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Knowledge of Language | Anchor Standards for Language

Writing Openers to Teach Knowledge of Language

Writing Openers Language Application

Tucked away in the often-overlooked recesses of the Common Core State Standards, the Anchor Standards for Language includes a practical, if somewhat ambiguous Standard: Knowledge of Language L.3. Over the past decade, I’ve noted with interest that the educational community has cherry-picked certain Standards and ignored others.

As an author of numerous ELA curricula, I assumed that the initial focus (rightfully so) of district curriculum implementation would be the reading, writing, and math Standards. In my field, I decided to write in anticipation of the next focus area. I assumed that, for ELA, it would center on the Anchor Standards for Language. These Language Standards were quite revolutionary in some circles because the Common Core authors emphasized the direct instruction of grammar, usage, and mechanics. Furthermore, the authors provocatively addressed the issue of non-Standard English and seemed to swing the pendulum toward a traditional grammar approach. Think rules, correct and incorrect usage, and application.

Over the next two years I poured hours into the development of comprehensive grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school programs to teach all of the Standards in the Language Strand. My Teaching the Language Strand title was ill-chosen. Much to my chagrin, ELA teachers rarely got past the Reading and Writing Standards. I moved the title to the subtitle position and re-named the series Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand). The longest title in the history of educational publishing. Subsequently, I broke the comprehensive program into affordable grade-level slices and achieved more sales: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language Application, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Even within the largely ignored Anchor Standards for Language, one Standard, in particular, has received scant recognition:

The Hidden Gem: Knowledge of Language Standard L.3

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
 …
The key word in the Knowledge of Language Standard is apply. The somewhat ambiguous term, language, refers to the other five Standards in the Language Strand which encompass grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The purpose of this practical Standard is to help students more fully comprehend how language impacts reading and informs writing and apply this knowledge. The slice of my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) series, which aligns to the Knowledge of Language Standards L.3 is Writing Openers Language Application.
Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides 56 whole-class, twice-per-week “quick writes,” designed to help students learn, practice, and apply grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and sentence variety Standards. The Common Core authors are certainly right that grammar should not be taught solely in isolation. Grammatical instruction needs to be taught in the reading and writing contexts and applied in spoken and written language.

The grade-level Writing Openers programs align to the Anchor Standards for Language:

Each of the 56 lessons takes about 5­-10 minutes to complete. Lessons are derived from the Conventions of Standard English (L. 1, 2), Knowledge and Use of Language Standards (L. 3), and the Language Progressive Skills found in the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. The lessons help students “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” (Common Core Language Strand Knowledge of Language). In other words, lots of practice in sentence revision, sentence combination, and identification of and application of grammar.

The lessons are formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction. The teacher reads and explains the Lesson Focus and Example(s) while students follow along on their own accompanying worksheet. Next, the students annotate the Lesson Focus and summarize the Key Idea(s). Afterwards, the students complete the Practice Section (sentence combining, sentence revisions). Finally, students complete the My Own Sentence writing task. The My Own Sentence serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the Lesson Focus.

Plus, get 13 sentence structure worksheets with answers. Worksheets include simple subjects, compound subjects, simple predicates, compound predicates, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences, identifying sentence fragments, revising sentence fragments, identifying sentence run-ons, revising sentence run-ons, and identifying parallelism.

FREE SAMPLE LESSONS TO TEST-DRIVE THE PROGRAMS

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 4) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 5) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 6) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 7) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 8) Lessons HERE.

Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) is one instructional component of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary grade-level BUNDLES.

*****

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

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

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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Writer’s Handbook | The Pennington Manual of Style

Lately, I’ve received more than my fair share of compliments about my writing. Yesterday, I posted a brief comment on a teacher’s post on the seller’s forum on Teachers Pay Teachers. The author of the post labeled my response as “eloquent.”

Now, I read enough to know that I’m a decent, but not great, writer. However, this is the first time I’ve been accused of being eloquent. My take is that educators have been so acclimated to Facebook, Twitter, and texting writing style, that heretofore normal discourse would, indeed, seem eloquent.

