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Posts Tagged ‘writing strategies’

Context Clues in Reading and Writing

We teachers love a bargain. Especially a “two-for one” bargain. the two for one skill which can be used in more than one context. We are all about efficiency! Context clues strategies provide that skill which can be used both to improve reading comprehension and writing clarity and coherence.

Reading and writing do have a reciprocal relationship. Check out my Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection on the Pennington Publishing Blog when you have time. Learning context clues strategies helps students not only understand and apply new words, but also helps students apply more precise vocabulary in their writing to improve clarity and coherence.

So, how can you get students to use context clues in their reading and writing? Teach the memorable FP’S BAG SALE strategy. Click on this Context Clues Worksheets Resource to download the strategy (see below) and two accompanying worksheets (with answers).

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

But wouldn’t it be better to teach Tier II (academic) and III (domain specific) reading and writing vocabulary by using the dictionary?

No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading and for precise usage in writing. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for most reading and writing.

So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be mastered with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied both to figure out the meaning of many unknown words in reading and to support the use of technical language in writing. Teach students to use the whole FP’S BAG SALE strategy for reading and the last part, i.e., the SALE strategy for writing.

FP’S BAG SALE

  • Finish the sentence. See how the word fits into the whole sentence.
  • Pronounce the word out loud. Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.
  • Syllables–Examine each word part. Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.
  • Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word. The sentence before can hint at what the word means.
  • After–Read the sentence after the unknown word. The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.
  • Grammar–Determine the part of speech. Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.
  • Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym. Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used. Example: The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.
  • Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym. Antonym clues will often use Signal Words such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He promised innovation, not keeping things the way they are.
  • Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning. Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word. Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.
  • Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example, either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

When shouldn’t we encourage students to use context clues?

Using context clues to guess the pronunciation and meanings of Tier I words (conversational, not academic English) is not efficient. Teaching students to use the alphabetic code (phonics) to sound out words and syllabication skills plus the conventional spelling rules (encoding) to write these words is essential. Context clues strategies are not useful for the “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” whole language method of developing word identification and word recognition.

Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.”

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

The program is also useful for grade-level syllabication skill worksheets, reading fluency practice, and reading comprehension development. With the tiered grade-level design of the fluency and comprehension worksheets, students will develop confidence reading at increasingly more challenging levels. Perfect scaffolded instruction for a classroom of diverse learners.

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How to Grade Writing

How can we effectively assess student writing? Should we grade upon effort, completion, standards, achievement, or improvement? Is our primary task to respond or to grade?

Here’s my take. We should grade based upon how well students have met our instructional objectives. Because each writer is at a different place, we begin at that place and evaluate the degree to which the student has learned and applied that learning, in terms of effort and achievement. But, our primary task is informed response based upon effective assessment. That’s how to grade writing.

For example, here may be an effective procedure for a writing task as it winds its way through the Writing Process: Read more…

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Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else. With the new PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments, the tail is wagging the dog once again. Teachers are spending valuable class time test prepping and changing instruction to be more test-friendly. The tests themselves take an inordinate amount of class time. Last year at my middle school, we English-language arts teachers had the task of testing all subject area. It took two weeks out of our teaching schedule to administer all of the tests.

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.

Mark,

This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

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

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

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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

 

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Free Reading Intervention (RtI) Resources

As the mandates of the Response to Intervention (RtI) process continue to transfer to public schools, special education and classroom teachers are hurrying to find appropriate resources to differentiate literacy instruction for their students. What these teachers find is that one-size-fits-all canned reading, writing, and math programs simply do not match the needs of all of their students. Additionally, many intervention teachers find that scripted programs tend to ignore teacher experience, judgment, and expertise. Instead, RtI teachers need the resources that will allow them  to differentiate literacy instruction without becoming robots. The three-tiered RtI model looks good in the triangle diagram, but quality resources are essential to make these delivery models address the needs of their students.

Most special education and classroom teachers are very prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. They know how to teach. Their undergraduate and graduate courses have adequately prepared them for these tasks. However, most teachers are less prepared to teach reading, writing, and math intervention classes. For example, most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses. So, choosing appropriate instructional resources that will facilitate differentiated instruction, according to diagnostic and formative data are critically important.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach reading and writing intervention within the RtI process from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Response to Intervention

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-reasons-teachers-avoid-rti-collaboration/

If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Are You Ready for RtI?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/are-you-ready-for-rti/

The RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children.

Teaching Reading Strategies Audio Resources

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/animal-name-sound-and-spelling-chants/

The 13 classroom-tested diagnostic reading assessments provided in the Teaching Reading Strategies program are administered in the first two weeks of instruction and assess all reading skills—each in multiple choice format. That’s right. No individual time-consuming testing—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Plus, 8 of the 13 tests include convenient audio files for easy test administration. Each of the 13 assessments is comprehensive and prescriptive. Unlike most reading assessments, none of the assessments (other than the phonemic awareness tests) is based on random sample. Everything you need to teach (or not teach) is assessed. Download these mp3s to up the level of your assessment-based instruction and get corresponding activities and worksheets in Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books

What to Teach in Reading Intervention

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/what-to-teach-in-reading-intervention/ 

Key instructional components are needed in any successful Tier II and III reading intervention programs. A balanced approach of decoding, encoding, syllabication, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency development will achieve significant results in minimal time. Check out these instructional resources and improve the quality of reading instruction in your classroom.

Reading Program Placement

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/uncategorized/reading-program-placement/

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

How to Teach Reading Intervention

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-intervention/

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. This article defines the key ingredients for a successful reading intervention program and provides an instructional template.

Student-Centered Reading Intervention

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/student-centered-reading-intervention/

So many teachers look at the Response to Intervention literature and try to apply Tier I, II, and III models to their own instructional settings. Square pegs in round holes more often than not lead to frustration and failure. While reading specialists certainly support the concept of tiered interventions, the non-purists know that implementation of any site-based reading intervention is going to need to adapt to any given number of constraints.

Instead of beginning with top-down program structure, I suggest looking bottom-up. Starting at the instructional needs of below grade level readers and establishing instructional priorities should determine the essentials of any reading intervention program. In other words, an effective site reading intervention program begins with your students.

Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/teaching-reading-strategies-and-rti/

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides both Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies delivery model is teacher-based, not computer-based (except for the online modeled fluency readings).

Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/schoolwide-independent-reading-program/

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. However, I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. No, I’m certainly not advocating the AR program: See my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/high-fluency-low-reading-comprehension/

What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension? Check out the six actions steps designed to address this problem and download the helpful instructional strategies and free resources.

Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/read-180-foundational-reading-assessment/

The Foundational Reading Assessment (designed by Dr. Richard K. Wagner as a K-2 test and published as such for another program) consists of a short random sample 12 rhymes, initial, final, and medial sounds (3 each). I can hear kindergarten teachers cringing at the sample size and components. The take-away from my article is that the test assesses only part of what constitutes phonological or phonemic awareness and is not teachable because it is not comprehensive.

READ 180 and Phonemic Awareness

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/read-180-and-phonemic-awareness/

In this article I’m taking a look at the phonological awareness component from one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The second assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. In my first article on these two reading intervention programs, I noted my concern that no encoding (spelling) test was included as part of the screening and placement assessments for READ 180. Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test has always been part of the competing Language!® program.

Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/comparing-read-180-and-language-live/

As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and READ 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. Which is better for your students, and are there any low cost alternatives to these expensive computer-based programs?

Word Families (Rimes) Activities

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/rimes-word-families-activities/

Learning the common word families (rimes) can help beginning or remedial readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. For example, if students learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets, to form “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.” Check out the most common rimes and some fun rimes activities to use at home or in the classroom.

Sight Word Activities

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/sight-word-activities/

Most every reading teacher places some value onsight wordsinstruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and loveare Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, so they need to be memorized. Here is a list of the essential Outlaw Words with some fun practice activities and an Outlaw Words reading fluency to assess mastery in the reading context.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/phonemic-awareness-activities/

Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. Both beginning and remedial readers may need to learn these phonemic awareness skills: rhyme, alphabet, syllable, phonemic isolation, blending, and segmenting. Check out the list of phonemes, six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments, and six corresponding activities to teach phonemic awareness in the home or in the classroom.

How to Teach Phonics

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-phonics/

Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text. Check out the colorful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap (Mp3 file), the Consonant Blend Cards, whole-class phonemic awareness and phonics diagnostic assessments, the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence with accompanying teaching script, and some great phonics games ALL FREE in this article.

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/what-effective-and-ineffective-rti-look-like/

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

Eight RtI-Reading Intervention Models

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eight-rti-reading-intervention-models/

As administrators, special education teachers, EL coordinators, reading specialists, and teachers are scrambling to see how new Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines will work with resources, personnel, schedules, and student populations, it may be helpful to examine eight of the many intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format.

Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/response-to-intervention-what-just-wont-work/

With the newly released RtI document and as states and districts scramble to conform to Race to the Top carrots and sticks, voices of experience need to begin shouting quickly and boldly to be heard. Although I commend the International Reading Association (IRA) for assigning reading assessment a prominent role in their Response to Intervention (RtI) document, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic.

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

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Free Writing Style Resources

Writing style is an umbrella term which includes writing rules and conventions, the voice or personality of the writer, how the writer interacts with his or her audience, what the author says, his or her purpose for writing, and how the author says what is said (including form, word choice, grammar, and sentence structure). Writing style also includes the personal agenda and collective experience of the writer. Writing style is all about the writer and his or her choices.

English-language arts teachers tend to argue about whether writing style is caught or taught. In my mind it’s both. Exposure to and recognition of unique writing styles through wide reading of a variety of prose and poetry provides a context for developing writers to experiment with their own voices. Teaching accepted writing rules, practicing sentence combining, requiring different grammatical sentence structures, etc. all impact what and how students write.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Writing Style

How to Improve Writing Style

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-improve-writing-style/

Writing style is personal, but also follows a traditional, widely agreed-to form. Indeed, good writing style does have objective rules to follow. Here are the key rules of writing style, written with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek examples. This article lists 24 writing style rules in a truly memorable way.

Writing Style

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/writing-style/

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing. Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability.

How to Improve Writing Unity

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-improve-writing-unity/

Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic sentences and thesis statement. From the reader’s point of view, writing unity means that there are no irrelevant (off the point) details and that the tone of the writing remains consistent. This article gives good and bad examples of writing unity and provides strategies to improve your writing.

How to Improve Writing Parallelism

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-improve-writing-parallelism/

Writing parallelism refers to the repeated pattern of words and grammatical structures. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing. Improve your writing style and readability by incorporating parallelism in your writing.

How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-improve-your-writing-style-with-grammatical-sentence-openers/

To improve writing style and increase readability, learn how to vary sentence structures. Starting sentences with different grammatical sentence openers is the easiest way to add sentence variety. This article lists, explains, and provides clear examples for grammatical sentence openers.

Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-authentic-voice/

Music creates the passion, commitment, and authentic voice that we want to see in our students’ writing. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters.

How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-develop-voice-in-student-writing/

For students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Here are 13 teaching tips to help students find their own voices.

Teaching Essay Style: 15 Tricks of the Trade

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/teaching-essay-style-15-tricks-of-the-trade/

“Never start a sentence with But.” Countless middle school and high school English-language arts teachers cringe when their students faithfully repeat this elementary school dictum. “Never use I in your five-paragraph essay.” Now university professors similarly cringe and shake their heads at the straight-jacketed rules placed upon their students. However, maybe there is a method to our madness. Perhaps these writing absolutes serve a useful purpose for developing writers. Perhaps the little white lies that we teach our students are actually our tricks of the trade.

How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-teach-rhetorical-stance/

Students need to practice the elements of rhetorical stance to improve their writing. This article provides clear definitions and a great sample lesson with useful links to learn how to teach voice, audience, purpose, and form to your students.

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

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Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense.

How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs in Writing

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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.”

How to Teach Helping Verbs

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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.

The Seven Essay Writing Rules

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Essays have certain traditional rules that help maintain a fair and balanced writing style. This article details the seven key essay writing rules with clear examples.

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

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Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive writing curriculum, designed to teach your students how to write coherent multi-paragraph essays. Students progress at their own pace through 42 sequential essay strategy worksheets and  skill lessons (including writing style, parallelism, coherency, unity, and writing evidence) to compose 8 complete essays in the different essay genres. Also get 64 sentence revision (sentence combining and grammatical sentence patterns) and 64 rhetorical stance “opener” lessons, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, remedial writing worksheets, writing posters, holistic and analytical rubrics, graphic organizers, The Pennington Manual of Style with insertable e-comments, and extensive editing resources. No other writing program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum. Truly individualize  instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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Free Resources to Teach the Writing Process and Writer’s Workshop

The Writing Process and Writers Workshop are not simply processes by which students explore and refine their writing on their own. The teacher plays an active role in teaching and modeling the writing strategies that students need to acquire to become coherent writers. Both explicit and implicit instruction have their appropriate roles within writing instruction. Creating  and maintaining an experimental community of writers is no easy task for the writing instructor. However, the pay-offs are certainly worth the effort.

The diverse classroom provides unique challenges for both students and writing instructor. By its very nature, much of writing instruction is differentiated instruction. Classroom management and creation of a workable writing climate are essentials to successful learning.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to facilitate the Writing Process and Writers Workshop from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

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Many teachers take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Work smarter, not harder, while focusing on efficiency and outcomes.

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

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Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

Why Using Essay e-C0mments Makes Sense

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Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Check out a common sense approach to save you grading time and do a better job of writer response.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

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Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while doing a better job providing essay response.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/the-difference-between-claims-and-facts/

This article discusses the important differences between a fact and a claim. Plus, learn how knowing the differences should affect your teaching the argumentative essay.

Using Evidence in Writing

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/using-evidence-in-writing/

Teaching students to use appropriate evidence in argumentative essays is a difficult task. Students generally understand how to use textual evidence in direct and indirect quotations, but are less adept at creating reasons apart from the text itself. Teach your students the eight types of essay evidence with the memorable FE SCALE CC strategies.

438 Essay e-Comments

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/438-essay-e-comments/

The Pennington Manual of Style, sold as a separate product and also as part of the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program, 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. Here are the 438 Essay e-Comments.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-much-and-what-to-mark-on-essays/

For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Working smarter, not harder and focusing on efficiency and outcomes over pedagogical purity are worthy mantras for effective writing instruction.

How to Dissect a Writing Prompt

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Knowing exactly what the writing assignment requires in terms of the audience, role of the writer, topic and its context, purpose of the essay, essay format, resource text, and key writing direction words are all necessary components of this task. Following is a step-by-step procedure for dissecting a writing prompt.

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

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So, to summarize how many essay comments and what kind, writing research would suggest the following: Comment on rough drafts, not final drafts. Limit the amount of comments and individualize those to the needs of the student writer. Balance the types of comments between writing errors and issues of style, argument, structure, and evidence. Hold students accountable for each mark or comment. Comments are better than diacritical marks alone. Comments should explain what is wrong or explain the writing issue.

Computer-Scored Essays

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Teachers recognize the value of essay compositions as vital tools for learning, self-expression, and assessment. However, essays just take too much time to read, respond to, and evaluate. As a result, computer-scoring of student writing is being actively marketed to K-12 schools and universities. But teacher organizations, such as the NCTE and CCCC adamantly oppose machine-scored writing. Is there a middle ground that uses technological efficiency and maintains teacher judgment?

Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

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With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers. Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well.

Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/differentiating-instruction-in-writer%E2%80%99s-workshop/

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered. Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Specifically, tweaking the mini-lesson will allow teachers to better differentiate instruction within Writer’s Workshop.

Essay Comment Excuses

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/essay-comment-excuses/

Teachers know that detailed essay comments are keys to effective writing instruction but are adept at creating essay comment excuses to avoid the time and energy it takes to do the job. But, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments. Ones to cut and paste from your computer. But… really good ones.

Analytical Rubrics

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/analytical-rubrics/

Teachers use two types of rubrics to assess student writing: holistic and analytic. Of the two rubrics, the analytical rubric offers both teachers and students much more to work with to improve student writing. Here are five reasons why using analytical rubrics makes sense.

What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics?

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It’s a relatively easy task to criticize any measure of writing assessment. This is my chore in What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics. We should use holistic rubrics for many writing assessments. However, we shouldn’t use holistic rubrics to teach writing. Holistic rubrics are, by design, summative assessments. Summative assessment is limited to evaluation, and evaluation is not instruction.

20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/20-tips-to-teach-writing-through-music/

Students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-balanced-writing-program/

Teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced writing program makes sense. Learn the six steps to take to develop a balanced and effective writing program.

Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate

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Using the craft of songwriting as a guide, the writing teacher can develop a productive writing climate. Combining resources, collaboration, and competition with an atmosphere of social networking can improve student motivation, commitment, and end product.

Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-a-creative-writing-culture/

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing.

Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ten-tips-for-coaching-basketball-and-writing/

Learning to apply the coaching techniques of an effective basketball coach will significantly improve your ability as a writing coach for your students. Learn the ten tips to change from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”

How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-write-an-effective-essay-prompt/

Writing effective writing prompts that will engage writers and produce the best written responses can be challenging. This article shares the best tips for writing good writing prompts that will allow room for creative interpretation and analysis. The article also defines the common writing direction words that inform and persuade.

How to Teach the Writing Domains (Genres)

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-teach-the-writing-domains-genres-and-rhetorical-stance/

Teaching the writing domains (genres) and rhetorical stance are two essential lessons for developing young writers.

Process vs. On Demand Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/process-vs-on-demand-writing/

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students learn to write and succeed on these tests: process writing, on demand writing, or a mix of the two. All three approaches share the same challenge: little time is allocated for writing instruction.

Ten Tips to Teach On-Demand Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/ten-tips-to-teach-on-demand-writing/

On-demand writing assessments are here to stay. Teachers do a disservice to their students by not preparing them for the on-demand writing tasks that they will face throughout their academic and vocational careers. Here are ten practical tips to teach timed, on-demand writing to ensure success for your students.

Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/eight-great-tips-for-teaching-writing-fluency/

Similar to reading fluency, writing fluency is the ability to write effortlessly without interruption. Writing fluency is developed through concentrated practice; however, some practices are more effective than others. This article shares the best writing fluency strategies.

How to Teach a Write Aloud

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-write-aloud/

Research shows that the best writers have learned how to creatively multi-task, problem-solve, and interact with the anticipated reader. This is a skill that can be effectively taught by using the Write Aloud strategy.

Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

Educators often talk about the reading-writing connection. Teaching reading and writing strategies concurrently allows teachers to “kill two birds with one stone.” The following twelve techniques to teach the reading-writing connection will enhance students’ facility in both disciplines.

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

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive writing curriculum, designed to teach your students how to write coherent multi-paragraph essays. Students progress at their own pace through 42 sequential essay strategy worksheets and  skill lessons (including writing style, parallelism, coherency, unity, and writing evidence) to compose 8 complete essays in the different essay genres. Also get 64 sentence revision (sentence combining and grammatical sentence patterns) and 64 rhetorical stance “opener” lessons, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, remedial writing worksheets, writing posters, holistic and analytical rubrics, graphic organizers, The Pennington Manual of Style with insertable e-comments, and extensive editing resources. No other writing program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum. Truly individualize  instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 359 pages

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

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

None of us gets into the teaching profession with the hopes of being mediocre. All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best. In other words, if we could just rid ourselves (and our students) of… XXXX, we could truly be the teachers we want to be. So, let’s explore the impediments many ELA/reading teachers that keep us from teaching how and what we need to teach, the solutions as to how to reduce or get rid of these in our teaching repertoire, and most importantly what to teach now that the impediments have been removed.

10 Impediments and Solutions

1. Standards

Impediments: Although most teachers support the notion of an instructional scope and sequence, district-state-national standards were not delivered at Mt. Sinai. Some ELA/reading standards are more important than others and we ultimately and practically teach our students, not the standards. Our students are an unruly lot, refusing to progress at exactly the same rates and generally making a mess of our year-to-year academic standards.

Solutions: Establish priorities in terms of instructional time. Does anyone think that an identifying author’s purpose standard merits the same amount of attention as a reading comprehension standard? Develop a balance between teaching grade-level and review standards, according to the needs of your students indicated by diagnostic data.

2. School Culture and Interruptions

Impediments: At the middle or high school level, the ELA classes check out all books in the library, get student identification pictures, get picture re-takes, listen to counselor career presentations, and attend discipline assemblies. Daily announcements, spirit assemblies, guest speakers, phone calls interrupt all teachers. Not to mention the usual bathroom/counselor/nurse passes.

Solutions: Be assertive and learn to say “No.” Get other colleagues on board, work through the appropriate channels, and be willing to compromise; but guard “time on task” and re-visit these impediments regularly—they have a habit of sneaking back in.

3. Traditions

Impediments: 3rd grade silkworms and the reading incentive program, 4th grade dioramas and animal reports, 5th grade sugar cube castles and state reports, 6th grade science projects and PowerPoint® presentations, 7th grade African masks and oral reports, Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest and 8th grade U.S. Constitution graduation requirement. You get the idea.

Solutions: Develop the mindset that any instructional activity that can achieve the same objectives in a more efficient manner than another instructional activity should be the one you choose. Don’t confuse content and process objectives.

4. Colleagues

Impediments: “We all teach XXXX. It’s a team decision—there is no I in team.” Disagreement is perceived as personal attack. Gossip, friendship, even romance. And colleagues tend to prey upon our good natures to get us to follow their agendas.

Solutions: Affirm your colleagues’ agendas, but don’t get sucked in. Always run a cost-benefit analysis when changing instruction. Being a team player doesn’t mean sacrificing your autonomy. Do what makes sense for you and your students.

