Archive for August, 2017

Essay Hooks and Response Comments

Most teachers have the same general sense of what an essay hook (or introduction strategy) is and what makes a good one.  To make sure that my assumption was right, I googled “essay hooks” to verify the consensus.

Quite a mix of results! Essays for sale sites, scholarly comments, teacher tips, and even an essay hook generator. I’ve included brief comments in order of the resources with links, although my ELA teacher cognitive dissonance pits my need to cite references and avoid plagiarism with my distain for cheating and paying others to do one’s own work. Here’s representative sample of comments:

An essay hook is the first one or two sentences of your essay. It serves as an introduction and works to grab the reader’s attention. The first couple sentences will help your reader decide whether they want to continue reading your essay or not.

The hook provides an “emotional connection with your reader” (Tucker).

“A fisherman will use a shiny lure to get a fish on his or her hook” George Brown University.

When writing an essay, the hook is a connection to the real word that gets the readers interested in reading the rest of the essay.

“Getting your reader to say, ‘Wow! Cool!’ or ‘I need to read more about that!’” (Unknown Blogger)

Generally, I think my assumption was correct. Teachers agree that introduction strategies, such as hooks, are necessary to engage the reader and set up the thesis statement in an essay introduction.

How to Teach Essay Introduction Strategies

Essay Introduction Strategies

Teachers may even know how to teach a variety of essay hooks. However, writing comments to respond to student essays as formative assessment (first or second drafts) and summative assessment (final published draft) is tougher work. It’s both art and science.

The Art of Writing Essay Introduction Comments

Obviously, the teacher needs to comment so that students will actually read and apply the advice. The more I teach, the more I realize how much of my success (and lack thereof) is due to how much I can motivate students. In terms of teaching writing, this means that the teacher needs to know the individual student—what the student already knows, how much criticism the student can take, and if the student responds to cajoling or praise. How many comments will the student be able to handle? How general or specific should the comments be? Does the student have a thin or thick skin?

The Science of Writing Essay Hook Responses

The teacher has got to have the experience both as a reader and as a writer to know what an effective essay introduction looks like. Doing essay read-arounds and norming student essays can be eye-opening (and sometimes humbling) experiences for teachers. Writing is both an objective and subjective experience, as is reading. What makes sense or moves me can be quite different than what does so to a colleague or student. However, most of us can learn to spot a good essay introduction and a poor one… an effective hook and an ineffective one.

Combining the art and science of essay comments, it makes sense to have options. Frankly, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many

Downloadable Essay Comments

Essay Introduction e-Comments

times have most writing teachers written the same comment a dozen times in grading a batch of student essays? Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs helps teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers find that printing off a page of e-comments works better for students. Either way, there is a built-in accountability for students to revise work according to the comments. Let’s face it… having an effective bank of essay e-comments would save teachers a whole lot of grading time!

Check out these 16 introduction strategies (hooks) and thesis statement e-comments, with clear instructions about how to insert this comment bank into Microsoft Word HERE. Plus learn how to insert your own comments into your own e-comment bank.

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to access a downloaded comment, for example:

e2 Needs a Different Introduction Strategy Use a variety of introduction strategies. Add a Definition, Question to be Answered, Reference to Something Known in Common, Quote from an Authority, Preview of Topic Sentences, Startling Statement, Background, or Controversial Statement. DQ RAPS BC

Pennington Publishing's TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE


Works great in Microsoft Word and can be batch dumped easily into Google Docs. Nice for paper comments as well. The comments use the same, consistent language Common Core language of instruction. I’ve included this comment download in my TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE and The Pennington Manual of Style (a slice of the comprehensive essay program).

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Academic Language: What Not to Teach and What to Teach

What Not to Teach and What to Teach with Academic Language

Academic Language

Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards way back in 2009… Has it been that long ago? the term Academic Language has remained as one of the longest-lasting educational buzzwords. As educators and publishers have unpacked that term in the years since, it has taken on various meanings; however, its original intent was to assert that the types of words that we teach do matter. Specifically, teaching Tier 2 words which have utility across subject areas makes a lot of sense. For plenty of examples and the research-based Academic Word List, I’d refer teachers HERE.

The ability of these Tier 2 (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) words to transfer across subject areas and reading genre helps developing readers access more complex text. This is why teaching academic language matters. The Tier 2 academic vocabulary words are not ends in themselves; they are gateways to more sophisticated reading. Academic language is all about access to text complexity.

