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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).

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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).

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How to Teach Helping Verbs

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

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

When to Use Helping  Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

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

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

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

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

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

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

Example: I said do not go in there alone.

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

Example: Did you go in there alone?

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

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

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

Example: I enjoyed our visit and so did he.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: He has already started his science project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Not to Use Helping  Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem-Solving Strategies to Eliminate Helping Verbs

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

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

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

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

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the Helping Verbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How to Teach Verbs

Verbs come in many forms in English. Knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. We do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to verbs. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the die-hard writing process folk, never fans of direct grammar instruction, have always agreed that teaching the definitions of the parts of speech a must. Ask English-language arts teachers what they wish their students knew about grammar and they will universally answer “parts of speech.”

We know that students have learned these parts of speech ad nauseam, but why can’t they remember them?  Have their teachers been negligent or unskilled? Or is repeated instruction the only way to learn grammar? Is it the problem of learning grammar divorced from the context of writing?

Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle with definitions of key verb components and clear examples.

1. DIE AR

(Yes, a depressing mnemonic. Perhaps a secret wish to kill off the Accelerated Reader® program?)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key verb components. Rote memory is fundamental to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, and even songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Song. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify verb components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry kills two birds with one stone: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each verb component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Finding out what is wrong does help clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need the mentor texts and writing practice to master their verb components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students their knowledge of verbs correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for infinitive verbs…

To ________________ how ________________ a two-wheeler bike, a child must first practice how ________________ themselves ________________ falling.

Possible response: To learn how to ride a two-wheeler bike, a child must first practice how to balance themselves to avoid falling.

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

2. Assessments

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as verbs, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to allocate to direct instruction. It may be that one class tends to have mastery re: past tense verbs, linking verbs, and infinitives but weaknesses in helping verbs, future tense verbs, and subject-verb agreement. A different class may have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Why so? It just seems to work that way. Second, diagnostic assessments provide an individual baseline upon which to build learning. Sharing this data with students is crucial. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate their learning and see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out my favorite whole class diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure true mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of verb components must be comprehensive, including all steps of the DIE AR process. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher has covered the subject, i.e. teaching verbs. Far better to use the data to affect instruction. Good teachers re-teach judiciously and differentiate instruction according to test data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments will clearly inform the teacher as to who lacks mastery over which verb components and how many students need remediation. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare.

Verbs Instructional Scope and Sequence

A verb shows a physical or mental action or it describes a state of being.

Examples:

Physical action: She works long hours

Mental action: but knows that

State of being: there is more to life than work.

Linking verbs connect a subject with a noun, pronoun, or predicate adjective and show either physical or mental actions.

Examples:

He looks like the man (noun). She sounds like her (pronoun). The guilty one is he (predicate adjective).

Linking verbs include the following: appear, become, feel, grow, keep, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, seem, stay, and taste. Other linking verbs that describe a state of being include the “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

Helping verbs help a verb and are placed in front of the verb.

Examples: I had heard the bell.

Helping verbs include the “to be” verbs, the “to do” verbs: do, does, did, the “to have” verbs: has, have, had, as well as can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would.

Past Verb Tense

The past tense simply adds on a __d or __ed ending to the base form. The past tense is used for an action that took place at a specific time or times.

Examples: I found the missing key. She started her homework.

Another form of the past verb tense is the past progressive. The past progressive describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

Present Verb Tense

The present verb tense uses the base form of the verb and adjusts to a singular third-person subject by usually adding on an ending s. Plural subjects require verbs in the base form.

Examples: He finds the missing key. They find the missing key.

The present verb tense has the following uses:

  • To generalize about a physical or mental action or a state of being

Example: We look for the best candidates for this office.

  • To describe a physical or mental action that happens over and over again

Example: He plays the game like it is a matter of life or death.

  • To refer to a future time in dependent clauses (clauses beginning with after, as soon as, before, if, until, when), when will is used in the independent clause

Example: After she leaves for school, we will turn her bedroom into a guestroom.