5. Scheduling

Impediments: Advanced band is only offered this period, the special education pull-out study skills program, the reading intervention program, the remedial-basic-advanced-honors ELA classes, and the computer lab. And others.

Solutions: The needs of the students should dictate schedules; however, well-intended interventions, pull-out programs, and tracking can reduce the amount of core instructional time each student receives and/or change a teacher’s instructional plans. Insist upon differentiating instruction within the scope of the core ELA curricula and the confines of the regular classroom to address student needs.

6. Pigeonholing

Impediments: Shouldn’t the ELA teachers teach XXXX? Reading (literature and reading skills and SSR), writing, listening, speaking. Note-taking. Critical thinking. Problem-solving skills. Study skills. Career exploration. And let’s add on basic parenting.

Solutions: Preach “all teachers are teachers of reading, writing, and thinking.” Get to know the process-oriented standards of your math, social studies, arts, foreign language, physical education, and science teachers for ammunition and encourage everyone to share the load.

7. Educational Fads

Impediments: Learning styles, rigor and relevance, multiple intelligences, small learning communities, tribes, Cornell notes, reading fads, levels of questioning. And a few hundred more.

Solutions: Before jumping onto bandwagons, talk to veteran teachers for their “what comes around, goes around” perspectives, search the Internet for the real research on any educational fad, and take all professors’ and presenters’ information with grains of salt. Stick to the basics when in doubt.

8. Bureaucracy and Paperwork

Impediments: Progress monitoring charts, skills documentation, reading logs, independent learning goals, student evaluations. Staff meetings. Department meetings. Grade-level team meetings. Cross-disciplinary meetings. Vertical articulation. The mind boggles.

Solutions: Veteran teachers know how to cut corners when they need cutting. Ask them. Insist upon written agendas with time allocations and a time-keeper for meetings. Push to get everything in writing that can be written on an agenda and e-mailed in advance. Hold colleagues accountable for “birdwalking.” Keep business meetings all-business, and schedule personal hang-out/discussion time prior to or after meetings.

9. Testing

Impediments: State testing, district testing, diagnostic assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments. Standardized test preparation. Unit test review.

Solutions: Select colleagues committed to protecting teacher instructional time as district representatives on testing committees. Minimize isolated test preparation. The best test preparation is good teaching in the core ELA instructional components.

10. Ourselves

Impediments: I love to share my personal life with my students. My students love my stories. My students love my jokes. I just enjoy talking with students. I go with the “teachable moments.” I teach more of this because I like it better. I hate teaching, never liked, or I’m bad at XXXX… so I don’t teach it.

Solutions: We are often our own worst enemies. Ask a trusted colleague to observe you, your personal idiosyncrasies, and how you waste instructional time. Video-tape yourself. Don’t confuse your own teaching style with poor time management. Teach all the core curricular components and work on those in which you are weak.

Instructional Priorities

There are curricular priorities that most ELA teachers would agree to teach “if only they had the time.” To be practical as possible, here are the specific “Big Six” ELA instructional components with percentages of instructional time that make sense to allocate to each. Having taught at the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I believe that the core instructional components and allocations of instructional time should remain constant across those levels. Take stock of what you teach and how much time you allocate to each instructional component. And feel free to disagree.

The Big Six

1. Word Study (Vocabulary, Spelling, Syllabication) 16%

2. Grammar and Mechanics 16%

3. Reading Strategies 16%

4. Literary Analysis 16%

5, Writing Strategies 16%

6. Writing Process Papers 16%

That leaves 4% for the impediments that you cannot remove. Such is life.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

There is no doubt that popular music transcends arbitrary barriers of age, culture, and language. My students and I share the same passion, although not the same music. Music speaks to their generation just as must as it has to mine. In fact, most students probably listen to more music than I did growing up. As a result, students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

As an amateur songwriter and English-language arts teacher, my experience in learning the craft of songwriting has constantly informed my writing instruction. Here are 20 tips I’ve picked up over the years about how to apply the techniques of songwriting to writing in any genre.

Background: Paying Your Dues

1. Experience Matters

You don’t have to become a heroin addict to play the blues. However, knowing that blues usually follows a twelve-bar (measure) pattern provides an important foundation for a songwriter. Knowing the different blues genre of Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, and Texas Blues will help the songwriter follow the rules and stylistic features of the chosen genre.

Prior knowledge in writing content, genre, and style informs composition. For students lacking this experience, it is essential to “frontload” as much as possible to provide an equal playing field and give these writers what they need to be successful in a given writing task.

2. Reading to Write

Bob Dylan (Zimmerman) graduated from high school in a small town in Minnesota and moved to Greenwich Village. During his apprenticeship, Dylan played clubs and learned a catalog of folk and blues songs; however, he spent much much of his time reading everything that he could lay his hands on. In his autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, Dylan comments on his reading: “I was looking for the part of my education that I never got (p. 36).” His body of work shows the impact of this reading on his music.

 

Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability. Good writers were read to as children. Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency. Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.

Teaching the reading-writing connection will help your students significantly improve both their reading and writing.

3. Learning the Tools

You’ve got to learn the tools to practice the craft. Not every instrument is conducive to songwriting. It’s hard to play the trombone and sing at the same time. Tools are the means to an end and are self-limiting. Having written songs with the guitar for years, I know that there are limitations to the instrument. Learning piano has expanded my songwriting potential. Some tools fit some genre and some don’t.

Teachers generally do a fine job of teaching the structure and identifying characteristics of the various writing genre. Teachers generally do a poor job of teaching writing strategies, sentence structure, grammar, usage, and style.

4. Learning Writing by Writing

Burt Bacharach: “Music breeds its own inspiration. You can only do it by doing it. You may not feel like it, but you push yourself. It’s a work process. Or just improvise. Something will come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

It’s simplistic, but true: you get better at something by practicing it. And this includes writing. Practice needs to be regular with both subjective and objective feedback. Writing fluency comes from daily writing practice, not from occasional on-demand writing assignments.

Brainstorming and Prewriting

5. Content is Writing

A songwriter with nothing to say cannot write a song. Even the most simplistic love song says something. What the songs says must ring true, even if it is completely fictional. Successful songwriters study the content of songs, newspapers, poetry, literature, and life. Paul Simon: “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Studying literature, history, and science is all writing instruction. A student with nothing to say cannot write a poem, an essay, or a story.

6. Location Matters

Jimmy Buffet: “You know, as a writer, I’m more of a listener than a writer, cuz if I hear something I will write it down. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

The collaborative classroom can be ideal for creating a productive writing climate. All of the resources are there: computers, dictionaries, thesauri, the writing teacher, the peers. Rarely do students compose as well at home as they do in the classroom. The classroom can be optimally suited to the social nature of the writing process.

7. Emotional Connections

Bono: “You can have 1000 ideas, but unless you capture an emotion, it’s an essay (http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=458609330&blogId=481041893).” Sting: “Songwriting is a kind of therapy for both the writer and the listener if you choose to use it that way. When you see that stuff help other people that’s great and wonderful confirmation that you’re doing the right thing (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

All too often, students mimic their teachers in order to please us and demonstrate that they have harvested our pearls of wisdom. Students often have little understanding of audience and even less passionate commitment to their writing subject. Developing the emotional connection to their writing in an authentic voice is key to connected and committed writing.

8. Titles and Hooks

Most all songwriters begin their songs with a catchy or meaningful title-one that provokes curiosity. A writer on a songwriting blog comments, “After you answer the question, ‘What is the title of my song going to be?’, your next job is to think about hooks. Here you need to decide what the central point of your song is and create song hooks around this thought. Briefly, a hook is anything that will help the listener remember the song. With many songs, it’s the melody, the chorus or even some of the lyrics. It might even a be a sound effect added to make the song more interesting (http://hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Write-A-Song-Title).”

Teach how songwriting titles and hooks capture the essence of the writing topic and thesis statement. Every stream flows from the one source. Good writing is essentially deductive in both narrative and expository forms.

9. Self-Questioning

Many songwriters flesh out the lyrics by asking questions of their song title. After coming up with the title “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty could have posed the following questions to develop his lyrics: Why won’t I back down? What’s happened in the past to make me have this attitude? Are there exceptions?

Student writers can use the process of self-questioning during brainstorming. Using the topic or thesis as a prompt, students look at the direction of their essay from a variety of points of view. Using the conflict as a prompt, students look at the direction of their narrative from the major and minor characters’ perspectives.

Drafting

10. Structural Foundations

Songs follow well-established organizational patterns. Verses (same melody, different words), choruses (same melody and words), perhaps a bridge (a different melody and lyric), and perhaps a pre-chorus (a short section at the end of a verse leading into the chorus) are the songwriters’ foundational structures. Robbie Robertson: “It would be nice to abandon the verse-chorus-bridge structure completely, and make it so none of these things are definable…Make up new names for them. Instead of a bridge, you can call it a highway, or an overpass…Music should never be harmless (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Similarly, narratives follow the elements of plot and essays have introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. All good writing has structure. Even most all poetry follows prescribed structures.

11. Flexibility

Some songwriters write the lyrics first, then follow with the melody. I tend to write both lyrics and melody together, though I have completed songs in many different ways.

Beware of straight-jacketing students with the components of the writing process. Some students prefer to spent significant amounts of time pre-writing; others would rather jump right in and draft. Some students revise and edit as they draft; others like to do multiple drafts and/or edit at the end. Word processing enables many options.

12. The Rules Do and Don’t Apply

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” follows the structure of many pop songs; however, it breaks every rule of chord progressions. “Each verse sung by Lennon follows the same basic layout, but each has a different way of ending. The first verse, which is twenty measures, ends with a repetition of the F major chord progression before returning to the home key. The second verse, two measures shorter than the first, ends on the C major chord rather than repeating the F major progression. The third verse is the same as the second, except that there is one more measure (to accommodate the ‘I’d love to’), and the verse does not return to the home key. Instead it leads to a bridge, a 24-measure long glissando-like crescendo starting from low E to an E several octaves higher. Random cymbal crashes are interspersed near the end to ‘challenge your sense of meter’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Day_in_the_Life).” Paul McCartney instructed the accompanying orchestra musicians to play notes beyond the range of their instruments to intentionally break the rules.

Each writing genre has its own rules. A Shakespearian Sonnet has its own rhyming pattern, a persuasive essay has a counterargument, and a story must resolve its conflict. However, knowing and applying the rules permits intentional deviations for special effect.

13. Mimickery

Songwriters advise aspiring musicians to study the techniques of those they admire and emulate their styles. Because everyone has his own unique voice and experiences, no two compositions will be the same. Chord progressions are not copyrighted. The chords for “Louie, Louie,” “Wild Thing,” “I Like it Like That” and hundreds of other hits are all the same.

Some English-language arts teachers believe that discovering one’s voice is the result of a self-guided journey. I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. It is not plagiarism to mimic the writing style of good authors. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes.

