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Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Grammar and Mechanics’

Daily Paragraph Editing

Evan-More’s Daily Editing is certainly an improvement over the publisher’s Daily Language Review or the popular Daily Oral Language (from many different publishers). The instructional scope and sequence of Daily Paragraph Editing is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and most other state Standards in grammar, usage, and mechanics. This being said, most of the same criticisms detailed in my previous article still apply. Editing in the context of a paragraph does not solve the issue of teaching skills in isolation. Requiring a student to write a similar article is not the same as requiring students to apply specific skills learned in a lesson in the context of their own writing.

Additionally, Daily Paragraph Editing really only tests students’ previously acquired skills. Testing is not the same as teaching. Direct instruction in the language conventions of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is what the Common Core Language Strand authors envisioned, not endless practice without effective instruction.

Yes, kids need lots of practice, but we teachers need to remember what we learned in our teacher training programs about effective lesson design: Explicit Behavioral Objectives, Connection to Prior Learning and Lesson Transitions, Pre-teaching, Direct Instruction in the Content or Skill Standard with Multi-modality Examples and Language Support, Checking for Understanding, Guided Practice (which certainly could include some editing, but why not decision-making between what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of error-only scavenger hunts?), Formative Assessment, Re-teaching, Individualized Instruction, and Independent Practice. Of course, teachers are accustomed to different names for the essentially the same lesson components. Essentially, the teacher uses comprehensible input to introduce new learning, the students practice with the teacher’s help, the teacher assesses students’ mastery of the lesson content and skills and uses the data to re-teach or individualize instruction, and assigns independent practice in which the students’ apply what they have learned. Basic lesson design.

The Daily Paragraph Editing program suffers from the same false assumptions that some teachers, administrators, and parents frequently share: All students are alike and need the same instruction. We know better. Kids are snowflakes: each is different and has different needs and different levels of content and skills mastery, particularly in the disciplines of the Language Strand: grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of use.

A cookie-cutter approach to instruction such as Daily Paragraph Editing, Daily Oral Language, and Daily Language Review winds up re-teaching what some students already know (a waste of time), not building upon previous grade-level instruction, and short-changing instruction for those students, such as our ELL, Special Education, and below grade level students who need assessment-based practice. Students need effectively designed grade-level instruction, using all of the elements of direct instruction; plus, they need assessment-based individualized instruction for additional remedial practice so they can “catch up” while they “keep up” with rigorous writing instruction.

Teaching that helps students actually learn and retain skills and concepts requires something more than just a writing opener used only a few minutes each day. We teachers can do better than piecemeal and ineffective instruction. Good teachers don’t just want to address Standards, they want their students to learn, retain, and be able to apply them in the reading and writing contexts.

Bottom line? The Daily Paragraph Editing program is a short-cut to “teach” Language Strand Standards that can’t possibly transfer to long term content and skills acquisition. It has many of the same issues as Daily Language Review and Daily Oral Language. Teachers wind up “teaching” the same content and skills year after year. Clearly, we have better alternatives for effective instruction in the the Language Strand Standards.

Here is the most effective alternative…teachguide-6th

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 lessons.The complete lessons also 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

band-aid_big_frozen_381371163175_bilc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

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

Get the Syllable Awareness Assessment FREE Resource:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

    How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Teach Writing Mechanics

How to Teach Writing Mechanics asks and provides possible answers to the What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics, Why Teach Writing Mechanics? When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach? How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics? questions related to teaching the nuts and bolts of punctuation, capitalization, formatting, citations, quotations, etc. Disclaimer: The author has published several writing mechanics resources.

What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics?