  • To discuss literature, art, movies, theater, and music—even if the content is set in the past or the creator is no longer alive

Example: Thomas Jefferson states that “all men are created equal.”

Another form of the present verb tense is the present progressive. The present progressive describes an ongoing action happening or existing now.

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

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

Example: He has already started his science project.

The present perfect verb tense has the following uses: To describe an action that took place at some unidentified time in the past that relates to the present.

Example: The students have studied hard for today’s test.

To describe an action that began in the past but continues to the present.

Example: The teachers have taught these standards for five years.

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

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

Future Tense

The future verb tense places the action of the sentence in the future. English does not have endings for the future verb tense. Instead, use the helping verbs such as the modals: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would + the base verb form.

Examples: I will find the missing key. I should visit my sick friend later this week.

Another form of the future verb tense is the future progressive. The future progressive describes an ongoing action that will take place over a period of time in the future.

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

The future perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future. The future perfect is formed with a helping verb such as the modals: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would + has or have + the present participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Grammar and Mechanics Resources

How do most teachers teach grammar and mechanics? Frankly, many of us just are not teaching these subjects, except as a few weeks of drill and kill worksheets prior to the standardized test. Teachers either perceive grammar and mechanics instruction as too boring or as too difficult to teach, so they avoid it like the plague. Some teachers may rationalize why they don’t teach these subjects. You’ve heard the comments: “I didn’t learn grammar and mechanics, and I turned out all right” or “I teach grammar and mechanics through the Writing Process” or “The students should already know these skills—these are not my grade level standards” or “I once that grammar is acquired naturally through oral language development.”

Well-meaning teachers borrowed a well-used copy of Daily Oral Language activities from another teacher years ago and have faithfully used the same lessons as “openers” ever since. The advantage of such “programs” is that they require no teacher preparation. Unfortunately, these collections of grammar and mechanics mistakes provide no diagnostic information, have few teaching resources, and fail to establish a sensible instructional scope and sequence. Students simply rehearse errors. This ineffective practice rarely translates to mastery learning. Learning grammar and mechanics out of the context of meaningful writing may help students get a few questions correct on the standardized test, but this knowledge just won’t transfer to their writing.

Instead, let’s make sense out of teaching grammar, usage, and mechanics. Start with the free 112 writing opener lessons from the comprehensive Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) (of the Common Core Standards) Grades 4-8 The text or these lessons with accompanying PowerPoint slides are listed below. Just click on the links for each of the 112 writing openers. Or, if you prefer, get the YouTube videos of these same lessons. Also make sure to look through the other free grammar, usage, and mechanics diagnostic assessments, articles, resources, and teaching tips on how to teach grammar, usage, and mechanics in the context of writing. Finally, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Grammar and Mechanics

Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/why-daily-oral-language-d-o-l-doesnt-work/

Most teachers are familiar with Daily Oral Language, abbreviated as D.O.L. or under the guise of similar acronyms. Teachers like the canned program because it requires no teacher preparation, it provides “bell ringer” busy work so teachers can take attendance, and it seemingly “covers” the subjects of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. D.O.L. is probably the most popular  instructional technique used to teach grammar. The second most often used technique would be the “teach no grammar-nor-mechanics technique” as is frequently employed by writing process purists who save this “instruction” until the last step of a process piece, if they ever get to it at all. However, the subject of this article is the latter technique, and why D.O.L. does not work.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

 

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/teaching-grammar-and-mechanics-interactive-notebook/

 

The Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4−8 programs will help your students master each of the Common Core grade-level grammar and mechanics Standards. This rigorous, fun, and easy-to-teach interactive notebook is neither a fact-filled collection of boring lecture notes, nor a time-wasting portfolio of art projects.

Daily Paragraph Editing

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_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. However, 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.