14. Time to Percolate

Carole King: “If you are sitting down and you feel that you want to write andnothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back again and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it (http://www.buffalostate.edu/library/rooftop/past/docs/2008-10-15_Songwriters_on_Songwriting_excerpts.pdf).”

Neil Young: “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn…My songs speak for themselves (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

We live in the real world. Our students do as well. The SAT 1® allots 25 minutes for an essay that counts 240 points out of the 800 overall writing score. College professors give timed essays. Bosses want that report due by 3:00 p.m. or else. We need to equip our students to face these time constraints in their writing. Certainly, some on-demand writing practice makes sense, but the best practice to develop writing fluency remains untimed, day to day writing practice in a variety of writing genre. Good teachers provide time for writing reflection and revision. Good teachers allow students to face writer’s block and practice problem-solving.

15. Let the Writing Write

John Lennon: “Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something and then you’re allowed to sleep. It’s always in the middle of the night, or you’re half-awake or tired, when your critical faculties are switched off. So letting go is what the whole game is. Every time you try to put your finger on it, it slips away. You turn on the lights and the cockroaches run away. You can never grasp them (http://home.att.net/~midnightflyer/jl.html).”

Good writing instruction provides students with enough practice so that a degree of automaticity has been achieved. Writing fluency is familiarity with the structures, rules, and patterns of writing. Writing fluency is the conversation between author and the writing. Writing fluency does not mean effortless writing; sometimes content knowledge and writing dexterity can challenge the writer as much as would sheer ignorance.

Revision and Editing

16. Read the Writing

Tom Petty: “You’re dealing in magic–it’s this intangible thing that has to happen. And to seek it out too much might not be a good idea. Because, you know, it’s very shy, too. But once you’ve got the essence of them, you can work songs and improve them. You see if there’s a better word, or a better change (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

“I edit as I go. Especially when I go to commit it to paper… I edit as I am committing it to paper. I like to see the words before me and I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” They appear before me and they fit. I don’t usually take large parts out. If I get stuck early in a song, I take it as a sign that I might be writing the chorus and don’t know it. Sometimes,you gotta step back a little bit and take a look at what you’re doing.” — John Prine, quoted by Paul Zollo in “Legends: John Prine,” (American Songwriter, Jan / Feb 2010).

Revision is the hard work of writing. It involves a conversation with the text and audience to ensure coherency. It appropriates everything in the writer’s tool kit. It also necessarily reaches out to others for feedback. Frequently teachers expect that inexperienced writers will be able to revise with little guidance. Simply modeling how to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange a paragraph does not mean that a student will be apply to apply these skills to her draft. Young writers need objective and subjective feedback from both teacher and their peers. Writers conferences and response groups at all stages of the writing process will provide the feedback necessary for revision.

17. Grunt Work

Neil Diamond: “Performing is the easiest part of what I do, and songwriting is the hardest.” George Gershwin: “Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Writing inspiration is an unfaithful friend. Mature writers certainly welcome her visit, but the more we depend upon her, the less gets done. Much of any writing is simply grunt work. The more experience and tools that a writer has acquired, the more choices are afforded to the decision-making process. The grunt work of word choice, transitions, examples, and more are the last few puzzle pieces that just don’t seem to fit. I, personally, take more satisfaction out of placing these puzzle pieces (even if I have to shave off the edges to make them fit) than the ones that come without effort. Still, no writer is completely satisfied with his own writing. Indeed, few writers ever revisit their own works after publication.

18. Collaborative Competition

One of the reasons that John Lennon and Paul McCartney enjoyed such a fruitful songwriting collaboration was because John was right-handed and Paul was left-handed. Thus, both songwriters could sit facing one another, eye to eye, without the guitars banging up against each other.

Teachers can do much to establish a collaborative writing culture. The Web 2.0 culture provides both vulnerability and anonymity that writing teachers can use to motivate students in their writing. Most all writing is a social venture and teachers can appropriately guide this experience in and out of the classroom. Online postings afford students the opportunity of time and reflective thought through the students’ own self-regulated filters. Students can choose what to and what not to share. However, in-class face-to-face time is necessary to provide the unfiltered audience and conversations that balance the ones on the web. Teachers control the climate of in-class writing and can model and sometimes referee the collaborative efforts.

19. Publish to Write

Hearing the sound on the published record or CD guides the songwriting process, but the studio experience and interaction of the musicians can certainly change the composition. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones says that he never finishes a song before entering the studio, in order to allow some room for creativity in the recording process. There are also happy accidents. John Lennon accidentally left his volume turned up on his guitar and leaned it against his amplifier while tape was rolling. The screeching feedback began and Lennon kept the mistake as the introduction to the Beatles Number One Hit: “I Feel Fine.” This was the first time that feedback was incorporated into a song.

Teachers need to let students in on one of the secrets of successful writers: writing rarely turns out precisely as planned. The variables of the publication process often determine the end results. Some things are simply beyond the writer’s control. Constraints of time, mistakes, and misunderstandings contribute to the final writing product. Students will be frustrated at times by their published work, or by fellow students’ responses, or by the teacher’s grade and comments. Writing is about as subjective as we get in academia, despite our analytical rubrics and our objective pretenses.

20. Writing for a Pay-off

Paul McCartney: “Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let’s write a swimming pool (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).

Our students frequently write only to please an audience of one (their teacher), and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is often little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

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 and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

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Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

A few years back, I sat down at my kitchen table on an early Saturday morning to begin the arduous process of grading a set of seventh-grade persuasive essays. I had postponed the task for too long and grades were due on Monday. Why did I dread the grading so much?

I knew what to expect. I would see the results of my instruction and significant improvement. I would feel self-validated and be able to give myself a well-earned pat on the back. The essays would sound like miniature versions of me. No doubt my essays would make me look good that week during our department read-around. However, I knew what would be missing in my students’ writing: Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection. No… it was not the fault of the writing prompt. There were several to choose among, and they were intrinsically motivating for my students. There was something else.

As many teachers naturally do, I reflected back to my own successes as a writer. I drifted back to my own junior high experience. Mr. Devlin was an odd teacher with horribly worn black shoes. He was odd, even by English-language arts teacher standards. However, his writing assignment is the only one I’ve saved from my entire K-12 experience.

Mr. Devlin gave us a journal assignment with no rules. No, I’m not advocating this kind of unstructured experience, per se. After all, I’m still assigning those argumentative essays, right? In fact, it was not the assignment that was meaningful at all; it was what I did with it.

My room was my personal sanctuary. I’m dating myself at this point. My room was covered with psychedelic rock-art posters-each painted/printed in luminescent color. Yes, I had a black light. Yes, I had a strobe light. I begged my parents for black-out drapes, but olive-green was their choice. My stereo was bitchin’. I burned incense, even though I hated the smell. It was 1968.

I played the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour albums non-stop. One of the most irritating memories I have is that of my father, a professional musician, saying that the flutes sounded like cheap recorders on Paul’s “The Fool on the Hill.” He said the song was garbage.

I listened-no… I felt the music and I wrote. As I read the journals today, much of the writing is juvenile and prurient—a budding Steinbeck I was not. However, my analysis of lyrics, wanna-be girlfriends, my parents, comments and warnings to Mr. Devlin to hold true to his promise that he wouldn’t read the journals rings true to my age and experience. The journal had what my students’ persuasive essays lacked-an authentic voice. With all of the Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection.

I graded the argumentative essays, and as I expected, most were technically very good. But, I vowed to do things much differently with their next persuasive essay. I was going to Mr. Devlin their writing by allowing my students’ cultures to create their own voices. Music would be the transformative medium. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters. Music was just as influential, just as pervasive, for my students as it was for me. I knew what I was getting into. I hate their hip hop, new R&B, metal, and rap. It really is garbage.

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing writing. Read how teachers can develop a productive writing climate by learning a bit about how the music business operates.

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Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

I am a dinosaur. I have to face the fact that I am culturally irrelevant to my students. My English-language arts colleagues are all young twenty-somethings. They do all of the student clubs, sports, and activities such as the overnight bus trip to Disneyland. They even do yard duty/campus supervision when they don’t have to. But, I’ve got one thing that they don’t have yet-reflective experience.

As I reflect back on my experience as a junior high and high school student, one creative medium was singularly influential and remains so for my students today-music. Music inspired me. Music made me dream big dreams. Music made me want to write.

Now, music didn’t make me want to write the way that Mr. Devlin, my junior high English teacher, wanted me to write. And music didn’t inspire me to write the stupid five-paragraph essays that Ms. Carruthers, my senior Advanced English teacher, assigned each week. Music made me want to write like John and Paul, Mick and Keith, and Bob Dylan. Somehow, my English-language arts teachers just did not tap into that motivating influence.

Now we did analyze a few songs in class. I remember Mr. Devlin helping us to interpret the Beatles’ “Revolution.” I ate it up, but there was no follow-through. It was a one-time experience, and then back to the literary anthology. No connection to our own writing as students. Our art teacher was very cool. She played our records while we worked with paint and clay. I discovered The Doors in her class. But, the music was background and its creative potential was not instructionally connected to our paper mache Christmas angels.

Music is just as influential on today’s students as it was for me. Ask students how much they listen to music today. It’s certainly more than they spend reading or writing. And they listen to music while they are on Facebook®. That’s a powerful combination. It seems to me that we can apply a few lessons from how our students combine music and social networking to how we should teach them to write.

Music has always been a social medium. Let’s do a bit of reflective thinking about the music business, and songwriting in particular, to see how we might apply some of this to improve student writing.

Toward the end of the Nineteenth Century musical tastes were changing from minstrel shows to vaudeville. The economic up-tick following the terrible recession of 1873 put more money in the hands of more Americans. Recently freed slaves migrated north into already-crowed cities. Increasing immigration added wealth to the expanding economy and consumers enjoyed some of the trickle-down benefits of the Gilded Age, including more leisure time and a bit more discretionary money.

A number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan along 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway to take advantage of the economic boom and sell music to the popular vaudeville shows and sheet music to consumers to play on their parlor pianos. This neighborhood became known as “Tin Pan Alley,” probably due to “the cacophony of the many pianos being pounded in publisher’s demo rooms… characterized as sounding as though hundreds of people were pounding on tin pans (Wikipedia).”

“Song composers were hire under contract giving the publisher exclusive rights to popular composer’s works. The market was surveyed to determine what style of song was selling best and then the composers were directed to compose in that style. Once written, a song was actually tested with both performers and listeners to determine which would be published and which would go to the trash bin. All of a sudden t seemed that music was becoming an industry more than an art. Once a song was published, song pluggers (performers who worked in music shops playing the latest releases, akin to playing new CD releases in a record store today) were hired and performers were persuaded to play the new songs in their acts to give the music exposure to the public (Wikipedia).”