Since this is a “catch-all” subject, let’s discuss what I do mean and don’t mean by writing mechanics.  I do mean punctuation (commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, and brackets), capitalization (including proper nouns, common nouns, abbreviations, and acronyms), formatting (paragraphing, indentations, when to skip and not skip lines, proper headings and spacing, what goes where and what does not), citations (MLA rules, the purpose thereof, and creative problem solving including references, in-text formatting, and list of works), quotations (direct, indirect, titles of works, and dialogue rules). I did mention rules, as no doubt you noticed. However, mechanics is also about style and coherency. “Let’s eat Grandma” comes to mind. Or how about…

I’M STUFFED DO WE HAVE TO EAT GRANDMA AFTER ALL WE JUST FINISHED EATING GRANDPA CAN’T WE WAIT UNTIL MOM’S DONE COOKING

Your students will love more of these examples.

Some teachers would, but I don’t mean grammar. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Check out a related article on How to Teach English Grammar.

I also don’t mean spelling. The authors of the Common Core State Standards lump the entire kitchen sink into the “language conventions” category. However, as an MA reading specialist, I will assure you that spelling (encoding) has much more to the how-to’s of reading (decoding) and vocabulary than with proper comma usage.

Why Teach Writing Mechanics?

The authors of the Common Core include writing mechanics in a separate Language Strand as Standard L. 2., and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests do test mechanics. Teaching mechanics will not only help your students avoid eating Grandma, but will also provide a forum for rich language discussion. The differences in British and American punctuation are fascinating. The changing nature of mechanics rules and the controversies between editors of new and old media are instructive. Want to raise a real ruckus? Try debating the serial comma rule! By the way, I don’t consider myself a serial comma killer.

When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

The Common Core State Standards have shifted so much of the language conventions to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with mechanics. Of course, review is essential and it is nice to have the recursive nature of language instruction validated by the Common Core authors. So, writing mechanics is certainly a K-12 focus.

What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach?

Because of the downward shift in terms of instructional responsibility, it does make sense for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to begin teaching more complex writing mechanics skills. Building on prior knowledge will allow teachers of older students to “get to” issues of, say punctuation and capitalization that heretofore (always wanted to use that word) have never been addressed. It does makes sense to share the instructional load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a fix-the-random-error “curriculum,” such as DOL or DLR. Most of us old veterans of Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that these “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson) never transferred to student speaking or writing. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can and should align and sequence instruction. For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary) from my own Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students writing mechanics. We do need to up the rigor of direct instruction as explained above, but we also need to build on individual student strengths and weaknesses. Because primary and intermediate elementary teachers are transitioning to more writing mechanics instruction, older students will have even a greater diversity of skills sets. Teachers can choose to teach as if none of their students knows anything and repeat the instruction that some have received, or use diagnostic assessments to determine mastery of writing mechanics for each student and provide remediation to those who need it.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 32 question writing mechanics assessment (with answers) and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics (and all Language Conventions) Instruction?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive language conventions lessons, including writing mechanics, (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on just a few skills, including a brief review to connect to prior learning) makes sense. Clear examples and quick practice in which students apply the skill or rule and identify what is correct and what is not helpful. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the writing mechanics focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary. Less effective is the “teach writing mechanics only in the editing stage of process papers” approach via mini-lessons. Direct instruction makes a difference. Individualized instruction with targeted worksheets (corresponding to the diagnostic assessments) can add another 15-30 minutes of classroom instruction per week or be assigned as homework.

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

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

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.

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How to Teach English Grammar

How to Teach English Grammar asks and provides possible answers to the most pressing When, Why, How, What, and Whom questions related to teaching grammar. Disclaimer: The author has developed numerous grammar-based programs.

Definition: Identifying the Scope of the Subject

Grammar has become a catch-all term that refers to everything most English teachers don’t like to teach, but still need to do. Admittedly, some still don’t teach it. They have their reasons. In this article the writer refers to grammar as most teachers do. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Broadly speaking, grammar is the study of how our language is used and how it can be manipulated to achieve meaning.