Drill and Kill Worksheets

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/drill-and-kill-worksheets/

If you google “grammar worksheets,” you get 2,970,000 hits; if you google “vocabulary worksheets,” you get 8,250,000. Clearly more teachers other than Mr. Worksheet like their worksheets and see the value of deliberate, targeted, independent practice. Thought I’d dig into the educational research a bit to see whether what teachers say or what teachers do makes more sense.

Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/research-based-grammar-usage-and-mechanics-worksheets/

Not all worksheets are created alike. Worksheets need not “drill and kill” students to boredom or busy-work. Good teachers can spot a good worksheet when they see one. The educational research provides insight as to what makes a grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition. Check out the research-based grammar worksheets in this article.

Mechanics Scope and Sequence

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/mechanics-scope-and-sequence/

However, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching mechanics. For example, students need to be able to define, identify, and apply simple abbreviations (Mr.) before learning acronyms (UNICEF) and initialisms (FBI). In other words, the simple academic language and mechanics instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order. Check out the grades 4-8 mechanics instructional sequence aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Grammar Scope and Sequence 

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/grammar-scope-and-sequence/ 

Although the grammar debate* continues between 1.Those who favor part to whole (indirect, implicit, inductive) instruction and 2. Those who prefer whole to part (direct, explicit, deductive) instruction, both sides would generally agree that students should be able to define, identify, and use some things before other things. In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have solid (and recent–January 2016) educational research to support this instructional sequence of instruction

112 Writing Opener Lessons

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/112-writing-openers/

These 112 Writing Openers are from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4−8 Language Convention lessons. Completely aligned to the Common Core State Standards, these simple and quick writing openers are suitable for upper elementary and middle school. Following are the lesson subjects and links for text-based lessons and editable PowerPoint attachments for the 56 grammar and usage lessons and the 56 mechanics lessons.  Or subscribe to my YouTube Channel and get the same lessons in video format. Bookmark this site for quality writing openers with a well-defined instructional scope and sequence.

Grammar Diagnostic Assessment and Recording Matrix

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/pennington-publishing-elareading-assessments/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/Grammar%20Assessment%20Matrix.pdf

The TGM Grammar Diagnostic Assessment tests all of the basic grammar, parts of speech, and usage skills in an efficient multiple choice format. Students complete the assessment in 15-20 minutes. Record the data on the TGM Grammar Mastery Matrix and differentiate instruction according to student needs. Note: the Teaching Grammar and Mechanicscurriculum provides worksheets with formative assessments that correspond with each item on this assessment.

Mechanics Diagnostic Assessment and Recording Matrix

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/pennington-publishing-elareading-assessments/

The TGM Mechanics Diagnostic Assessment is a whole class assessment that tests all of the basic punctuation and capitalization skills. Students complete the assessment in 10-15 minutes. Record the data on the TGM Mechanics Mastery Matrix and differentiate instruction according to student needs. Note: the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum provides worksheets with formative assessments that correspond with each item on this assessment.

Conjunction Junction

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/conjunction-junction/

The old Schoolhouse Rock song poses the question: “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” A clever rhyme, but the rest of the lyric provides little help to answer the question. Here’s the answer with some memory tricks to help your students remember and use the three types of conjunctions to add sentence variety to their writing.

How to Teach Grammar to Primary Students

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-grammar-to-primary-students/

For those of you primary teachers wondering how to teach the rigorous grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards… you are not alone. Check out how the sentence building exercises using sentence diagramming can make a difference for primary students.

How to Teach Writing Mechanics

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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. Check out and download the entire grades 4-8 mechanics instructional scope and sequence (completely aligned to the Common Core Language Strand Standards.

How to Teach English Grammar

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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. Check out and download the entire grades 4-8 grammar instructional scope and sequence (completely aligned to the Common Core Language Strand Standards.

Grammar Programs

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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.

How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs in Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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 eliminating the “to-be-verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Learn the four strategies to revise these “writing crutches.”

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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/teaching-the-language-strand/

Grammar, Usage, 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

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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 (now called strands)with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ccss-language-progressive-skills-standards/

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. One of these components stirring up heated debate has been the Language Progressive Skills document.