Fortunately, I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. The bright and talented ELA teachers who have recently joined our English staff at the middle school I recently left are looking for a rule of thumb. That search can be frustrating.

Recently, I got tired of answering questions and talking about the serial comma. I decided to take the lazy approach and write the definitive article in favor of retaining the traditional Oxford comma for this, that, and various reasons. My thought was that in the future I will be able to respond to any discourse on this subject with a simple link. In doing a bit of research for the article I looked at various style guides: Modern Language Association, Turabian, Chicago, Associated Press, American Psychological Association, the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, and the go-to web resources of the Purdue Writing Lab (OWL) and Grammar GirlSuch discrepancies and no unanimity! And not just regarding the serial comma. No wonder teachers want a simple and workable set of writing rules.

But which writing rules? Newer ELA teachers are pragmatists. Unlike boomers, they like rules; they want to make sense out of ambiguity. Newer ELA teachers tend to prioritize writing issues. They choose their battles. It reminds me of the writing research at the beginning of my teaching career regarding status errors.

Hairston (1981) suggests that certain errors are perceived as higher status than others. Hairston found that these errors were seen to be more egregious by most teachers: nonstandard verb forms, lack of subject-verb agreement, double negatives, objective pronoun as subject. Other errors are perceived as low status and may not warrant marking: unnecessary or inaccurate modifiers, use of a singular verb with data, use of a colon after a linking verb.

Specifically, teachers wishing to return to some common ground of teaching writing focus on these categories:

  • Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion)
  • Coherence
  • Word Choice
  • Sentence Variety
  • Writing Style
  • Format and Citations
  • Parts of Speech
  • Grammatical Forms
  • Usage
  • Sentence Structure
  • Types of Sentences
  • Mechanics
  • Conventional Spelling Rules.

As the author of the Teaching Essay Strategies program, I decided to include a writer’s handbook within the program: The Pennington Manual of Style. The goal was to create a student-centered handbook which identifies writing problems with clear examples and to provide the applicable solutions. Take a look at a sample preview of the manual including the e-comments on Essay Writing Rules and Style. If interested, navigate back to the following product description:

The Pennington Manual of Style (eBook) sold on its own and also as a slice of the Teaching Essay Strategies program has been designed to serve as a writer’s reference guide for both students and teachers.

The Pennington Manual of Style provides concise definitions, explanations, and clear examples to help developing writers learn what is good writing and why it is good writing. Students also learn what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to fix errors. The manual is organized as follows: Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion), Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format and Citations, Parts of Speech, Grammatical Forms, Usage, Sentence Structure, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules.

For teachers, this guide provides a common language of writing instruction and discourse to use when students submit essays online. The Pennington Manual of Style enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

Using Google docs? Simply batch download your students’ essays into Microsoft Word®. Then open up the essays as Microsoft Word® documents and make your e-Comments. You can then upload them back as Google docs, share the Word® documents in a dropbox, email, or network folder… or print. Quite easy!

Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense     

Essay Response: The Pennington Manual of Style

The Pennington Manual of Style

*Manually responding to essays in red ink can be time-consuming and frustrating. Teachers find themselves using the same comments over and over again, while most students barely glance at their final grade or rubric score and maybe skim the comments before cramming their papers into the depths of their backpacks. Using the computer to respond to student writing solves these problems.

*Having students submit their essays on the computer allows the teacher to insert comprehensive and prescriptive comments in half the time. Students can be held accountable to respond to these comments through revisions and edits.

*Using the 438 e-comments enhances the interactive writing process. The teacher-student interaction changes from static summative evaluation to dynamic formative assessment. This is not an “automatic” grading program. Teachers choose which comments to insert, according to the needs of their students.

*Teachers can edit the 438 e-comments and add in their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Imagine… inserting a quick audio comment to summarize relative strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Unlike other e-grading programs, teachers can save their custom comments.

*Teachers can link to resource sites to provide additional practice or reference.

*Teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!

*Students can use the Essay e-Comments and add their own for peer response.

*Essay e-Comments can be added onto all teacher and student computers at school and at home, enhancing the social nature of writing response.

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Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Teaching Essay Strategies Program

Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to teach both the writing process essays and the accompanying writing strategies. The program includes the following resources:

Eight Writing Process Essays

The program includes the writing prompts, resource texts, graphic organizers, response, revision, and editing resources to teach eight Writing Process Essays. The first four essays are in the informative/explanatory genre (Common Core Writing Standard 2.0). The last four essays are in the argumentative/persuasive writing genre (Common Core Writing Standard 1.0). Accompanying resource texts include both literary and informational forms, as prescribed by the Common Core Reading Standards.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

This essay curriculum is built upon comprehensive assessment. Each of the eight Writing Process Essays begins with an on-demand diagnostic assessment. Teachers grade this writing task according to relative strengths and weaknesses on an analytical rubric.

Teachers differentiate writing instruction according to this diagnostic data with mini-lessons and targeted worksheets. Remedial resources include lessons in subject-predicate, sentence structure, sentence fragments and run-ons, essay structure, paragraph organization, types of evidence, transitions, essay genre, writing direction words, proofreading, introduction strategies, and conclusion strategies. Advanced resources include lessons in fallacious reasoning, logic, coherence, unity, sentence variety, parallelism, grammatical sentence openers, and writing style.

Formative and Summative Assessment with Essay e-Comments

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the tools for interactive formative assessment. This program includes a downloadable essay e-comments bank of 438 comprehensive and prescriptive writing comments. Teachers who have their students submit their essays electronically can insert these comments into a student’s essay with a click of the mouse. The essay e-comments cut writing response and grading time in half and give students all the tools they need to revise and edit effectively.

Comments cover writing evidence, coherence, essay organization, sentence structure, writing style, grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling—all with concise definitions and examples. Teachers can also add in content links and their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Students revise and edit with Microsoft Word “Track Changes,” then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like professional writers do with their editors! Teachers enter the results of their formative and summative assessments on the analytical rubric. Works on all Windows versions.

Essay Strategy Worksheets

To master the essay strategies detailed in Common Core Writing Standards 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0, students complete 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets. Students move from simple three-word paragraphs to complex multi-paragraph Common Core Writing Standard 1.0 and 2.0 essays, using a time-tested numerical hierarchy for essay organization. This “coding” takes the mystery out of how to organize and compose coherent and unified essays. Students learn and apply the essay writing rules, essay structure, introduction strategies, evidence and argument, conclusion strategies, and all of the common grammatical sentence models in the context of authentic writing practice.

Writing Openers and Quick Writes

Teaching Essay Strategies includes a full year of Sentence Revision (sentence combining, sentence manipulation, and grammatical sentence models), Writing StyleOpeners, and Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students practice writing dexterity and writing fluency (Common Core Writing Standard 10.0). These 10-minute “openers” require no advance preparation and no teacher correction.

Writing Posters

Get 59 pages of colorful writing posters to serve as anchor charts to teach and reinforce the key instructional components of the program including Essay Direction Words, Essay Rules, Introduction Strategies,Types of Evidence, Conclusion Strategies, Writing Style, Essay Numerical Hierarchy, Limit Using “to–be” Verbs, First and Second Person Pronouns, Transitions, and Editing Marks.

How much class time does it take per week?

The complete Teaching Essay Strategies program takes 70 minutes per week of class time. The resources in this book are user-friendly. Absolutely no prep time is required to teach this curriculum.

is a comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Writing Standards. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to teach both the writing process essays and the accompanying writing strategies.

The Teaching Essay Strategies program includes the following resources:

Eight Writing Process Essays

The program includes the writing prompts, resource texts, graphic organizers, response, revision, and editing resources to teach eight Writing Process Essays. The first four essays are in the informative/explanatory genre (Common Core Writing Standard 2.0). The last four essays are in the argumentative/persuasive writing genre (Common Core Writing Standard 1.0). Accompanying resource texts include both literary and informational forms, as prescribed by the Common Core Reading Standards.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

This essay curriculum is built upon comprehensive assessment. Each of the eight Writing Process Essays begins with an on-demand diagnostic assessment. Teachers grade this writing task according to relative strengths and weaknesses on an analytical rubric.