Contextual Relevance

The Great Grammar Debate in currently in the midst of an uneasy cease-fire. The authors of the Common Core State Standards attempted to toe the line between those favoring direct (part to whole) instruction in grammar and those favoring indirect (whole to part) instruction in grammar. My take is that the inclusion of a separate Language Strand, including K−12 grammar and usage Standards (L. 1, 2, 3), the focus on recursive skills in the Progressive Skills Review, and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests (which include grammar), have tilted educators toward the direct instruction camp. And this remains the case with more and more states dropping out of the Common Core testing consortia. For some reason, many educators and interest groups in red states who have dropped out tend to favor more explicit grammatical instruction that their respective colleagues in blue states which have hung onto the Common Core.

Given the plethora of Internet searches for grammar resources, the renewed interest in older teaching techniques such as sentence diagramming, and the popularity of grammar websites and discussion forums, it seems fair to say that part to whole grammatical instruction is now a trending topic.

When to Teach Grammar and Usage

More and more rigorous standards have shifted to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with grammatical instruction. Most middle school teachers would agree that the instructional scope and sequence of the Common Core Language Strand Standards for grades 2−5 would mimic that of most state standards a mere decade ago. In fact, after deleting the vocabulary Standards, the Common Core authors assign three pages for each of the  first, second, and third grade Standards; one page for both fourth and fifth grades; one page for each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades; and only one-half page for each of the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Check out a grades 4−8 instructional scope and sequence of grammatical instruction.

Why Teach Grammar and Usage

The academic vocabulary used in grammatical instruction offers an important language of instruction to apply in other areas of academic work: writing, speaking, and reading. For example, learning to define, identify, and apply dependent clauses effectively and correctly empowers students to write, speak, and read with greater coherence. In my view the research regarding the effectiveness of certain grammatical instructional techniques is inconclusive.

How to Teach Grammar and Usage

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students the grammar. Our students are not tabular raza (empty slates): Many will have had good language training from previous teachers and from literate home environments. We need to build on their strengths and individual instruction according to their weaknesses. Most teachers would agree that grammar is not “just something that needs to be fixed.” Grammatical instruction is more than just error analysis or correction. Grammar and mechanics instruction cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.” Most of us who have tried Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that this hodgepodge instructional approach does not transfer to student speaking or writing.

Most curricular specialists suggest short, interactive grammatical lessons (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on one grammatical skill or concept, including a brief review to connect to prior learning. Precise examples and quick practice in which students apply the grammatical skill or concept to identify what is correct and what is not makes sense. Mentor texts in which students see and hear the application of the grammatical lesson focus in the reading context and writing application in which students construct their own sentence(s) to apply the in the writing context is sound instruction. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the grammatical focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 40 question (multiple choice) diagnostic grammar and usage assessment and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

What Grammar and Usage to Teach

It makes sense share the load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach. Students need to understand the function of an adverb before they can write adverbial clauses. The Common Core State Standards provides a bare bones sequence of instruction and the Progressive Skills Review does an admirable job of setting critical Standards for annual review. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can align and sequence instruction. 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).

All instructional time is reductive. Instructional minutes in one subject area take away from instructional minutes in another. Most curricular specialists would allocate no more than an hour of direct grammatical instruction per week and no more than thirty minutes of individualized instruction per week. Teachers do have other subjects to teach. Of course, homework is always a possible option.

Whom to Teach Grammar and Usage

All students need grammatical instruction and at each level in K−12 instruction. As more and more of public education is divided up into need-based groups, such as special education, English-language development, remedial, and honors classes, students must receive equal access to all of the curriculum, including grammar. The notion that grammar can’t be learned by students with auditory or visual processing disorders or by students with certain learning styles is a myth. The notion that non-native speakers cannot or should not learn English grammar is also a myth.

For too long, grammatical instruction has been de-prioritized as school districts focus on the reading and math priorities of standardized tests

Students are whom we teach, not ever-changing standards, courses of study, fads, personal preferences, or personal agendas. Therefore, if students don’t know how to define, identify, and use adjectives, we need to teach them (a vague pronoun reference). And we can.

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

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

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.