How to Teach Helping Verbs

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-helping-verbs/

English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns. Learn when to use and when not to use helping verbs and how to eliminate them to improve writing.

 

Why D.O.L. Does Not Transfer to Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/why-d-o-l-does-not-transfer-to-writing/

Psychologists and educational theorists have developed learning theories to explain how new learning and skills are most efficiently mastered and best transfer to other academic activities. Let’s examine the most influential of these learning theories to explain why D.O.L. does not transfer to writing.

Problems with Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.)

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/problems-with-daily-oral-language-d-o-l/

Daily Oral Language is built upon oral review. Lack of instructional depth and the methodology of oral practice are key reasons why teachers complain that students do not retain the skills reviewed in Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.). After all, the reason we bother teaching mechanics, spelling, and grammar is to help students improve their writing.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/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.

Grammar Research and Balanced Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/grammar-research-and-balanced-instruction/

A balanced approach to grammatical instruction just makes the best sense of the grammar research. An approach that involves direct grammatical instruction in partnership with plenty of connected reading (sentence modeling) and writing (sentence manipulation). Here’s the summary of grammar research and practical instructional implications for teachers committed to differentiated instruction.

Why We Don’t Teach Grammar

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/six-reasons-why-we-don’t-teach-grammar/

Teachers de-emphasize grammar instruction for six key reasons. Learn these reasons and re-prioritize your instruction to include teaching grammar in the context of meaningful writing.

How to Teach Grammar

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-grammar/

Within the field of English-language arts, there is probably no more contentious curricular issue than that of how to teach grammar. The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” get all the press, but teachers are much more unified in their teaching philosophy and instructional practice in those areas than they are with grammar. Here are 21 assumptions about grammatical instruction and four simple steps to teach grammar, mechanics, and spelling to your students.

The Great Grammar Debate

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-great-grammar-debate/

The Great Grammar Debate between those favoring part to whole and those favoring whole to part grammar instruction is still relevant.

How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-integrate-grammar-and-writing-instruction/

Balanced grammar instruction includes four components: 1. Differentiated instruction based upon diagnostic assessments 2. Direct instruction in grammar and mechanics 3. Writing strategies practice and 4. Writing process revision and editing.

How to Identify Subjects and Predicates

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog//blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-identify-subjects-and-predicates-2/

The complete sentence is, undoubtedly, the most important benchmark of conventional writing. Subjects and predicates are the best identifiers of the complete sentence and the best checks to identify sentence fragments and run-ons. This article helps students to identify sentence subjects and predicates with clear definitions and examples.

How to Fix Sentence Fragments

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Writing in complete sentences is the essential writing skill. Even sophisticated writers sometimes struggle with sentence fragments. Learn how to identify sentence fragments in your own writing and, more importantly, fix these to create mature and complete sentences.

How to Fix Run-On Sentences

Writing in complete sentences is the essential writing skill. Even sophisticated writers sometimes struggle with run-on sentences. Learn how to identify run-ons in your own writing and, more importantly, fix these to create mature and complete sentences.

Grammar Instruction: Establishing Common Ground

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Perhaps no instructional issue in English-language arts produces more contentious debate than the issue of how best to teach grammar. All too often we bog down in our discussion over the issue of instructional strategies. Perhaps a more useful starting point for our discussion would be to come to consensus about what we expect students to know and when. Establishing a common ground on this issue can help us determine what to diagnostically assess in order to determine our students’ relative strengths and weaknesses.

Sentence Lifting: D.O.L. That Makes Sense

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Unlike traditional Daily Oral Language (DOL), Sentence Lifting uses both sentence modeling and error analysis to teach grammar and mechanics. Using exemplary literature, teacher, and student writing, students will practice emulating these texts and also practice editing sentence errors. Using current writing samples from both literary and student work teaches grammar and mechanics in the context of authentic writing.

Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

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Here is the list of the Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves that irritate most Americans. Learn what’s wrong, what’s write, and the tips to avoid these common grammatical mistakes.

