out the free Eight Great Spelling Rules, each with memorable mp3 songs and raps to help you and your students master the conventional spelling rules.

12. What about teaching “No Excuse” spelling words and using Word Walls? These can supplement, but not replace, a spelling patterns program. Teaching and posting the there-their-they’re words directly and emphasizing these common misspellings makes sense.

13. What about outlaw (non-decodable) spelling words? Using these words as a resource to supplement unknown words on the weekly spelling pretest is highly effective. I suggest you “kill two birds with one stone” by giving this multiple choice Outlaws Word Assessment for reading diagnosis and then the same list for spelling diagnosis.

14. What about using high frequency words to teach spelling? As a supplementary resource to the personal spelling list unknown high frequency words, such as the Dolch List, can certainly be included. But using high frequency words as weekly spelling lists involves learning in isolation. Plus these lists include both decodable and non-decodable words. Parents can certainly assess their own children and provide results to the teacher.

15. What about using commonly confused words (homonyms) to teach spelling? Some words look the same or nearly the same (homographs) or sound the same or nearly the same (homonyms) and so are easily confused by developing spellers and adult spellers alike. Check about this great list of Easily Confused or Misused Words.

16. What about teaching spelling through a Spelling Pattern Sort? Extremely valuable and a necessary instructional activity for any spelling patterns program. Closed spelling sorts based upon spelling patterns are certainly more effective than open sorts.

“Students can… spell words that they don’t think they know how to spell by comparing words through sorts. Knowing how to spell familiar words gives the students reference points for knowing how to begin spelling new words. Here are just a few of the sorts that students can experience:

  • Sort beginning sounds
  • Sort Digraphs from Blends
  • Sort long vowels from short vowels
  • Sort words with closed syllables from words with open syllables
  • Sort words that double the ending consonant before adding –ing with those that do not
  • Sort prefixes and suffixes
  • Sort base words and root words

Teachers can even combine a sound sort with a letter pattern sort. The list goes on and on.” Sandy Hoffman

17. How should learning styles inform spelling instruction? Good teachers always use multiple modalities instruction. But, the research and practical application of VAKT is dubious at best and has no application to spelling. Teachers gave up teaching students to trace letters years ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, so if there are auditory processing challenges, special attention and additional practice will be necessary. Check out this article titled Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences for more.

18.Why aren’t the Common Core Standards more specific about spelling instruction? When establishing instructional priorities to address these spelling Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner. To wit, the intermediate elementary Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e) “Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.”) and middle school Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b “Spell correctly.”) However, the primary Standards are much more specific and the authors make a solid case in Appendix A for the importance of spelling instruction.

19. Is spelling a good subject for homework? Yes. Parents can certainly supervise spelling sorts practice, creation of the personal spelling list, and even assist the teacher with diagnostic spelling tests of supplementary spelling word lists.

What about Individualizing Spelling Instruction?

20. What about qualitative spelling inventories? Qualitative spelling inventories accurately reflect and diagnose developmental spelling stages or indicate broad spelling strengths and weaknesses; however, their lack of assessing specific sound-spelling patterns make specific teaching applications problematic.

21. Is there a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment? Check out the author’s free diagnostic spelling assessment. This 64 word assessment with recording matrix is comprehensive and based upon the sound-spelling patterns to be mastered in K-3rd grade.

22. How should teachers individualize spelling instruction? Give a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment. Teach to the indicated individual unmastered spelling patterns. Targeted Spelling Pattern Worksheets with formative assessments help focus instruction on diagnostically determined spelling deficits for each student. Students catch up while they keep up with grade level spelling patterns. Having students create personal spelling lists from the weekly spelling pretest is also excellent individualized instruction. Check out the author’s eighth grade Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Matrix. Now, if you just had the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets to teach to these deficits…

When Should We Teach What Spelling?

23. Can spelling instruction be defined by grade levels? Grade levels may not be easily divisible by grade levels, but we do need an instructional scope and sequence for spelling instruction. Here’s a For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary)., which includes spelling patterns for grades 4-8

What is the Best Way to Study Spelling?

24. What spelling review games are most effective and fun? Check out these Spelling Review Games based upon spelling patterns.

25. What about writing spelling words over and over again? No. No. No.

Does the Weekly Spelling Test Make Sense?

26. Does the weekly spelling test help students learn spelling words? Yes. The research is clear on this one: the test-study-test instructional approach results in spelling achievement. But, the weekly posttest is probably not efficient for upper elementary and older students. Biweekly posttests work well, but only if the teacher adopts a personal spelling list approach based upon weekly diagnostic assessments.

27. What kinds of spelling tests make the most sense? A Weekly Spelling Test based upon a focused spelling pattern allows the teacher to teach the spelling pattern and provide practice opportunities to their students to apply these patterns in spelling sorts.

28. Can the weekly spelling pretest be used as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction? Yes. Dictate 15-20 spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation (primary) or display (older students) of the correct spellings.

Students create personal spelling list in this priority order.

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from other resources linked in this article.

What Criteria Should Teachers Use to Pick a Good Spelling Program?

29. Here’s a nice set of criteria based upon “A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM” and “A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM.”

30. Give me an example of a good one!

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.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING SPELLING RESOURCES. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has compiled the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. The full-year grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has

weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

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ELA and Reading Articles and Resources

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

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

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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

How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

What do the Common Core authors have to say about spelling instruction?

The spelling Standards for Grades 4‒8 are as follows:

“Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.” (L.4.2e, L.5.2e)

“Spell correctly.” (L.6.2b, L.7.2b, L.8.2b)

Although lacking specificity in the Language Strand, the Common Core approach to spelling instruction is detailed in the Orthography section of Appendix A. This section includes examples of the sound-spelling patterns, syllable rules, and derivational suffixes (20‒22). Additionally, the K‒5 Reading: Foundational Skills Standards all require direct instruction of the phoneme-grapheme (spelling) correspondences (Reading: Foundational Skills) In other words, phonics and spelling.

The focus on spelling patterns draws heavily from the research of Dr. Louis Cook Moats, such as in Moats, L. C. (2008). Spellography for teachers: How English spelling works. (LETRS Module 3). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

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My Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program includes a grade-level spelling patterns program with weekly spelling tests and spelling sorts. Students review previous grade-level spelling patterns and are introduced to new grade-level spelling patterns (including derivational and etymological influences) throughout the weekly lessons. Students create Personal Spelling Lists from those words missed on the weekly diagnostic spelling tests, from words misspelled in their own writing, and from the spelling resources provided in the program Appendix. The program also provides a complete syllabication program with syllable and derivatives worksheets.

Additionally, the program provides a comprehensive remedial spelling program tied to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Each grade-level diagnostic assessment varies in complexity to test all previous grade-level spelling patterns and takes about 20 minutes to administer.

Students complete remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets for each unmastered spelling pattern as indicated by the test. Worksheets include the focus spelling pattern or spelling rule with examples, a spelling sort, word jumbles, and rhymes or book searches for the focus spelling pattern. Students self-correct and self-edit their answers from answer sheets to learn from their own mistakes. Finally, students complete a quick formative assessment labeled “Write” at the bottom of the worksheet to see if they can apply the focus spelling pattern within their own writing. Students mini-conference with the teacher and the teacher reviews the formative “Write” assessment. If mastered, the students record that mastery on the class recording matrix as detailed in the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics section above. If not yet mastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches the spelling pattern and students try the formative assessment until mastery has been demonstrated.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) helps students learn the grade-level spelling patterns, the syllable rules, and the derivational spelling influences of our English orthography. The program also has the resources teachers need to individualize remedial spelling patterns‒exactly as described by the Common Core authors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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