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Grammar Programs

Teachers frequently ask which Pennington Publishing grammar program will best meet the needs of their students. Of course most of us use grammar as a catch all term to mean parts of speech, syntax, usage, sentence structure, subjects and predicates, punctuation, quotation marks, and capitalization. For those teachers using the Common Core Standards, they are looking for materials to teach the Language Strand 1, 2, and 3 Standards.

Three of our products will do the job. Let’s compare and contrast each with helpful links to help you make an informed decision for your students. Each product is appropriate for grades 4−8 students. The products are listed from least expensive to more expensive.

Materials in the Grammar Openers Toolkit (eBook) have been selected as a “slice” of the comprehensive one volume curriculum: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, by the same author. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a one-volume, non-grade level, standards-based curriculum and includes both basic and advanced skills for each lesson.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar Toolkit

Grammar Toolkit

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

What is the instructional design of each one-volume, full year program?

  • Comprehensive. The standards based-scope and sequence includes everything your students need to learn about grammar: the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech) the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, grammatical terminology and mechanics: capitalization, punctuation, conventional spelling rules. No other grammar textbook or workbook is needed.
  • Flexible. Each lesson provides both basic and advanced mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Teachers choose what to teach to their students, so the curriculum works well for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. Special education students and English-language learners thrive with the individualized instruction.
  • User-friendly.Minimal teacher prep design with simple and clear procedures and instructional activities, suitable for the novice English teacher with little background in grammar as well as for the veteran English teacher. Tips and writing hints for the grammatically-challenged teacher are provided in the scripted lessons, as are all the answers.
  • Balanced and research-based.The Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics are balanced curricula; students learn all of the grammar and mechanics skills and rules in the context of authentic writing, not in isolation.
  • Formats. Both the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics are sold as eBooks. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is also available in print (three-ring binder) and includes the digital copy (PDF) of the entire program and FREE SHIPPING. Please add 10% shipping/handling for all purchase orders.

What materials are the same in both programs?

  • Each program includes 64 Sentence Lifting lessons, formatted for classroom display. These scripted twice-per week lessons provide explicit and systematic direct instruction in the Common Core Standards of mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Lessons use mentor texts (student and literary examples), simple sentence diagramming, sentence combining, and sentence manipulation activities. The only advance preparation is to select student sentence models.
  • All Sentence Lifting lessons follow the same format. First, the teacher selects either basic or advanced skills and introduces these with definitions and examples. Next, the teacher asks students to apply the skills and analyze practice sentences in a “What’s Right? and What’s Wrong?” interactive discussion. Then, the teacher reinforces the learning in the reading context with the Literary Sentence Model and Student Sentence Model. Finally, students apply the skills in the simple Sentence Diagram and Sentence Dictations and then self-correct and edit their work when the teacher displays the answers.

What materials are in the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program (385 page print and/or eBook) that are not in the Grammar Openers Toolkit (200 page eBook)?

  • Also included are 64 grammar cartoons from master cartoonist, David Rickert, (one for each of the 64 Sentence Lifting lessons.
  • Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides comprehensive and prescriptive whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments in multiple choice format—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Everything in the scope and sequence of instruction is assessed. Students complete targeted grammar and worksheets to practice and master the unmastered skills indicated on their diagnostic assessments.

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics:

“I’ve been teaching for quite a while and seen quite a few grammar programs. This one is the best I’ve used.”

Julie Inouye

“This is an amazing product. It makes individualized instruction a breeze!”

Shawna Pounds

“This is a great product for teaching grammar and mechanics. I like how it allows for students to achieve mastery. It has great step by step directions for teaching the skills as well as help on differentiating instruction.”

Laura P.