The Parts of Speech Song

Parts of Speech Song

Students love to rap with the parts of speech. The key definitions are included in concise form. An MP3 file makes it easy to teach and learn.

The Ten Parts of Speech with Clear Examples

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Knowing the parts of speech is key to the grammatical language of instruction. Writers need to be able to accurately identify and apply each of these ten parts of speech. This concise reference clearly defines all ten parts of speech and provides clear examples of each.

The Most Useful Punctuation and Capitalization Rules

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Proper punctuation and capitalization are marks of an educated and careful writer. Here is everything you need to know about proper punctuation and capitalization in one concise reference. Clear examples make this tool a must for every writer.

How to Teach Verbs

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adverbs in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching verbs that makes sense. Get all the definitions, examples, and writing style resources for how to teach verbs in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool verbs cartoon.

How and When to Teach Adjectives

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adjectives in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching adjectives from primary elementary to high school. Get all the definitions, examples, and writing style resources re: how to teach adjectives in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool adjectives cartoon.

How and When to Teach Pronouns

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches pronouns in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching pronouns from primary elementary to high school. Get all the pronoun definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool pronouns cartoon.

How and When to Teach Nouns

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Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches nouns in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching nouns from primary elementary to high school. Get all the noun definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool nouns cartoon.

How and When to Teach Adverbs

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-and-when-to-teach-adverbs/

Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches adverbs in the context of writing and reading. Review an instructional scope and sequence for teaching adverbs from primary elementary to high school. Most importantly, get adverbial definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool adverbs cartoon.

How to Teach Conjunctions

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“Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches conjunctions in the context of writing and reading. Get all the conjunction definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool conjunctions cartoon.

How to Teach Prepositional Phrases

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Wouldn’t it make sense to spend instructional time on the part of speech that constitutes 30% of all writing? Prepositional phrases are used that much. Time to ditch ineffective Daily Oral Language (DOL)! Learn an instructional approach that teaches prepositional phrases in the context of writing and reading. Get all the preposition definitions, examples, and writing style resources in easy-to-understand language. And check out the cool prepositions cartoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Grammar Debate

Although not as contentious as the debate on how to teach children to read, the debate on how to teach grammar* has its moments. In fact, elements of the reading and grammar debate do have similarities regarding how language is transmitted.

The lines of division within reading have been drawn between those who favor part to whole graphophonic (phonics-based) instruction and those who prefer whole to part (whole language) instruction. (Check out my blog on the Reading Wars to get up to speed on the current issues in this debate.) Similarly, the divisions within grammar have also been drawn between those who favor part to whole instruction and those who prefer whole to part instruction. By the way the writers of the Common Core State Standards certainly have made up their minds. Guess which side they favor.

Part to Whole

The essence of part to whole grammatical instruction is the inductive approach. Advocates believe that front-loading the discrete parts of language will best enable students to apply these parts to the whole process of writing. Following are the key components of this inductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar to provide a common language of instruction. If a teacher says, “Notice how the author’s use of the adverb at the start of the verse emphasizes how the old woman walks.” Some would carry the memorization further than others: “Notice how the author’s use of the past perfect progressive indicates a continuous action completed at some time in the past.”

2. Identification leads to application. If students can readily identify discrete elements of language, say prepositional phrases, they will more likely be able to replicate and manipulate these grammatical constructions in their own writing. A teacher might suggest, “Let’s add to our sentence variety in this essay by re-ordering one of the sentences to begin with a prepositional phrase like this one shown on the LCD projector.”

3. Focus on the rules of grammar leads to application. If students understand and practice the grammatical rules and their exceptions, they will more likely be able to write with fewer errors. Knowing the rule that a subject case pronoun follows a “to-be” verb will help a student avoid saying or writing “It is me,” instead of the correct construction “It is I.” Some advocate teaching to a planned grammatical scope and sequence; others favor a shotgun approach as with D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) instruction.

