Posts Tagged ‘usage’

How to Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

How to Teach Grammar in Literacy Centers

Literacy centers, (also referred to as stations), can serve as the wonderful venues for collaborative discussion of how our culture uses written and spoken language. In other words, our grammar. Now, the way we colloquially use the term grammar in teaching circles is not solely in terms of the function of words and syntax (order) within the context of our culture. Teachers use grammar to refer to sentence structure, parts of speech, parts of a sentence (subjects, objects, predicates, phrases, clauses, etc.), usage (including non-standard forms), capitalization, punctuation, and more. In sum, grammar is a catch-all term for the rules and style of our language. The study of grammar provides teachers and their students with a common language of instruction.

Over the years, as an author of numerous grammar programs and a grammar handbook/style manual, I’ve often been rhetorically questioned along the lines of “Hasn’t research constantly proven that direct instruction of grammar yields no measurable improvement in students’ writing or speaking?”

Depending upon my mood, I usually respond by asking what the questioner means by grammar. The responses vary, but the questioner always moves the discussion to how grammar is taught: a completely separate issue in my view. In my article titled “The Great Grammar Debate,” I summarize the how positions as those favoring a part to whole inductive approach (grammar is taught) and a whole to part deductive approach (grammar is caught).

Even the most ardent critics of teaching grammar deductively agree that oral language acquisition is the greatest contributor to our knowledge of grammar, and even our correct usage. Even the most ardent critics of teaching grammar inductively agree that some knowledge of how our language is put together and used within our culture should inform writing and speaking. Indeed, my view is that grammar should be both caught and taught. I tend to be a both-and teacher.

However, to respond to the how grammar should be taught question, I would argue that the best instructional format for learning and exploring the application of grammar in the context of writing, speaking, and reading is in literacy centers. In literacy centers, students use language to learn language. In a didactic approach to grammar instruction, such as Daily Oral Language, students don’t have the social context to provide immediate feedback to learning, ask questions, or discuss.


If learning about adverbs, students will need to know their definition, be able to identify adverbs, apply adverbs properly in writing and speaking, and analyze the author’s use of adverbs in the assigned reading. Notice that the first two tasks follow the inductive approach to grammar acquisition, while the last two tasks follow the deductive approach.

A literacy center grammar lesson could include the following:

Remember that an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb and answers What degree? How? Where? or When? Any part of speech can serve as an adverb. Let’s identify these four types of adverbs and categorize them from this short reading selection.

Did you know that we always almost use adverbs in a certain adverb order? Sounds funny, doesn’t it? This sounds better: Did you know that we almost always use adverbs in a certain adverb order? The adverb, almost, is a What Degree? adverb; the adverb, always, is a When? adverb. When we write or say a sentence with multiple adverbs, we tend to use them in this order: What degree? How? Where? or When?

Let’s practice together revising these sentences according to the What degree? How? Where? or When? adverb order. Check out the writer’s use of multiple adverbs in this article. Help each other circle the adverbs. Discussion: When does she follow the rule and when does she break the rule regarding adverb order? Why did she choose to break the rule?

The next lesson could involve adverb order in terms of placing shorter adverbial phrases in front of longer ones. Example: We ran more slowly, yet more purposefully.

The following lesson could involve adverb order in terms of placing specific adverbs before general ones. Example: We ran to the corner, then everywhere.

See how the collaborative nature of literacy centers is an effective means of learning and applying grammar? Want to try this approach to grammar instruction?

The author’s Academic Language Conventions Literacy Center provides 56 Common Core-aligned grammar and mechanics lessons designed for literacy centers. Plus, the author has a separate remedial grammar, usage, and mechanics literacy center to help your students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. Check out these programs HERE.

But wait. I’m so confident that teachers will recognize the quality of design and content when they see these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 grammar centers that I’m offering the entire first month-long unit of the Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE (all six centers) free of charge for you to test-drive. If you love them all (you just might), buy the full-year Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE or mix and match by buying the full-year individual centers. I’ve also attached an extensive preview of the Remedial Literacy Centers at the end of the unit for you to check out. Note: Please don’t post this free unit online or share with other teachers.

The individual centers and BUNDLES are available for sale on my Teachers Pay Teachers store and on (use discount code 3716 for 10% off at check-out).