As detailed in Appendix A of the Common Core document and the research described in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines, reading comprehension scores have dropped over the last 20 years. Two reasons were cited for this decline: 1. decreasing text complexity and 2. lack of independent reading. We educators have got to make our word study more rigorous and require more challenging independent reading to enhance the academic language of our students.

How Not to Teach Academic Language

  1. Don’t spend excessive amounts of time reading entire novels out loud to your class. I agree with those who have argued against teachers reading complete novels out loud as spoon-feeding. Of course, reading out loud does have some benefits and re-reading a passage or portion of an article as a close reading does have merit, but not as the primary means of developing academic language and increasing reading comprehension.
  2. I also concur with those who have also argued against independent reading in the classroom as a “waste of instructional time.” Spending oodles of class time with free-choice independent reading does not build academic language. Independent reading is vitally important… but as homework. By the way, Accelerated Reader is not an academic vocabulary program. Teachers are clever enough to incentivize and hold students accountable for independent reading without an outside program.
  3. Don’t have students memorize long lists of academic language words. While memorization is certainly a part of effective word study, students retain more at the end of the year with a quality, not quantity approach to vocabulary study. Some in-depth vocabulary instruction is certainly valuable.
  4. Avoid spending excessive amounts of vocabulary instructional time on learning words in the context of teaching a short story, article, or novel. Pre-teaching a few essential words is unavoidable, but don’t let the reading drive your vocabulary instruction. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog.

How to Teach Academic Language

  1. Increase the amount of independent reading homework with proper incentives and accountability. But do teach students how to read independently and require students to read complex material at their individual instructional levels. Lexiles are a useful tool, but a much simpler and flexible approach to determine reading levels is word recognition. Assign limited choices for independent reading. Students don’t naturally gravitate toward text complexity. Like adults, students look for the easy reads. Don’t worry about taking away a students love of reading. Teachers won’t damage children for life by assigning challenging reading homework. Certainly, informed educators know what’s best for students.
  2. Teach a balanced approach to vocabulary development, using the Common Core Vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Teach academic language in isolation and in the reading context. Don’t be a purist. Students may have to read a 1000 novels before being exposed to, say, an important figures of speech. Vocabulary acquisition is not a completely natural process. The Standards focus on teaching a balance of vocabulary skills: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Check out How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards.
  3. Plan. Insist upon grade level and department articulation to coordinate a year-to-year academic language instructional scope and sequence. We all too often wind up teaching, say, the same list of Greek and Latin prefixes year after year. We need a plan to move students from A to Z. Here’s a helpful instructional scope and sequence for grades 4-8 academic language. Yes, a multi-grade vocabulary program does make sense to unify instruction.
  4. Choose the right words to teach. Some academic language words more often than others. It makes sense to focus instruction on the high frequency Tier 2 words found in content area textbooks and in academic articles.Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:
    • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
    • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
    • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

    Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

    • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
    • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
    • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
    • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.”

    The Academic Word list has been ordered into lists by frequency of use. Why not teach the academic language words that appear most often in academic text?

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Standards

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Mark Pennington, an M.A. reading specialist, is the author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits–slices of the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling and Vocabulary programs. These full-year programs help students master the grade-level Anchor Standards for Language: Multiple meaning words and context clues; Greek and Latin word parts; language resources (dictionary and thesaurus); figures of speech; word relationships (homonyms) and connotations; and academic language (Frayer four square model using the leveled, high frequency Academic Word List).

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Curriculum Map for Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Developing a curriculum map for English-language arts, also referred to as an instructional scope and sequence, can be a time-consuming process for most grade level teams or departments. Detailed curriculum maps help get teachers on “the same page” in terms of what needs to be taught by the end of the term or year. Most teachers agree on what to teach, but prefer a bit more latitude on how to teach.

The curriculum map is most effective when the grade level or course content meshes with the previous and next year curriculum. Of course, a built-in review is necessary to clear away the summer brain drain that most students seem to experience. If teachers are able to agree on diagnostic and summative assessments, all the better to know right where to start a class and exactly what remediation will be necessary for individualized instruction. Check out our free ELA and reading assessments HERE.

Most teachers find that reading and writing are process-oriented subjects, while grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary are more content-oriented subjects. The devil is in the details for the latter subjects. To serve as a starting point for the curriculum map, check out these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructional scope and sequence charts HERE from my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs. I think you’ll find them to be helpful.


Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

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

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

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

─Julie Villenueve

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