Teachers differentiate writing instruction according to this diagnostic data with mini-lessons and targeted worksheets. Remedial resources include lessons in subject-predicate, sentence structure, sentence fragments and run-ons, essay structure, paragraph organization, types of evidence, transitions, essay genre, writing direction words, proofreading, introduction strategies, and conclusion strategies. Advanced resources include lessons in fallacious reasoning, logic, coherence, unity, sentence variety, parallelism, grammatical sentence openers, and writing style.

Formative and Summative Assessment with Essay e-Comments

Teaching Essay Strategies provides the tools for interactive formative assessment. This program includes a downloadable essay e-comments bank of 438 comprehensive and prescriptive writing comments. Teachers who have their students submit their essays electronically can insert these comments into a student’s essay with a click of the mouse. The essay e-comments cut writing response and grading time in half and give students all the tools they need to revise and edit effectively.

Comments cover writing evidence, coherence, essay organization, sentence structure, writing style, grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling—all with concise definitions and examples. Teachers can also add in content links and their own personalized comments with text or audio files. Students revise and edit with Microsoft Word “Track Changes,” then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like professional writers do with their editors! Teachers enter the results of their formative and summative assessments on the analytical rubric. Works on all Windows versions.

Essay Strategy Worksheets

To master the essay strategies detailed in Common Core Writing Standards 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0, students complete 42 Essay Strategy Worksheets. Students move from simple three-word paragraphs to complex multi-paragraph Common Core Writing Standard 1.0 and 2.0 essays, using a time-tested numerical hierarchy for essay organization. This “coding” takes the mystery out of how to organize and compose coherent and unified essays. Students learn and apply the essay writing rules, essay structure, introduction strategies, evidence and argument, conclusion strategies, and all of the common grammatical sentence models in the context of authentic writing practice.

Writing Openers and Quick Writes

Teaching Essay Strategies includes a full year of Sentence Revision (sentence combining, sentence manipulation, and grammatical sentence models), Writing StyleOpeners, and Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes to help students practice writing dexterity and writing fluency (Common Core Writing Standard 10.0). These 10-minute “openers” require no advance preparation and no teacher correction.

Writing Posters

Get 59 pages of colorful writing posters to serve as anchor charts to teach and reinforce the key instructional components of the program including Essay Direction Words, Essay Rules, Introduction Strategies,Types of Evidence, Conclusion Strategies, Writing Style, Essay Numerical Hierarchy, Limit Using “to–be” Verbs, First and Second Person Pronouns, Transitions, and Editing Marks.

How much class time does it take per week?

The complete Teaching Essay Strategies program takes 70 minutes per week of class time. The resources in this book are user-friendly. Absolutely no prep time is required to teach this curriculum.

Writing Openers Language Application

Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides 56 whole-class, twice-per-week “quick writes,” designed to help students learn, practice, and apply grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and sentence variety Standards. The Common Core authors are certainly right that grammar should not be taught solely in isolation. Grammatical instruction needs to be taught in the reading and writing contexts and applied in spoken and written language.

Each of the 56 lessons takes about 5­-10 minutes to complete. Lessons are derived from the Conventions of Standard English (L. 1, 2), Knowledge and Use of Language Standards (L. 3), and the Language Progressive Skills found in the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. The lessons help students “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” (Common Core Language Strand Knowledge of Language). In other words, lots of practice in sentence revision, sentence combination, and identification of and application of grammar.

The lessons are formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction. The teacher reads and explains the Lesson Focus and Example(s) while students follow along on their own accompanying worksheet. Next, the students annotate the Lesson Focus and summarize the Key Idea(s). Afterwards, the students complete the Practice Section (sentence combining, sentence revisions). Finally, students complete the My Own Sentence writing task. The My Own Sentence serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the Lesson Focus.