Want to see lesson and assessment samples, the scope and sequence, and alignment documents for the Grammar Openers Toolkit and Teaching Grammar and Mechanics? Preview This Book

And for our third grammar product… the comprehensive, grade-leveled Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4−8 programs. Each 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade program (750−808 page print and digital format) provides comprehensive instructional resources, aligned to all of the grade level Standards in Common Core Language Strand (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling vocabulary, and knowledge of use). Detailed instructional scope and sequence and alignment documents create a unified instructional plan across all five of the grade levels to teach the Language Strand Standards with fidelity and efficiency. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice and includes FREE SHIPPING. Please add 10% shipping/handling for all purchase orders. 

Following are the instructional components in each of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs:

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

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (CCSS L.1,2)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides 56 interactive Language Conventions lessons, designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards. Each scripted lesson (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) is formatted for classroom projection. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into each 25-minute lesson. The instructional scope and sequence also integrates review and practice for each of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills.

Biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests require students to define, identify, and apply their knowledge of these language Standards in the writing context. The accompanying Student Workbook includes an interactive worksheet for each Language Conventions lesson with the complete lesson text. Students take notes on and annotate the text, complete a practice section, fill out a simple sentence diagram, and use the mentor text to apply their knowledge of the grammar and usage concept. Students complete sentence dictations and then self-correct from the projected display.

Spelling (CCSS L.2)

Each grade-level program provides a comprehensive spelling curriculum with weekly spelling lists and spelling sorts based upon developmental spelling patterns. The instructional sequence is designed to review previously introduced spelling patterns and add new grade-level spelling patterns. Students create personal spelling lists to supplement these spelling patterns from spelling errors in their own writing and spelling resources found in the appendices. Syllable worksheets assist students in learning the skills of structural analysis. Students complete spelling pattern sorts for each weekly lesson in their Student Workbooks and self-correct from the projected display.

Knowledge of Language (CCSS L.3)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) has 56 Language Application openers to help students apply the L.1,2 Standards in the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts. These five-minute interactive lessons help students practice grammatical constructions, vary sentence patterns, and maintain a consistent voice and tone with precise and concise word choices. Students take margin notes on the lesson text and complete language application revisions on 56 Language Application Worksheets in their accompanying Student Workbooks and then self-correct from the projected display.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (CCSS L.4, 5, 6)

The Student Workbook includes two independent Vocabulary Worksheets per week to help students learn all of the grade-level vocabulary Standards: context clues, multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, academic language, and denotations/dictionary skills. Vocabulary Study Cards are provided for each lesson.

Individual Student Workbooks

Consumable student workbooks provide interactive practice in each of the above instructional components. The 196-page Student Workbook includes the full instructional text of each language conventions, spelling, language application, and vocabulary lesson with interactive practice and formative assessments. Workbooks are priced at the cost of printing copies on your school copier… without all the prep time. Yes, the workbooks are a necessary component of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also includes all of the resources for teachers to meet the diverse instructional needs of individual students. The writers of the Common Core State Standards recognize the need for both review and remediation, especially in the Language Strand. In fact, a critical component of these Standards is the Progressive Language Review. The Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program has diagnostic grammar and usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments to determine the specific remedial needs of your students. The assessments are administered whole-class and mastery recording matrices allow the teacher to organize instructional materials and to monitor the progress of individual students at a glance.

Teachers want to teach the skills and concepts from previous grade-level Standards that their students have not yet mastered. However, many teachers abandon assessment-based instruction because they lack the instructional tools and management procedures. Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) provides those tools and procedures for efficient and effective remediation. Teachers individualize instruction according to the results of each diagnostic assessment with 77 Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets and 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets. Students who fail to master the formative assessments in the Language Conventions lessons are assigned corresponding Language Worksheets. Each targeted worksheet includes definitions, examples, writing hints, a practice section and a short formative assessment. Students progress at their own rates to master previous grade-level Standards.

Appendices (CCSS L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The appendices in Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) contain a wealth of practical resources for both students and teachers. Language convention appendices include grammar, usage, and mechanics resources, proofreading strategies and practice, supplemental spelling word lists, spelling review games, and Syllable Worksheets. The vocabulary appendix provides review games, context clues practice, and vocabulary teaching resources.