Here’s what you will get in this free, one-month six-center Academic Literacy Center BUNDLE unit (255 pages plus the Remedial Literacy Center preview) sent as a download via email:

Academic Literacy Centers FREE Unit

Reading: Eight leveled expository reading fluency articles with word counts and timing chart. Eight corresponding comprehension worksheets with vocabulary in context. (The only components I can’t give you for this free sample are the modeled YouTube readings at three different reading speeds. You get access to these 129 readings with the paid version of the individual center or the BUNDLE.)

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including multiple meaning words and context clues; Greek and Latin word parts; dictionary and thesaurus practice; figures of speech; word relationships; connotations; and grade-level Academic language words in the Frayer four-square model

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon grade-level conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight self-assessment, study skills, reflection lessons: How to Get Motivated, How to Prevent Procrastination, How to Set Goals, How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, How to Create a Home Study Environment, How to Get Organized for Homework, How to Complete a Daily Review, How to Manage Time for Homework

Prefer to see the extensive previews of each books before you download? Click HERE.

Prefer to watch the video overview before you download? Click HERE.

Check out Pennington Publishing articles on using literacy centers HERE.

You and your students will love these centers! Pick your grade level and get started with your month-long test-drive. You will love these six-center BUNDLES!

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 4 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 5 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 6 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 7 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

Get the FREE UNIT: Grade 8 Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLE FREE Resource:

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ELA and Reading Articles and Resources

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

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


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

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How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

Some teachers would argue that a writer’s voice is so individualized that it must be discovered.

For the uninitiated, the immunity idol is a small, hidden object that fits with the theme of the Survivor location. It is hidden near the tribal camps, or in more recent seasons it has been hidden on Exile Island. If secured by a player, the immunity idol will prevent that contestant from hearing the host’s immortal words, “The tribe has spoken,” which removes the player from further competition.

Survivor players are banished to Exile Island by the other survivors. In fact, some contestants have been sent to the island multiple times. These Robinson Crusoes have no assistance from Fridays, but, with much effort and/or luck, are able to discover clues that will lead them to find the immunity idol.

Constructivists would argue that the only clues provided to developing writers should be widespread reading and unencumbered writing practice. After a journey of self-discovery, the squishy concept of voice may emerge some day for some writing survivors.

The debate hinges somewhat on our definitions of voice. Constructivists tend to adopt a narrow definition that voice is what makes one’s writing unique and personal; the intangibles that demonstrate an honest commitment to its writing.

I take a different view. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing what old-time Strunkers called style, as well as point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). I think that discovering voice should be the result of a guided journey. By the way, the clues on Survivor are quite direct and relevant to the quest; they are not needles in haystacks.

As a reading specialist, I would agree that widespread reading does help students recognize voice; however, I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes. The voice that a student uses to convince a peer to do a favor, should not be the same voice that a student uses to convince a police officer to issue a warning, rather than a speeding ticket.

Here are a few suggestions to teach voice:

  1. Read short passages from writers with diverse voices out loud. Have students identify characteristic diction and intonation (the sound of the writing). Hemingway, King, Jr., Rowling, Shakespeare, and passages from Isaiah are useful. Then, have students mimic the voices of these writers on a topic of teacher or student choice.
  2. Have students practice manipulating the other elements of rhetorical stance (audience, purpose, and form) regularly. Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes, used as bell-ringers, are particularly useful.
  3. Provide word lists, such as strong verbs and feeling words, for students to incorporate into their writing.
  4. Teach students to use poetic elements, such as metaphor, in their narrative and personal writing.
  5. Have students re-write endings of stories or news articles.
  6. Have students re-write third person stories into first person stories.
  7. Have students re-write fairy tales from another point of view, for example, from the wolf’s perspective, rather than that of the pig’s in Three Little Pigs.
  8. Have students identify and re-write the tone of readings. Poetry is a great source for clearly-identifiable tone.
  9. Teach different grammatical sentence openers. Encourage students to avoid “to-be” verbs.
  10. Teach inappropriate writing style and post examples for future student reference. For example, post generic words such as stuff and things and help students brainstorm specific alternatives. Perhaps create a “dead-word or phrase cemetery on a bulletin board.
  11. Have students write essays on controversial and relevant topics to identify divergent points of view, writer commitment to the topic, and sense of audience.
  12. Post a “graffiti board” to encourage students to share their voices.
  13. Have students read their own writing out loud and have their peers identify the elements I define as voice.

Find essay strategy worksheets, rhetorical stance quick writes, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

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