Check out the extensive preview of Teaching Reading Strategies, including an entire writing process essay with analytical rubric, HERE.

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Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Academic Literacy Centers

As most teachers have now adjusted their writing instruction and practice into the narrowed focus of the Common Core State Standards (more research and essays and less stories and creative writing), I see a renewed interest in developing the skill sets of student writers.

Teachers have, understandably, focused on the first three Common Core Writing Standards: 1. The argumentative (essay) 2. The informational/explanatory (essay or report) 3. The narrative (story). Most teachers have had professional development in these three genre and teach all three at some time within each school year.

Additionally, most teachers are now implementing Writing Standards W.6, 7, 8, and 9 by using technology for short or extended research writing projects.

However, teachers are less familiar with the other three writing standards and few are well-acquainted with the relevant language standard. Teachers usually refer to these standards as writing skills or strategies. Typically, teachers have taught these tools in isolation as writing openers/worksheets or in the writing context as mini-lessons/editing. These skills or strategies are ideally suited to literacy center (station) lessons.

Following are the often-neglected writing and language standards:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Teachers have used three research-based strategies to teach these writing skills or strategies: 1. Frequent, short, and focused writing practice 2. Sentence revisions 3. Literary response

How to Teach to These Standards

Fortunately, #s 2 and 3 are best accomplished by #1.

Sentence Revision (called by many other names) includes quick, focused instruction and repetitive practice in precise word choice, sentence structure (grammar, usage, and syntax), and sentence variety (varied grammatical forms, sentence combining, sentence length, parallelism, etc.)

Literary Response includes learning from accomplished writers. Teachers have used both expository and narrative mentor texts for years to model how writers communicate artfully and memorably. Typically, students respond to mentor texts in different rhetorical modes (rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form) to develop their own writing style.

If you glance back at the often-neglected writing and language standards above, you’ll see how sentence revision and literary response activities address the components of these standards and can be taught and practiced in frequent, short, and focused writing practice.

One great way to teach sentence revision and literary response writing skills is in literacy centers (stations). The social nature of collaborative writing is especially conducive to literacy centers.

 

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

Get the Writing Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

Now that teachers have had plenty of professional development in how to write arguments (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1) and informative/explanatory texts (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2), teachers are looking at their students’ essays or narratives (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3) with a collective sigh. Students just cannot write.

Students seem to understand the content, they know the demands and constraints of the writing genre, they can dissect a writing prompt, they know the writing process… but the words they use, the sentences they construct, and the intangible feeling our student writers convey simply do not engage their readers (teachers especially).

The Problem

Many teachers are not equipping their students with the tools they need in their tool belts. Or, just as bad, teachers introduce the tools, but don’t provide the practice students need to master the tools.

The Solution

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

Fortunately, the Common Core authors do acknowledge the importance of teaching both sentence revisions and literary response in both the Anchor Standards for Writing and the Anchor Standards for Language (highlighting my own):

Writing Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language Anchor Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Suggestions

Keep your focus on both the content and process of writing. Maintain a balance of extended writing process assignments (especially essays and stories) and short, say twice-per-week writing skill development, especially using sentence revisions and literary response activities.

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

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Essay Body Paragraphs

When I students how to write evidence in essay body paragraphs, I tell them to imagine themselves as a jury in a murder trial. Each juror will be convinced by different types of evidence. Some lean on eyewitness testimony; others only trust forensic evidence; one or two may be swayed by the logic of circumstantial Wouldn’t it make sense for a prosecuting attorney to reach out to all juror interests to make her case?

Similarly, student writers need to consider the needs of their audience in the types of evidence they include in essay body paragraphs. Following are eight types of evidence with a clever memory trick for students to reference. Of course, not all eight types of evidence would be appropriate for all argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays.

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE C

1. Fact means something actually done or said.

Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

2. Example is a part of something used to explain the whole thing.

Peas, beans, and corn are examples of vegetables.