Writing Lesson #1

Publishing was the motivator for songwriting in Tin Pan Alley. This was, indeed, writing for a purpose. The profit-motive and pay-off were paramount; art was a by-product of that end. In contrast, our students are frequently only required to write to please an audience of one, that is their teacher, and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Writing Lesson #2

Encourage mimicry of author’s styles. Just as vaudevillian composers were directed to compose in popular styles, help students to do the same. Help students identify components of popular author’s styles, including those of musical composers. Yes, hip hop is music. Don’t fret about lack of originality. One’s writing voice is an amalgam of one’s reading experiences and other voices.

Writing Lesson #3

Have students serve as song pluggers and performers for each other. We create a writing culture when peers begin responding to each other’s work. Students care more about their peers’ responses than those of their teacher. Teach constructive criticism: the “I like way you did ______, but you might try ______” needs both modeling and practice. Trust-building activities are a must. Allow students some degree of choice with whom they will work. After all, students don’t “friend” everyone on Facebook®. Try directed and undirected response groups, but don’t relegate these to the end of the writing process. Response groups work well after both prewriting and drafting. Don’t use student response solely as editing assistance. The more students perceive writing as a collaborative and social art, the more commitment and investment in their own writing will result.

Read a related article on Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate.

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

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How to Teach Essay Strategies

What first pops into your mind when I mention essay strategies? Fair to say that many of us would think of the the characteristics and/or structure of a particular genre (domain), say a persuasive essay.

What first pops into your mind when I mention football? Fair to say that many of us would think of a big game such as the Super Bowl for the pros or the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for college.

Fine. We are all product-centered. We need to have the culminating event in mind, be it the final draft of a response to literature composition or the big football game. However, ask any football coach the question above and you are more likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

My first year of teaching was at a small K-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. Teaching seventh-graders in this isolated “Gold Rush” town was a wake-up call after student teaching the “best and brightest” high school juniors out of my credential program at U.C.L.A. Like most ELA teachers, I had no training nor coursework in how to teach essays. I studied Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and Hemmingway—not how to teach the fundamentals of writing. Like most ELA teachers, I reverted to and mimicked what and how I had been taught. If it worked for me, why wouldn’t it work for my students? And it did work (mostly) for those high school juniors, but it did not work for my seventh-graders.

I remember this debacle well. I began teaching my first seventh-grade class with a scintillating lecture, replete with masterful examples (including my own), on how to teach the five-paragraph essay. The structure, the components, and the unified balance of thought. “Go and do likewise,” I advised.

Of course, you probably already know the results. Most of my students did master the structure and had some sense of what the components were and where they belonged. But that unified balance of thought? I couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t fill in the rest of the blanks. Fortunately, after a few classes with U.C. Davis Area 3 writing mentors (Thank you!), I began to see the value of teaching the part-to-the-whole. I learned that my students needed more practice-more conditioning-to prepare them for their process papers. The following essay strategy tools focus on this conditioning at the sentence level.

Essay Strategies Conditioning

1. Eliminate the crutches

Sometimes removing a writer’s comfort zone is the only strategy that will force the writer to take the necessary risks to learn new tricks of the trade and improve his or her writing craft.

“To-be” Verbs: Restrict students’ usage of is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Nothing forces students to search for concrete nouns and expressive verbs more than this strategy. Nothing makes students alter sentence structure more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to write in complete sentences more than this strategy. After initial banishment, allow a few of these verbs to trickle into student writing, say one per paragraph. Sometimes the best verb is a “to-be” verb. After all, “To be or not to be. That is the question.” For more, see How to Eliminate To-Be Verbs in Writing.

1st and 2nd Person Pronouns: Essays designed to inform or convince are not written as a direct conversation between the writer and the reader. Instead of using the first person point of view I, me, my, mine, myself, we, us, our, ours, or ourselves pronouns or the second person point of view you, your, yours or yourself(ves) pronouns, essays are written in the third person point of view such as in the writing model below. It’s fine to use the third person he, she, it, his, her, its, they, them, their, theirs or themselves pronouns to avoid repeating the same nouns over and over again. Nothing forces students to focus their writing on the subject more than this strategy. Nothing teaches students to rely on objective evidence more than this strategy.

2. Teach and help students practice complex sentences

Some prerequisite direct instruction is required here. Students need to know what an independent clause is. Students need to know what a phrase is. Students need to know what a dependent clause is. Teaching and memorizing the subordinate conjunctions are essentials. See How to Teach Conjunctions for a great memory trick. Students must be able to identify subordinating clauses and create them. Students need to be able to identify complex sentences and use them. Sentence models and analysis works well. I recommend using Sentence Revision, which uses sentence models and requires students to practice sentence combining and sentence manipulation at the sentence level. Using individual student whiteboards for practice and whole class formative assessment works well. You are going to have to differentiate instruction to ensure mastery learning of complex sentences.

3. Teach and help students practice grammatical sentence openers

Students have been trained to write in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Fine. Now we need to revise that writing mindset. We need to teach students that writing style and sentence variety matter. I suggest that you limit your students to composing no more than 50% of their writing in the subject-verb-complement pattern. Teach students to begin their sentences with different grammatical sentence openers. See How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers for a fine list with examples. Nothing forces students to write with greater sentence variety than this strategy. Nothing integrates grammar instruction into writing better than this strategy.

Look for my next article on the Pennington Publishing Blog on helping students learn how to scrimmage. Focusing on the essay writing strategies at the paragraph level, including structure, style, unity, and evidence will further help students prepare for the “big game.”

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

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How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” have preoccupied educational researchers and teacher-practitioners for nearly five decades. Much like the soldiers along the Western Front in World War I, we have settled down into our fixed positions and rarely leave our trenches to skirmish anymore. An occasional Krashen or Adams volley may occasionally wake us up, but no one really wants to go back into “No Man’s Land” for extending fighting. In fact, much of where we are today reminds me of the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the opposing German and British soldiers join in the singing of Christmas carols and crawl out of their trenches to exchange gifts and greetings.

Now I may be over-extending my metaphor a bit, but teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness/phonics or reading to learn; no one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process with Writers Workshop. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced reading program makes sense. In this article, I will attempt to make the case that a balanced writing program also makes sense. First, I will list 21 Curricular Assumptions that most of us would accept about writing instruction to build a consensus. Then, I will detail six steps to take to ensure a balanced and effective writing program in any classroom.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions about a Balanced Writing Program

1. Teaching and practicing the stages of the writing process through writing process papers in various genre is important. The writing process is not rigid, however. Writers compose differently. Word processing has certainly reinforced these differences. For example, some revise and edit after drafting; some do so during drafting.

2. Teaching and practicing specific writing strategies/skills in short writing pieces, such as “Quick Writes,” is also valuable.

3. Students vary in their writing abilities and have different writing skill-sets. Simply teaching grade-level standards in writing strategies and applications (process pieces) is not enough. Certainly, we teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” with grade-level expectations and new instruction and also “catch them up” with additional targeted practice in their writing deficiencies. Teachers see the value in diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in which writing skills. Yes, we need to differentiate our writing instruction.

4. The reading-writing connection much be taught explicitly. We learn reading from writing, but we also learn writing from reading. For example, teaching expository text structure is both reading comprehension and an essay strategy. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive.

5. Good writing instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need to review, but also do new. As teachers review, writing foundations are solidified and depth of understanding increases. For example, first graders work on sentence construction, but so should high school seniors.

6. Teaching content is an essential ingredient to teaching writing. Writing is a constructive thinking process, built on prior knowledge. Time spent teaching critical thinking skills, such as errors in reasoning, is time spent teaching writing.

7. Vocabulary development is an important component of writing instruction. Knowing the meanings of words and how to properly use them cannot be confined to a revision task such as substituting boring or over-used words with “cool words” found in a thesaurus. Teaching Greek and Latinates, semantic shades of meaning, idiomatic expressions, etc. are all components of solid writing instruction.

8. Explicit grammatical instruction (sentence components, word choice, usage, word order) should be more than just error analysis or correction. Daily Oral Language is certainly not the answer. Teaching grammar and mechanics rules/proper usage in the context of targeted lessons that integrate this instruction with student writing is appropriate. For example, teaching a prepositional phrase and then following instruction with writing practice in which students use prepositional phrases as grammatical sentence openers makes sense. Grammar and mechanics cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills.

9. Spelling matters and requires direct instruction, even throughout high school. The spelling-vocabulary connection is well-established and needs to be taught in the context of word study (including derivatives and etymological influences), syllabication, and conventional spelling rules. Spell check did not suddenly make orthographical study passé.

10. Revision is the key to writing improvement. Revision requires direct instruction to teach sentence manipulation, sentence combining, sentence variety, and precision of word choice. Revision requires focused tasks in the writing process to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange ideas to afford writers alternative means of expression. Hemingway completely re-wrote the last chapter in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 39 different ways. There must be something to this revision stuff.

11. Authentic writing tasks that are relevant and meaningful to students motivate quality writing, especially when the writing will be published in a venue that students care about.

12. Teaching rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form produces significant writing pay-offs. Writing style can be modeled, mimicked, and developed over time.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in vocabulary and grammar impacts writing ability. ESL students need differentiated instruction to bridge language barriers.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be matched with the “guide on the side.”

15. Teaching structured writing makes sense to focus on writing organization and unity. However, form and purpose dictate structure, so structural straight-jackets can be counter-productive, if pressed into service for every writing task.

16.  There are certain writing rules that are worth teaching.  Of course, rules are specific to each writing form. Indenting paragraphs, writing in complete sentences, and the like add to writing coherency.

17.  Writing coherency should be the ultimate goal of any writing task.

18. Teaching grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing strategies are more than just test prep. These skills require teaching and practice, not testing. Fortunately, quality instruction and practice in these writing components will result in higher test scores.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Good writing instruction helps students learn to distrust their oral language as a grammatical filter. Authentic writing voice is not the same as playground banter.

20. Writing fluency is a worthy goal; however, contrived on-demand writing for the purpose of writing lots of words in a given time does not achieve that end.

21. Teaching writing shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. We have other fish to fry as well.

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program in Six Steps

1. Develop a Writing Plan

Establish a comprehensive writing scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general grade-level state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, mechanics, spelling instruction, specific writing strategies, writing genre, and writing process pieces into a multi-year plan. An specific writing scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach.

2. Direct Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the grammar, mechanics, and spelling skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Find resources that will teach both sentence modeling and error analysis. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

3. Differentiated Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Also, assess students on their spelling skills. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Direct Writing Instruction

Allocate 10 minutes, 3 days per week, to direct instruction, sentence models, and guided writing practice in vocabulary development and sentence revision (sentence manipulation, sentence combining, and sentence variety) say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

5. Do Differentiated Writing Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the writing strategies/skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Design paragraph assignments to keep writing and review time manageable. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 3 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

6. Teach Process Papers

Teach and require students to compose at least one process paper per quarter, as dictated by your scope and sequence and grade-level standards. Not every process paper must include all steps of the Writing Process.