4. Distrust one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter. “Whoever John gives the ring to will complain” sounds correct, but “To whomever John gives the ring, he or she will complain” is correct. Knowing pronoun case and the proper use of prepositions will override the colloquialisms of oral language.

5. Teaching the components of sentence construction leads to application. If students know, can identify, and can apply key elements of a sentence: subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, and clauses they will better be able to write complete sentences which fit in with others to form unified and coherent paragraphs.

Whole to Part

The essence of whole to part grammatical instruction is the deductive approach. Advocates believe that back-loading the discrete parts of language as is determined by needs of the writing task will best enable students to write fluently and meaningfully. Following are the key components of this deductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar and identification of grammatical components, other than a few basics such as the parts of speech, subjects, and predicates, does not improve writing and speaking. In fact, teaching grammatical terms and indentifying these elements is reductive. The cost-benefit analysis indicates that more time spent on student writing and less time on direct grammatical instruction produces a better pay-off.

2. Connection to oral language is essential to fluent and effective writing. The students’ abilities to translate the voice of oral language to paper help writers to develop a natural and authentic voice that connects with the reader in an unstilted manner that is not perceived as contrived. A teacher might use mini-lessons to discuss how to code-switch from less formal oral language to more formal written language, say in an essay. For example, a teacher might suggest replacing the fragment slang “She always in his business” to “The couple frequently engages in a physical relationship” in an essay on teen dating.

3. Connection to reading and listening provides the models that students need to mimic and revise to develop their own writing style. Reading and listening to a wide variety of exemplary literature, poetry, and speeches will build a natural feel for the language that students place within their own “writing wells.” Students are able to draw from these wells to write effectively (and correctly) for a variety of writing tasks.

4. Minimizing error analysis. Teachers believe most grammatical errors will naturally decrease with  #2 and #3 in place. A teacher might say, “Don’t worry about your grammar, punctuation, or spelling on your rough draft. Focus now on saying what you want to say. We will worry about how you say it in the revision and editing stages.” Teachers are concerned that too much error analysis, such as practiced in D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) will actually rehearse errors.

5. Teaching the whole paragraph with a focus on coherence will best enable students to apply the discreet parts such as subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, clauses, sentences, and transitions to say something meaningful.

Of course, the Great Grammar Debate is not necessarily “either-or.” Most teachers apply bits and pieces of each approach to teaching grammar. Teachers who lean toward the inductive approach are usually identified by their “drill and kill” worksheets, their grammatical terms posters, and Grammar Girl listed and Purdue University’s OWL prominently in their Favorites. Teachers who lean toward the deductive approach are often pegged by their “ignore and write more” writers workshops, mini-lessons (if they ever get to these), and their writing process posters prominently display on the wall, next to their autographed picture of Donald Graves.

My take? I suggest an informed instructional balance of the two approaches is most effective. Using effective diagnostic assessments can narrow the focus and time commitment of the inductive crowd. Well-planned front-loading of key grammatical terms, with identification and application practice can transfer to better student writing without having to wait until the process of writing osmosis magically takes place.

T

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

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

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

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

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

* For the purposes of this article, I use the term grammar as is colloquially used by most teachers, i.e. to mean syntax, grammar, word choice, usage, punctuation, and even spelling—a catch-all term that most English language-arts teachers use to describe the “stuff” that we “have to , but don’t want to” teach. For the “nuts and bolts” of instruction, knowledge of the above distinctions is useful; however, for the purposes of discussing the two philosophical approaches to teaching grammar, such fine-tuning of terms is not necessitated.

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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.” If a strong, vivid verb does not pop into the brain, HERE is a great list of action verbs, specifically designed for persuasive/argumentative essays, informational/explanatory essays, literary analysis, and narratives (W1.0, 2.0, 3.0 of the Common Core Writing Standards) with useful categories for your students. Thanks to Mary Beth Foster, University of Arizona Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center for compiling this list. 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.

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.

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