3. Statistic is an amount, fraction, or percentage learned from scientific research.

The world has over 7 billion people; half live in Asia; only 5% live in the United States.

4. Comparison means to show how one thing is like or unlike another.

Both automobiles are available with hybrid engines, but only one has an all-electric plug-in option.

5. Authority is an expert which can be quoted to support a claim or a topic.

According to the Surgeon General of the United States, “Smoking is the chief cause of lung cancer.”

6. Logic is deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning.

All fruits have vitamins and apples are fruits, so apples have vitamins. The first 10 crayons I picked were red, so the whole box must be filled with red crayons.

7. Experience is a personal observation of or participation in an event.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back requires careful planning and takes most of the day.

8. Counterclaim is the argument against one’s point of view, which the writer then minimizes or refutes (proves wrong).

Some argue that a high protein diet is healthy because… However, most doctors disagree due to…

Want to download and print 8 colorful types of evidence posters with explanations and examples? Click Types of Evidence Posters.

Teachers may also be interested in these three articles: How to Improve Writing StyleHow to Write an Introduction and How to Write a Conclusion. Each article includes a link to different writing posters. All are free to download, print, and use as reference tools for your students.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Need the step-by-step resources to teach the argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays? Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, 64 rhetorical stance openers, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency practice, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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How to Teach Main Idea

Finding the main idea is a basic reading comprehension skill. However, basic does not mean easy. Main idea questions are found on every normed reading comprehension assessment and are the most frequently asked types of questions on the passage-based reading questions of the SAT®. Following are a workable definition, some important disclaimers, and a few critical strategies which will make sense out of this sometimes challenging task for readers of all ages.

Definition: In Googling the meaning of main idea, these two useful entries pop up:

  • The gist of a passage; central thought; the chief topic of a passage expressed or implied in a word or phrase; the topic sentence of a paragraph; a statement that gives the explicit or implied major topic of a passage and the specific way in which the passage is limited in content or reference.
    csmpx.ucop.edu/crlp/resources/glossary.html
  • The main idea of an essay, or other written discourse, is the point that the author is trying to make. It is the most important thing that he wants you to understand about the topic. It is most often stated explicitly, although in narrative essays or in fiction it may be implicit. …
    www.moonstar.com/~acpjr/Blackboard/Common/Glossary/GlossTwo.html

Disclaimers: What main idea is not…

  • Main idea is not the same as the topic.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the thesis statement.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the topic sentence(s).
  • Main idea is not found within the narrative domain of writing, unless tagged on by the author to comment on the story such as with a moral at the end of a fairy tale.
  • Main idea is not limited to one per reading selection.
  • Main idea is not a generalization or something necessarily broad in scope.
  • Main idea is not the minor detail of a reading selection.

Finding Main Idea: Strategies that Readers Can Use

Organization: Access the Writing Connection

Knowing the structure of expository writing (informational, explanatory, analytical, and persuasive) can help readers identify main idea(s) in a reading selection. Reading and writing instruction mirror one another. The reading-writing connection is well-established in research.

  • The thesis statement tells the purpose or point of view of the exposition. Finding the thesis statement will help the reader learn the parameters of the main ideas. Muchlike an umbrella, the thesis statement is designed to cover the main idea(s) of a reading/writing selection. As a starting point, research demonstrates that about 50% of expository writing includes the thesis statement in the last sentence of the introduction.
  • The topic sentences can serve as main ideas in a reading/writing selection. Major details and minor details pertain to, provide support to, and are limited to the topic sentence in any essay body paragraph.
  • The main idea(s) can be repeated in expository writing—frequently in the conclusion.

Language of Instruction

Often the language of the reading text itself or the language of test problems can help readers identify main ideas. In addition to using the phase, main idea, the following references are used in expository text and on standardized tests:

  • “best”                                                  Another answer may be acceptable, but this one most closely fits.
  • “mainly”                                              Not completely, but most importantly.
  • “chiefly”                                              Compared to the others, this is above the rest.
  • “primarily”                                          This means mainly or the chief one, before all others.
  • “most likely”                                       A logical prediction or conclusion.
  • “most directly”                                   Most specifically.