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 and rhetorical 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

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elementary Reading Instruction

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to coach elementary teachers in reading instruction and teach remedial reading at the middle school, high school, and community college levels. From this perspective, I’ve come to the conclusion that we teach too much reading at the elementary school level. Probably not the most popular position among my fellow reading specialists and literacy coaches, I know. But let me state my case and see if some of my colleagues would agree.

I currently teach seventh-grade English-language arts and an occasional reading intervention class in Elk Grove Unified School District, outside of Sacramento, California. While serving in a prior position as a district reading specialist some twelve years ago, our district adopted Open Court® as our elementary K-6 reading program. Our district went “whole hog” after this program and we have achieved remarkable results in improving our elementary reading test scores. However, as has frequently been the case in the history of educational reform, initial success has its drawbacks.

As a reading specialist, we helped teachers implement a two-hour morning reading block with additional time, usually in the afternoons, for reading remediation. With state-mandated P.E. time, one hour of math, recess, and a thirty-minute lunch, this left but a few minutes a day for social studies, science, art/music, etc. Not to mention writing. As every Open Court® teacher knows, the weakness of the program is the writing component, or effectively, the lack thereof. This is particularly the case with expository writing strategies.

As we implemented Open Court®, reading specialists, literacy coaches, elementary teachers and their administrators tried to maintain the integrity of both the reading and math programs, while still teaching state-mandated social studies and science standards. After all, school district success is measured by test scores in these areas. And test scores drive curricular and instructional decision-making. The key buzzwords became “incorporate social studies (or science or arts or writing) instruction” into the two-hour “literacy block.” Code words for “ignore these content areas.” Reading instruction became reductive.

With the district’s shift in instructional priorities, middle school teachers began noticing significant declines in “content-readiness” in the areas of social studies, science, and English-language arts in their Open Court®-trained students. Ironically, the über-emphasis on reading (particularly in decoding and fluency development) has minimized student practice with the thinking processes and content prior knowledge so necessary for more advanced “reading to learn” skills at the secondary levels. The academic language of social studies and science expository texts are truly wake-up calls for in-coming seventh-graders. The resulting declines in middle school test scores probably have more to due with lack of elementary preparedness (as described above) and more-challenging expository-based middle school tests than a lack of middle school teaching expertise or the middle-school concrete operational “bubble” described by many cognitive psychologists.

The de-emphasis of elementary writing instruction has ill-prepared students for both reading and writing informative and argumentative text or essays at the secondary level. Writing instruction directly impacts reading comprehension. What better way to teach the reading skills of main idea, support details/evidence/interpretation, and text structure, than through writing instruction? What little writing instruction there is seems devoted to churning out the four or five “writing application standards” at each grade level. These are full-process pieces, requiring even fourth-graders to complete multi-paragraph essays. Results can be appalling. Students know the form, but can’t write in complete sentences. Essay strategy development is non-existent. Spelling, grammar, and mechanics instruction is relegated to a ten-minute D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) opener or as last-minute test practice.

My solution, outside of a longer school day (unlikely in this economic climate), is to allocate less direct instructional reading time at the elementary level. Less is often better. We need more efficient elementary reading instruction, based upon quick, user-friendly diagnostic and formative assessments, and more content-area and writing instruction at the K-6 levels. We need to develop more flexible delivery methods than those advocated, say in current Response to Intervention models. Many of these models are advocating two and one-half hours of direct reading instruction. Where will it end? Teachers have to make a basic commitment to differentiate instruction and receive extensive training to teach reading efficiently. Administrators and district leaders need to support more balanced instruction, irrespective of possible short-term test score dips to achieve long-term results. More time (and frequently more money) thrown at any subject of instruction, even  a subject as important as reading, simply isn’t the answer.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach ESL Writing

I teach seventh grade English-language arts in a multi-language school in Sacramento. Filipino, Mexican, Hmong, Mien, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Ukrainian, and Korean students, each with their primary languages in tow, keep this veteran teacher learning and experimenting with writing instruction. Additionally, the student population at our school is highly transitory. Kids come and go. At times I feel like an ER doc.

In fact, the analogy is quite appropriate for an ELA teacher who treats the writing challenges of English Learners (EL). For those of you who don’t watch the plethora of medical dramas on television, the ER doc is responsible for triage.

Triage (pronounced /ˈtriɑʒ/) is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select.[1] There are two types of triage: simple and advanced.[2] The outcome may result in determining the order and priority of emergency treatment, the order and priority of emergency transport, or the transport destination for the patient, based upon the special needs of the patient or the balancing of patient distribution in a mass-casualty setting (Wikipedia).

Now this is not to say that EL students are all incurably sick; many are gifted thinkers who already are successful students. However, glossing over the specific needs of developing EL writers and hoping that they will “catch up” in their writing when their oral language and reading abilities in English “catch up” is simply akin to medical malpractice.

Having diagnosed and treated a wide spectrum of EL writing over the years, my most useful two triage tips are 1) effective diagnosis and 2) prioritization of patient needs into two types of treatments: emergency and long-term care.

1) Diagnosis—In spite of my twenty-nine years in the classroom, I am a surprisingly inaccurate “gut-level” diagnostician. I make assumptions based upon prior experience and stereotypes, despite the fact that I know better. I’m human. However, I’ve learned to rely more and more on effective diagnostic assessments to take the “me” out of my diagnoses. A few, easy-to-use whole-class reading, spelling, and grammar diagnostic assessments inform me how to differentiate instruction for my EL students.

2) Treatment—In writing instruction, teachers of EL students face two key decisions:

  • What must be treated now and what can wait.
  • What is immediately and easily treatable and what will take time to treat.

In grading written work, in sharing during student-teacher writing conferences, and in planning differentiated direct instruction, an effective teacher has to have a workable “treatment plan” for teaching EL students to improve their writing. Following is my plan based upon the key two decisions shared above. To stay consistent with our analogy, I will classify the two treatment options as emergency treatment and long-term care. I list specific symptoms, i.e. examples of student writing problems, but in no particular order.

Emergency TreatmentSymptoms

Pronoun CaseHim gave she her sandwich.

Relative ClausesThe girl which I know is pretty.

Demonstrative PronounsThis desk over there is my favorite.

Pronoun ReferencesThey keep them pencil for himself.

Verb Tense ConsistencyI go to school and will study very hard.

Simple Verb FormsI done know that already.

Subject-Verb AgreementThe students speaks English.

Common Irregular Verb FormsI buyed him a candy bar.

ArticlesHe has basketball to shoot to practice for a games.

Adjective PlacementShe is a teacher very smart.

NegationI don’t need no help.

Simple coordinating conjunctions (BOAS) but, or, and, soIf she won’t, but I’ll quit.

Common subordinating conjunctionsBecause I don’t know English, I don’t write.

Plural and Singular NounsI did my writings in pens.

Predictable Sound-SpellingsWen he understands me I kin hep him wit his hoamwurk.

FragmentsAfter I go to the movies.

Long Term CareSymptoms

Idioms (especially in prepositions)I look in the table for the book.

Figures of SpeechShe gave her effort her best.

Word OrderI can hear what is the girl singing.

Denotative VocabularyI took the metro from here to my aunt’s house in Canada.

Connotative VocabularyShe runs very slowly.

InflectionsTo gain the confident, I try to speak loft of English.

Verb PhrasesI miss to study for my test.

Sophisticated Verb Forms(Progressive) She will be presented her project tomorrow. (Perfect) I will have gave him two dollars at lunch.

Uncommon Irregular Verb FormsI lended her my notebook.

Correlative ConjunctionsEither you study, so you don’t; both I don’t care.

Sentence VarietySubject-Verb-Complement in every sentence.

Run-onsShe opened the door she helped him sit down after lunch.

SubjunctiveIf I was richer, I would give you presents.

Irregular SpellingsThat was wierd.

Why not make sense of EL writing instruction with a curriculum that will help you efficiently integrate grammar, usage, diction, and syntax into writing instruction?

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, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I knew little about life in the country. Newly married, I agreed to follow my wife’s dream and apply for teaching jobs in the Gold Country of Northern California. I sent out my resume, highlighted by my three-whole-months of substitute teaching experience and hoped for the best.

Four days before the start of school, I got a call from Sutter Creek Elementary, a K-8 school, in picturesque Sutter Creek. The principal asked two questions: “Could you be here and ready to teach by Monday?” and “Are you willing to coach our eighth grade basketball team?” I gulped and said, “Yes.” Little did I know what I was in for…

The teaching part of the job was challenging. I taught six periods of history and English to the seventh and eighth graders. My principal asked me to focus on their weakest area: writing. I jumped in with the Five-Paragraph Essay. I lectured them about all of the component parts and had them write one final draft essay most every day. That’s all I knew about writing instruction, but I struggled in silence–too embarrassed to ask for help. However, compared to the other part of my job as basketball coach, teaching writing seemed “a walk in the park.” The basketball part of the job was a nightmare.

My Sutter Creek students pummeled me with questions on the first day: “Why did you leave Los Angeles?  What’s it like having McDonalds®, Burger King®, and KFC® all on the same block?” “Do you know any of the Los Angeles Lakers?” There wasn’t much for kids to do in Sutter Creek, other than basketball.

Basketball was pretty much an entire-school-year affair. We began practicing a few weeks after the beginning of school. More than half of the eighth graders tried out, and I had to “cut” the team down to the number of our uniforms. This was a difficult proposition because the kids were really quite good, having played in community leagues for years. In fact, I had a bonafide superstar: David Dalton. David could dribble between his legs and do both right and left-handed lay-ups. And he could shoot the “lights-out.”

I knew little about basketball. Baseball had been my game. So, I turned to the experts. I called up my six-foot-five-inch best friend and asked his advice; I read books; I watched video tapes; I studied diagrams; I learned how to teach the game.

We had three months to practice before our season was to begin. I taught a motion offense and set-plays, full-court and half-court traps, and complicated zone defenses. I fancied myself the “sage on the stage.” Our practices consisted of eighty-five minutes of walking through my complex plays and five minutes of scrimmage at the end of practice. My principal left me to my own devices and supported me when a few of the parents began grumbling about my rigorous practices.

Our season began and we won every game. I don’t think we scored more than a few points off of my elaborate motion offense or set-plays. We did, however, score plenty of points when the plays broke down and on opposing team’s turnovers. David Dalton was incredible. He consistently doubled the score of the opposing team all by himself. We even handily beat our archrival, Jackson Elementary, in our one seasonal match-up. Victory was sweet, but after that game, the opposing coach took me aside and asked me if he could give me one small piece of advice. “Of course, I said.” He advised, “Perhaps you should teach less and coach more.” I thanked him, but really didn’t understand the difference.

In the final game of our championship tournament, we once again faced our archrival, Jackson Elementary. The high school gym was packed with 800 spectators. We again were winning handily after the second period of play. As the third period began, Jackson’s defense had changed. Two of their guys were stationed “under the bucket,” but three guys were glued to David Dalton. Frustrated, David began picking up fouls. I did not know how to adjust. None of my six-foot-five-inch friend’s advice, the books I had devoured, or the video tapes I had watched had said anything about adjusting to a triple-team.