The Teacher’s Guide and Training Videos

The Teacher’s Guide is user-friendly. Both veteran and new teachers will appreciate the scripted instructional directions and flexibility of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program. Teachers are provided complete PDF files of the Teacher’s Guide, formatted for classroom projection and interactive instruction. The Teacher’s Guide includes classroom management plans for both grade-level and remedial instruction to maximize learning and minimize class time. Seven short training videos assist teachers to make full implementation of the program simple and successful. Teachers are granted license to upload all student worksheets and reference materials on class websites for easy access at home.

Here’s what teachers are saying about the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs:

“The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. The student workbooks are fantastic. I’m teaching each Standard in the Language Strand and remediating previous grade level Standards. The no prep and minimal correction design really respects a teacher’s time. This program frees me up to teach!”

Julie Villenueve

To preview Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)…

For additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact Pennington Publishing at mark@penningtonpublishing.com or 888.565.1635.

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Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a comprehensive curriculum that helps teachers significantly improve student writing and test scores through both explicit, systematic instruction and individualized practice. The print version includes a digital copy (PDF) of the entire program for classroom display and interactive practice.

Want to see lesson and assessment samples, the scope and sequence, and alignment documents? Preview This Book

Teachers describe this full-year curriculum as…

  • Comprehensive. The standards based-scope and sequence includes everything your students need to learn about grammar: the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech) the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, grammatical terminology and mechanics: capitalization, punctuation, conventional spelling rules. No other grammar textbook or workbook is needed.
  • Flexible. Each lesson provides both basic and advanced mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Teachers choose what to teach to their students, so the curriculum works well for upper elementary, middle, and high school students. Special education students and English-language learners thrive with the individualized instruction.
  • User-friendly. Minimal teacher prep design with simple and clear procedures and instructional activities, suitable for the novice English teacher with little background in grammar as well as for the veteran English teacher. Tips and writing hints for the grammatically-challenged teacher are provided in the scripted lessons, as are all the answers.
  • Balanced and research-based. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a balanced curriculum; students learn all of the grammar and mechanics skills and rules in the context of authentic writing, not in isolation.

The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program includes the following instructional resources:

 Assessments

  • Comprehensive and prescriptive whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments in multiple choice format—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Everything in the scope and sequence of instruction is assessed. Students complete targeted grammar and worksheets to practice and master the unmastered skills indicated on their diagnostic assessments.
  • A grammar and mechanics recording matrix makes assessment data entry simple and progress monitoring efficient.

Instructional Resources and Procedures

  • Get a full year of 64 Sentence Lifting lessons, formatted for classroom display. These scripted twice-per week lessons provide explicit and systematic direct instruction in the Common Core Standards of mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Lessons use mentor texts (student and literary examples), simple sentence diagramming, engaging grammar cartoons, sentence combining, and sentence manipulation activities. The only advance preparation is to select student sentence models.
  • All Sentence Lifting lessons follow the same format. First, the teacher selects either basic or advanced skills and introduces these with definitions and examples. Next, the teacher asks students to apply the skills and analyze practice sentences in a “What’s Right? and What’s Wrong?” interactive discussion. Then, the teacher reinforces the learning in the reading context with the Grammar Cartoon and in the writing context with the Literary Sentence Model and Student Sentence Model. Finally, students apply the skills in the simple Sentence Diagram and Sentence Dictations and then self-correct and edit their work when the teacher displays the answers.
  • Get 72 targeted grammar and mechanics worksheets, aligned to each skill tested in the diagnostic assessments. Each worksheet includes definitions, examples, skill practice, and writing hints about how to apply the skill within authentic writing. Students complete only those worksheets indicated as un-mastered skills by the diagnostic assessments.
  • Students complete a grammar and mechanics worksheet. Then they self-correct and self-edit from the answer sheets. After completing each worksheet, students take a short formative assessment and then mini-conference with their teacher to determine whether the skill has or has not been mastered. Again, teachers can use a simple point system to award students for their efforts.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics is a one-volume, non-grade level, standards-based curriculum and includes both basic and advanced skills for each lesson. For leveled grades 4-8 instruction for the entire Common Core Language Strand (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling vocabulary, and knowledge of use), please check out the comprehensive Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grade-level programs.

Print version includes the digital files of the complete teacher’s edition.

Grammar Comic! Preview

Sam and Friends Phonics Readers Preview

Preview the introductory video.

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How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing

Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves reducing the number of “to be verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

At this point, even before I begin to plead my case, I hear the grumbling of the contrarians. One of them mutters a snide, rhetorical question: Didn’t Shakespeare say “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”? He used three “to be” verbs right there! If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. True, but Will used only six more “to be” verbs in Hamlet’s next 34 lines. My goals are to convince teachers to help their students reduce, not eliminate the “to be” verbs, and so write with greater precision and purpose. There. I just used a “to be” verb. Feeling better?

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

What’s So Wrong with “To Be” Verbs?

  1. The “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been are state of being verbs, which means that they unduly claim a degree of permanence. For example, “I am hungry.” For most Americans, hunger is only a temporary condition.
  2. The “to be” verbs claim absolute truth and exclude other views. “Classical music is very sophisticated.” Few would agree that all classical compositions are always sophisticated.
  3. The “to be” verbs are general and lack specificity. A mother may tell her child, “Be good at school today.” The more specific “Don’t talk when the teacher talks today” would probably work better.
  4. The “to be” verbs are vague. For example, “That school is great.” Clarify the sentence as “That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents.”
  5. The “to be” verbs often confuse the reader about the subject of the sentence. For example, “It was nice of you to visit.” Who or what is the “It?”

Adapted from Ken Ward’s E-Prime article at http://www.trans4mind.com/personal_development/GeneralSemantics/KensEPrime.htm

When Can We Use “To Be” Verbs?

It’s not that “to be” verbs are always bad; sometimes writers must use “to be” verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. In fact, these verb forms can be difficult to replace. When the verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being, it performs one of these five functions:

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

Generally, writers should avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing. However, when writers can replace a “to be” verb with a vivid, “show me” verb in any writing genre, it certainly makes sense to do so. With a good “show me” verb, the reader (or listener) can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. The verb engages the interest of the reader and specifically communicates the nature of the action. But, not all non-“to be” verbs are vivid, “show me” verbs. For example, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do not use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy sits down on the bench and thinks what to do next. In contrast, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy slouches down on the bench and studies what to do next.

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

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. IdentifyStudents need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time” 
  2. SubstituteSometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. ConvertStudents can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.” 
  4. Change−To eliminate a”to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. CombineLook at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the “To Be” Verb

  1. Post a list of the “to be” verbs and the problem-solving strategies listed above for student reference. Why not create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board? (What a great idea for Halloween!) and/or print and reference the free “To be or not to be…” poster.
  2. Share the five strategies one at a time, so as not to overwhelm students. Teach, practice, and master only one strategy  before moving on to another strategy.
  3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the “to be” verb revision process.
  4. Then, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with one student writing sample. Correct whole class and commend the variety of effective revisions. Compare sentence revisions and discuss which strategies worked and did not work to eliminate the “to be” verbs.
  5. Next, collect student writing samples from the whole class and have students individually revise their peers’ “to be” verbs. Peer editing focused on one target issue makes sense.
  6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples, using the five strategies.

After teaching and practicing all five strategies, set the “rule” that from now on only one “to-be” verb is allowed in any paragraph (excluding direct quotes). Use peer editing to help identify the “to-be” verbs and peer tutors to help struggling students.

Teaching the strategies and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “writing crutches” in their own writing. The end result? More precise and purposeful student writing with vivid, “show me” verbs.

Check out the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

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

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