Process of Elimination: Goldilocks and Wanted Posters

Much like Goldilocks eliminates the porridge, chairs, and beds of Papa Bear and Momma Bear from consideration in favor of those of Baby Bear’s, the careful reader can eliminate what is too general and what is too detailed to identify the “just right” the main idea(s).

  • If the material lacks specificity and so is hard to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is too general to be the main idea(s). Imagine a wanted poster that does not focus in on the specific recognizable physical traits that would help an observer identify the accused criminal in person, but instead affords only hints of the accused’s characteristics with a general description, association, or category.
  • If the material is too specific and so is difficult to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is probably a major or minor detail that supports the main idea(s). Picture a wanted poster that focuses in on only a part of the whole. Even if that part is the most recognizable physical trait, the accused criminal will not be identifiable unless there is adequate perspective and context.

The “just right” balance of specificity, perspective and context on a wanted poster will enable the observer to identify the accused criminal. Similarly, that same balance will help readers identify the main idea(s) in a reading selection.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

TOO GENERAL/TOO SPECIFIC/ MAIN IDEA (Jesse James Wanted Posters)


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How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science, including the categories of transitions and what each transition means. Teachers can also help students learn how and where to use them with appropriate punctuation.

However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. Teachers do well to point out the effective use of transitions in exemplary writing models and help students mimic these in their own writing. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing voices.

Before teachers launch into instructional strategies, they need to make the case for their students that transitions are necessary for effective writing.

Transitions are Necessary

Transitions provide connections between words and ideas. They also signal change. Without transitions, reading comprehension is minimized. Here are a few classroom-tested activities that will help students see how transitions are essential.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bring in the materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife, and plenty of napkins. Tell students to write detailed instructions about how to make this American classic. Then, collect the instructions and call on a few students to follow the directions exactly as you read them. If the transitions are not perfect, you will definitely need the napkins.

Learn and play a new game. Gather a bunch of different board games and/or decks of cards, each with a printed set of directions. Find different card game directions at this site.  Match students to games they have never played. Students learn and play the new game. The teacher directs the students to put away the game and directions and students are to compose their own directions for the game from memory, using effective transitions. Great for sequencing skills, too. Extension: Jigsaw students and have them follow student-created directions to try and learn how to play a new game. Further extension: Have students “tweak” the directions of an existing game and play it as revised. Even further extension: Have students create their own board or card games.

Learning Transitions

Students must understand the definition of the transition words and their categorical relationships.

Instructional Strategies: Teach the meanings of transition words in the context of transition categories. Have students read passages that use different transition categories and discuss. Have students complete a Cloze Procedure, using those same passages. Following are the transition categories (What You Need to Signal) and the common transitions:

What You Need to Signal                  Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

Using Transitions

Students must understand basic sentence syntax, to know where to place transition words.

Transitions can open paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be placed mid-sentence to connect ideas. Transitions can close paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be used to place emphasis on a certain sentence or paragraph component.

Instructional Strategies: Assign students a variety of writing tasks that will each require the use of different transition categories. Have students practice sentence revisions in which they place existing transition words at a different part of the sentence. Have students change transition words ending paragraphs to the beginning of the next paragraph and vice-versa. Have students compose compound and compound-complex sentences with transition words and then revise the placement of these transitions for different emphasis.

A Few Things to Avoid

Remind students that overusing transition words is almost as bad as not using transition words. Don’t teach structured transitions, such as these: Always place transitions at the end of an introduction. Always place transitions in a concluding statement ending a body paragraph. Always begin a conclusion with a transition. By the way, although most teachers insist upon a thesis restatement, most published essays do not have them. Two good rules of thumb apply: If the thesis restatement is expected, such as on the SAT 1® essay, write one. If the essay is long, use one; if it is short, don’t. Don’t use transitions solely as an editing skill.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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