At the beginning of the fourth period, David fouled-out. I kept calling out plays, but we couldn’t score. I called time-outs and reminded the players about everything I had taught them. Nothing worked. Jackson crept closer. With time running out and the score tied, a Jackson player hit a “buzzer-beater” and Jackson Elementary earned the championship. The parents and my players were disgusted with me. Jackson’s coach had out-coached me.

After assuring me that I would not be fired, my principal “suggested” that he would coach next  year and I could serve as his assistant. Quite humbling. However, the next year, with my principal’s help I learned how to coach, not teach basketball. And learning how to coach basketball made me a much better writing teacher.

Here are  ten tips that my principal shared with me about coaching basketball that helped me change from a teacher of writing to coach of writing:

1. My principal had me practice with the boy’s eighth grade basketball team. It was embarrassing not being the best player. I learned the value of doing each of the writing assignments that I assigned to my students. By doing each writing task, I began to see things from the students’ perspectives. I caught my instructional mistakes, realized how much I assumed students already knew, and re-worked my instruction accordingly. I began doing Write-Alouds with my classes to model my own writing problem-solving.

2. My principal had me shoot free-throws with the team. The boys all shot better percentages than I did, but I did improve. I learned to share my own writing with students. Some of it was quite good; much of it was poor. But, the  writing assignments were authentic and provided reachable models for the students. Solely reading great works of literature does not help students improve their writing skills. The reading-writing connection is not the magical “be-all,” “end-all” solution to literacy.

3. My principal emphasized drills: passing, dribbling, rebound, and defensive positioning. I learned to teach writing inductively—from the part to the whole. I spent time coaching students on sentence structure, modeled sentence combining, had students work on grammatical sentence variety, and paragraph development. I took classes from mentors through the Area 3 Writing Project and began to help students practice the components of the Writing Process. I put the five-paragraph essay on hold for a while.

4. My principal scrimmaged a lot. Of course the boys loved this, but I noticed something else. They were incorporating what they practiced in their drills, with a few reminders. I learned to allot more time to actual writing in a wide variety of voices, to different audiences, for different purposes, and in different forms to build writing style and fluency. Students got better at manipulating the elements of rhetorical stance and their writing coherency significantly improved.

5. My principal kept things simple. He taught very few basketball plays. He did demonstrate and practice “the pick and roll” and “the pick and pop,” but not much else. Mostly, he told the boys to “free lance.” I learned to relax and stick with the “main and plain” components of writing instruction. I dropped my demands that “the devil is in the details” and stopped obsessively red-marking every mechanics and spelling error.

6. My principal didn’t force every player into the same box. He didn’t have any David Daltons that next year, but he let players go with their strengths and interests. He even let our only six-footer play the guard position, and not the center position. I learned to differentiate my writing instruction. Some students wrote three-page narratives, while some wrote one-page narratives. I still slept at night and the sun still rose and set. I discovered grammar diagnostic assessments and stopped teaching parts of speech to my students who had already mastered their parts of speech.

7. My principal never taught from the sidelines during our basketball games. He knew that coaching was for practices and not for games. I learned to use judicious error analysis and criticism in writers conferences with students during the prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing stages of the writing process. But, I focused only on what students did right on their final “game time” published products.

8. My principal was a motivator. Instead of focusing on the myriad of things our players did wrong, he focused on the few things they were doing right. He built up their self-confidence. He let the kids play. I learned that students could write better, if they perceived themselves as effective writers. I praised student work, published student work in the local paper, made parent phone calls.

9. My principal knew about successive approximation. He pushed his players to do “do-able” process tasks on the court, not product tasks, and then asked them to “do a bit more.” He had his son keep track of “do-able” tasks, like running down the court during transition defense and “boxing out” during our games, not product tasks like points scored, rebounds, turnovers, or assists. I learned to use detailed analytical rubrics to help students self-evaluate their writing and specifically inform them how to improve upon their strengths.

10. My principal planned his practices well, but he was flexible. If a drill did not go well, he knew when to devote more time to the drill, at the expense of another. He also knew when to “ditch” the drill and do something else. I learned to adjust my writing instruction to what students were and were not learning. Some carefully planned week-long lessons were accomplished in two days. Many mini-lessons turned into multiple-day lessons as I re-taught and struggled to find ways to get my students to learn what seemed so easy for me to teach. I learned the value of quick, informal formative writing assessments. I learned the value of asking students “thumbs up” if you understand, and “thumbs down” if you don’t.

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, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, 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

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

How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

In my last article, I classified the chief divisions in grammatical instruction* as follows: 1. those who favor part to whole instruction and 2. those who prefer whole to part instruction. I argued that teachers need not accept an “either-or” philosophy of instruction, but can certainly be eclectic in their instructional strategies. Of course, kind and persistent readers of the Pennington Publishing Blog are naturally putting me to the test to flesh out how I balance instruction, using both forms of  those inductive and deductive instructional strategies.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers too often teach what some students do not know at the expense of some students who already know what is being taught. For example, students learn the definition and identification of a sentence subject over and over again from third through twelfth grade. Teachers legitimize this repeated instruction by arguing that learning is recursive and, thus, reviewing is necessary.

Instead of making excuses, teachers should address the problems inherent in a diverse classroom. Why not administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction in sentence subjects? Then, use the data to inform and differentiate instruction. Targeted worksheets that correspond to the diagnostic assessment, as in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, with individual one-on-one follow-up conferences or in small group review just makes sense. How often and how much class time do I devote to grammar differentiation? Twice per week, 15 minutes per day.

Direct Instruction

Front-loading grammar and mechanics instruction is efficient and transfers to student writing when a teacher follows a coherent scope and sequence of instruction that builds upon previous instruction and writing practice. For example, here is a scope and sequence for teaching adverbs that builds in year-to-year review, and also helps students deepen their understanding of this part of speech to improve their writing:

  • Primary students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a physical action verb and practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to sentences.
  • Intermediate students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a mental action (e.g. knows) or state of being (e.g. was) verb. They should also practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to various places within sentences.
  • Upper elementary students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? and Where? to describe verbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs, including adverbial phrases, in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbs to various places within sentences and as transitions within paragraphs.
  • Middle school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs and adverbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • High school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to provide sentence variety to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs. Students should also practice elements of style, such as placing shorter adverbs before longer adverbs and placing general adverbs before specific adverbs within sentences. Students should also contrast comparative adjectives and adverbial phrases, identify dangling modifiers, and practice recognition and revision of these errors for SAT/ACT test preparation practice.

Sentence modeling from exemplary student writing and literature should be examined and emulated in brief student writing exercises with direct instructional feedback. Alongside of sentence models, contrasting sentences with writing errors should also be analyzed, but not in the context of an incoherent, scatter-gun D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) “program.” Download an example of my Sentence Lifting exercise at  Grammar Openers Toolkit Sampler to see how this direct instruction approach integrates grammar and mechanics instruction within the context of real writing. My Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum has 64 Sentence Lifting lessons with multiple instruction layers of instruction (as in the adverb example above) to provide the teacher with resources that reflect leveled degrees of difficulty. How often and how much class time do I devote to direct grammar and mechanics instruction? Three times per week, 15-20 minutes per day.

Writing Strategies

Teachers should practice sentence manipulation and sentence combining. For example, re-writing subject-verb-complement sentence construction to begin with complex sentences, such as with adverbial clause sentence openers is excellent practice. I use Sentence Revision exercises such as in the Writing Openers Toolkit Sampler from my Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum to help students practice sentence construction and revision. Sentence Revision also provides exercises in writing style. How often and how much class time do I devote to Sentence Revision? Three times per week, 10 minutes per day.

Writing Process

I require students to include specific sentence openers that we have practiced within their writing process pieces. Students re-write sentences to reflect their practice within the revision stage of the writing process. Peer editing focuses on the specific grammar and mechanics that we have been learning in our Sentence Lifting and Sentence Revision lessons.

Here are brief overviews of the two curricular sources described above: Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Find whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction based upon these assessments and a full year of 15-minute Sentence Llifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills in Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Download free previews or purchase on my website.

*By grammatical instruction, I refer to usage, word choice, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, spelling rules, and the like, as most teachers tend to lump together these writing skills.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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Essential Study Skills

From a child’s point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages to having a teacher as a parent. The time off over holidays and summer vacations certainly provides plenty of options for family activities. However, that additional time at home also means plenty of opportunities for learning and character development.

In our household, Dad was the teacher, and he had three sons. So this meant plenty of sports and outdoor adventures. This also meant that we were given a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer we chose the option that Dad affectionately labeled as Essential Study Skills.

Despite our relief at finally graduating from Dad’s Essential Study Skills once we got summer jobs or took community college classes during our high school years, we have to admit that we learned quite a few useful skills each summer. The study skills were especially helpful, and to this day, we don’t understand why these skills are not taught and re-taught to mastery during the regular school year by “regular” teachers.

Maybe these study skills are not introduced because teachers assume that most are simply common sense and do not require  instruction. Or, maybe each teacher thinks that “some other teacher” should or has already taught them. From our personal experiences, study skills need to be taught, not just caught.

Parents can use the time off over holidays and during summer vacations to teach the study skills that teachers “did not have the time” to teach during the school year. Here’s how to develop your own Essential Study Skills plan for each of your children.

-Find out what your child’s relative weaknesses are by giving brief diagnostic tests. Check out these free diagnostic tests in phonics, spelling, grammar, and mechanics, just to name a few. Design short lessons to address those weaknesses.

-Have your child read for 30 minutes a day in a book at his or her challenge level. Not sure how to help your child pick a book that will best develop the vocabulary and comprehension skills that your child needs to achieve optimal growth? Check out these helpful articles: How We Learn Vocabulary from Reading Part II and Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

-Have your child study Greek and Latin vocabulary game cards. Which word parts should they memorize? Check out this article.

-Have your child develop his or her writing style and build writing fluency by spending 30 minutes a day writing journals, thank-you notes, blogs, emails, stories, or essays, while using the techniques taught in this article: How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers.

-Buy this fantastic self-guided resource: Essential Study SkillsThe forty lessons in Essential Study Skills (eBook) will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Often, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because they don’t try hard enough, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable.

Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, advocacy/advisory, opportunity program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice.

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Essential Study Skills

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Why Johnny Can’t Write

“Johnny is a creative story-writer, but he can’t write an essay to save his life.” Does this ring true for your child or student?

Johnny has had some good writing instruction. He can recite the steps of The Writing Process from the posters he has seen in every classroom throughout his elementary school years. He knows all about Writers Workshop. He would know what to expect if the teacher had written “Writers Conferences” or “Response Groups” on the white board as parts of her daily lesson plans. Johnny’s writing portfolio is chalk full of fanciful stories and writing pieces in the sensory/descriptive or imaginative/narrative writing domains. He has been encouraged to unleash his creative mind-although that story that he wrote last year about the student boycott of the cafeteria may have been a bit too creative for the principal’s tastes.

However, if you give Johnny a writing prompt, asking him to “Compare and contrast the cultural roles of women in Athens and Sparta,” sixth grade writing paralysis would surely set in. Or worse yet, Johnny might begin his essay with “Once upon a time in a far-away land called Greece, two young women from Athens and Sparta…” His difficulties would, no doubt, increase if this were a timed assessment.

Unfortunately, most of the writing that Johnny will need to complete throughout his academic and work careers will not take advantage of his story-writing experience. Instead, most of what Johnny will be required to compose will be some form of writing that informs or convinces his reader. Additionally, most of his writing will be subject to some kind of time constraint. Johnny has just not had the instruction and practice in this kind of writing. His college professors probably will not hand him a “blue book,” tell him to write a story of his own choice, and then turn it in after multiple revisions when his final draft has been published and properly illustrated.

Students need to learn how to write structured essays designed to inform and convince their teachers and professors. But how do you transform a creative, non-linear thinker like Johnny into an organized and persuasive writer? Take the mystery out of essays by replacing the confusing terminology of thesis statements, topic sentences, concrete details, and commentary with simple numerical values that reflect the hierarchy of effective essay structure. For example, assign a “1” to introductory strategies, a “2” to the thesis statement, a “3” to the topic sentence, a “4” to the concrete detail, a “5” to the commentary, and a “6” to the conclusion strategies. Telling a student that a “5” is needed to support a “4,” which supports a “3” is much more intuitive-and students get it! Teach structural variety by having students write 3-4-5-4-5 paragraphs and revise with 3-4-5-5-4-5-5 paragraphs. Have students analyze text structure by numerically coding their science book or a newspaper editorial. Use this approach to develop sequenced writing skills, incorporating different grammatical structures and sentence structure.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, 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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

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How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

One of the best ways to improve your writing style is to improve the variety of your sentence structures. Professional writers vary the subject-verb-object pattern with other grammatical sentence structures. A simple guideline for good sentence variety would be 50% subject-verb-object sentence openers and 50% other grammatical sentence opener forms.

Prepositional Phrase

Start with a phrase beginning with one of these common prepositions to improve writing style:

aboard, about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, among, around, as, as to, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, instead of, into, in place of, in spite of, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, outside, out of, over, past, regardless of, since, than, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, with, within, without

Place a comma after a prepositional phrase sentence opener when a noun or pronoun follows.

Example:

Behind the cabinet, he found the missing watch.

Adjective

Start with a word or phrase that describes a proper noun, common noun, or pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind? to improve writing style. Place a comma after an adjective or adjective phrase sentence opener.

Examples:

Angry, the neighbor refused to leave.

Happy as always, the child played in the park.

Adverb

Start with a word that answers these questions: How? When? Where? or What Degree? to improve writing style. Many adverbs end in __ly. Usually place a comma after an adverb sentence opener if the adverb is emphasized.

Example:

Everywhere, the flowers were blooming; quickly, the winter turned to spring.

Adverbial Clause

Start a dependent clause (a noun and verb that does not express a complete thought) with one of the following subordinating conjunctions to improve writing style:

after, although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even if, even though, how, if, in order that, once, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, whether, or while.

Place a comma after an adverbial clause that begins a sentence.

Example:

Although better known for its winter activities, Lake Tahoe offers much during the summer.

__ed, __d, __t, or __en Participial Verb Forms

Start with a __ed, __d, __t, or __en verb, acting as an adjective, and/or add additional words to form a participial phrase. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.

Examples:

Frightened, I sat up straight in my bed. Told to stop, the child finally did so.

Burnt to a crisp, the toast was horrible. Taken quickly, the pill did not dissolve for minutes.

To + Verb

Start with To and then add the base form of a verb to improve writing style. Add related words to create a phrase. Place a comma after the sentence opener, if a noun follows.

Examples:

To smile takes great effort.

To play the game, Mark had to sign a contract.

__ing Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with an __ing word that acts as an adjective to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener. Start a phrase with an __ing word that serves as a noun. Usually do not place a comma after the sentence opener.

Examples:

(Adjective)

Falling rapidly, the climber hopes the rope will hold.

(Noun)

Tasting the sauce makes them hungry for dinner.

Having Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with Having and then add a verb that ends in __d, __ed, or __en to serve as an adjective or a noun, referring to something that happened in the past to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.

Examples:

(Adjective)

Having listened to his teacher, the student knew how to study.

(Noun)

Having learned all of the answers is helpful.

Noun Clause

Start with a group of words that acts as the subject of a sentence beginning with: How, However, What, Whatever, When, Whenever, Where, Wherever, Which, Whichever, Who, Whoever, or Whomever to improve writing style. Place a comma after the noun clause when used as a sentence opener if it does not serve as the subject of the sentence.

Example:

However the students answered, the scores were marked wrong.

Nominative Absolute

Start with a possessive pronoun (my, mine, our, your, his, her, or their) followed by a verb with a  d, __ed, or __en ending to serve as a noun phrase that provides information, but no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. A comma is placed at the end of the nominative absolute when it opens a sentence.

Example:

His friends angry and frustrated, Paul promised to change his behavior.

Get the Grammatical Sentence Openers FREE Resource:

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, 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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Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Write Complex Sentences

More and more candidates for better paying jobs are now required to submit writing samples as part of the interview process. Many applicants with strong verbal skills fail to make the second round of interviews because of their poor writing samples. Frequently, the problems are not unity or coherence, or even inadequate vocabulary/word choice. All too often, poor writers are categorized as such because they only write in simple or compound sentences. A few tips on how to improve writing, using complex sentences will get you through to that second round of interviews.

A Few Definitions and Examples

A simple sentence has a noun (person, place, thing, or idea), a verb (mental or physical action or “to-be” verb—is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been), and the rest of the sentence (known as the complement).

Example: John ran down the street.

A compound sentence combines two simple sentences with a conjunction (a connecting word such as and, but, or so).

Example: John ran down the street, and he saw the crime take place.

A complex sentence has an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. An independent clause means that there is a noun and a verb that express a complete thought. A dependent (subordinate) clause means that there is a noun and a verb that do not express a complete thought.

Example:

Ty completed all his chores (independent clause) + after eating his lunch (dependent clause) = Ty completed all his chores after eating his lunch.

How to Form Complex Sentences

Complex sentences can help define the relationship between complicated ideas and will make your writing more specific and interesting to read. Learn how to improve writing by adding dependent clauses to the beginning, middle, or end of your simple or compound sentences. Oh, by the way, if starting a sentence with a dependent clause, always follow the clause with a comma.

Dependent Clauses

To improve writing, add adjective clauses, which describe nouns or pronouns. Transitions beginning adjective clauses include who, whose, on (for, of) whom to refer to people, that to refer to people or things, and which to refer only to things.

Example: whose work is well-known

To improve writing, add adverbial clauses, which describe describe an adjective, an adverb, or verb. A subordinating conjunction always introduces an adverbial clause. The subordinating conjunction signals the relationship between the adverbial clause and the independent clause. Use a comma to set off an introductory adverbial clause, but not an adverbial clause that ends a sentence. Use this memory trick to remember the subordinating conjunctions:

Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW

before, unless, despite (in spite of), in order that, so, while, if, since, even though (if), because, until, that, how, once, than, after, although (though), as (as if, as long as, as though), whether, when (whenever), where (wherever)

Example: as long as she can wait

To improve writing, add noun clauses, which describe are used as a subject, a complement (the rest of the sentence besides the subject and predicate), or as the object of a preposition. Transitions beginning noun clauses include that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, and whomever.

Example: whatever he demands

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

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

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).

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How to Improve Writing Unity

Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic sentences and thesis statement. From the reader’s point of view, writing unity means that there are no irrelevant (off the point) details and that the tone of the writing remains consistent.

Most writing is structured. The structure changes according to the domain of the writing, but when an author consistently follows a plan, the reader can clearly follow what the author intends to share or to prove. Avoid including details that take the reader away from this plan and lead to confusion.

To know how to improve writing unity, is is helpful to examine examples of poor writing unity.

Paragraph without Unity Writing Model

It has been said that history repeats itself. Who first said this quote is not important. Although circumstances may change, and they frequently do, and the cast of characters will differ, human response to crisis situations remains consistent over time. The lessons gained from past events should affect present decisions. People rarely change their behaviors based upon past experience. Sometimes they do, but not often do they change their actions. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if people are willing to challenge the influence of the past when they repeat mistakes or misjudgments. Why people would want to challenge the influence of the past remains unknown.

Now, study the same paragraph content written with good writing unity.

Paragraph with Unity Writing Model

It has been said that history repeats itself. Although circumstances may change, and the cast of characters will differ, human response to crisis situations remains consistent over time. The lessons gained from past events should affect present decisions, but people rarely change their behaviors based upon past experience. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if people are willing to challenge the influence of the past when they repeat mistakes or misjudgments.

So what makes the second paragraph so much better than the first? What lessons can be derived to improve writing unity?

  1. Eliminate irrelevant details.
  2. Make use of effective writing transition words (“Although,” “but,” “Indeed” in the paragraph above.
  3. Follow a predictable paragraph structure: topic sentence-major details-minor details.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing coherence and parallelism.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, 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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Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Fix Run-On Sentences

Learning how to fix run-on sentences can be challenging for writers of all levels. From beginning writers who don’t have the conceptual grasp of a complete thought to more experience writers who get caught up in the mire of dependent clauses and phrases, here are a few workable strategies to revise these errors in sentence structure.

Definition: A sentence run-on consists of  two or more independent clauses connected together as if they were one sentence without the benefit of a conjunction or proper punctuation. An independent clause means that there is a subject and a connecting verb that express a complete thought. But first, let’s begin with what constitutes a complete sentence.

A Complete Sentence

  1. tells a complete thought.
  2. has both a subject and a predicate.
  3. has the voice drop down at the end of a statement and the voice go up at the end of a question (in English).

Run-On Examples and Their Fixes

1. Separate the run-on into two or more sentences.

Run-On Example:

Luis told his brother he told his sister, too.

The Fix-Luis told his brother. He told his sister, too.

2. Add a semi-colon between the clauses.

Run-On Example:

Mary let him have it, she knew what she was doing.

The Fix-Mary let him have it; she knew what she was doing.

3. Add a comma, then a conjunction after the first independent clause.

Run-On Example:

I like her, she doesn’t like me.

The Fix-I like her, but she doesn’t like me.

4. Add a subordinating conjunction to one of the clauses.

Run-On Example:

Max was injured, he was still the best.

The Fix-Even though Max was injured, he was still the best.

5. Change the second clause to a phrase starting with an __ing word.

Run-On Example:

They went to school, they looked for him.

The Fix-They went to school, looking for him.

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

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).

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , ,