Archive for June, 2018

English Adjective Order

Adjectival Order

English Adjective Order

Before we jump into our lesson on adjectival order, let’s get on the same page about adjectivesFirst, no one says or writes adjectival; however, since this is an article and teaching lesson plan on adjectives, we had better walk the walk and talk the talk. We all know that adjective is a noun and that, stylistically, we don’t put two nouns, such as adjective and order next to each other. Practically speaking and in common usage, we cram nouns together all the time and give the first noun a fancy title: attributive noun. These first position noun is also referred to as “a noun premodifier, a noun adjunct, and a converted adjective (Nordquist). If you just clicked on that link, you are just as much a grammar nerd as I. Ah, but I digress…


An adjective modifies a noun and answers Which one? How many? or What kind? Modifies means to define, limit, or describe. In other words, an adjective talks about a noun.


It can be a single word (delicious lasagna) or a compound-word (world-famous hot dogs). Note: Don’t use a hyphen if you can use the word and between the two adjectives.

When to Use Commas between Adjectives

When coordinate adjectives of a similar category are used in a list, they have to be separated with commas. To determine if adjectives are coordinate adjectives, try placing the word and between the adjectives. Second, try reversing them. If the phrases sound fine both ways, the adjectives are coordinate adjectives and require commas between each. Example: large, angry dog

When Not to Use Commas between Adjectives

When hierarchical adjectives build upon each other with different levels or degrees to modify the same noun, the adjectives are not separated by commas. To determine if adjectives are hierarchical adjectives, try placing the word and between the adjectives. Second, try reversing them. If the phrases make no sense both ways, the adjectives are hierarchical and do not use commas to separate them. Examples: A hot thick-crust sausage pizza.

Adjectival Order

Before Nouns: In English, we usually place adjectives before nouns. Examples: comfortable coat, that cheeseburger

After Nouns: An adjective that follows a linking verb to describe a preceding noun  is called a predicate adjectiveExample: Mark is nice; he looks good; and he feels well. Because the predicate adjective serves as an object, it often has modifiers. Example: Joe was unusually cool.

…for elementary students

According to Function: When using more than one adjective to modify the same noun in a sentence, usually follow this order of adjectival functions: Which One-How Many-What Kind. Examples: these (Which one?) two How many? handsome (What kind?) men

Practice: Re-order the adjectives and place the commas where they belong.

  1. a geometric six-sided shape
  2. realistic only her hope
  3. mean that twelve-year-old kid
  4. those scary countless and sleepless nights

…for secondary students

According to Function: When using more than one adjective to modify the same noun or pronoun in a sentence, usually follow this order of adjectival functions:


Examples: a, an, the, this, that, these, those

Amount or Number

Examples: few, twenty-nine


Examples: beautiful, grumpy


Examples: huge, miniscule


Examples: young, senior


Examples: square, elongated


Examples: blue, dark

Proper Adjective

Examples: Burger King Whopper, Beyoncé records

Purpose, Qualifier, Limitation

Examples: recreational, middle, only

Noun or Pronoun

Examples: balloon, Mr. Patches, one

Practice: Re-order the adjectives and place the commas where they belong.

  1. the strange-looking Martian tiny green two invaders
  2. paint yellow old round an splotch
  3. 1000-page this Pennington Publishing comprehensive 1000-page grammar and mechanics full-year program
  4. those little two-year old three cute children


Answers for elementary practice…

  1. a six-sided geometric shape
  2. her only realistic hope
  3. that twelve-year-old mean kid
  4. those countless, scary, and sleepless nights

Answers for secondary practice…

  1. the two strange-looking, tiny green Martian invaders
  2. an old, round, yellow paint splotch
  3. this full-year, comprehensive, 1000-page Pennington Publishing grammar and mechanics program
  4. those three cute, little two-year old children


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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, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There, Their, and They’re

The there, their, and they're Words

there, their, and they’re

Anything worth teaching is worth teaching wellStudents (and even presidents) have problems using the there, their, and they’re words appropriately and spelling them correctly. Indeed, linguists tend to classify the misuse of there, their, and they’re as high stake grammatical errors. The Copyblogger site includes these three words in the article, “Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb.”

The reaction to President Trump’s mistake in his July 24, 2016 tweet was speedy and judgmental:

“Looks to me like the Bernie people will fight. If not, there blood, sweat and tears was a waist of time. Kaine stands for opposite!”

Now, to be fair… most of us have misused a there, their, and they’re word at one time or another. I have. When typing, we do make typos. However, we have no excuses for failing to proofread something that will be published (or tweeted, Mr. President).

So, how can we teach and help students remember the proper usage and spelling of  the troublesome there, their, and they’re words?

My take is that students fail to master proper usage and spelling of tricky word relationships because our instruction lacks conceptual depth. Additionally, we fail to help students place the learning into their long term memories. I suggest teaching word relationships in the context of meaning and usage, spelling rules, and writing application. Follow this lesson plan, and I guarantee that your students will make fewer there, their, and they’re errors.


Meaning and Usage

The online dictionary, Merriam-Webster, provides the following definitions (with my own formatting, revision, and additions):

  1. In or at that place (Adverb) Example: Stand over there.
  2. To or into that place (Adverb) Example: She went there after church.
  3. At that point or stage (Adverb) Example: Stop right there before you say something you’ll regret.
  4. In that matter, respect, or relation (Adverb) Example: There is where I disagree with you.
  5. Expressing satisfaction, approval, encouragement or sympathy, or defiance (Interjection) Examples: There, it’s finished. There, there, child; you’ll feel better soon.
  6. A state of being or existence used to complete a thought (Expletive) Example: There are three reasons why you should listen to me.


Teach students that one of the reasons that there is such a difficult spelling is because it is a sight word, often called an outlaw word. The word does not follow spelling rules. In fact, there makes Dr. Edward Fry’s top 100 list of high frequency sight words. Because there is a rule-breaker, it must be memorized as such. I suggest introducing the where spelling along with the there. The where is also a top 100 sight word and is often confused with were by poor spellers. The following memory trick works with both there and where.

Jerry Lebo, author of numerous phonics books, suggests a spelling memory trick to help students remember the there spelling. Jerry writes the word there on the board and underlines the here within the word (there). Doing so reminds students that the adverbial meaning and usage (definitions 1-4) of the word there refers to location, so here and there or here and where establish memorable connections and so assist spelling memory. Students have fewer problems with the here spelling, and so the memory trick works to connect the unknown there and where spellings to the known (and rule-conforming here spelling (a silent final e making the preceding vowel before a single consonant into a long sound). Conversely, these here and there or here and where relationships help students remember to spell here to indicate location and not hear.

Unfortunately, the adverbial usage and its spelling memory trick does not work with the interjection (definition 5) and expletive (definition 6) meanings. Example: There, there, darling. There are ways for us to fix this mess.

The best spelling practice is to create a spelling sort to compare and contrast the “ere” spellings. In my Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8, I provide the words for students to sort into the “ere” spelling categories and the spelling test focuses on this spelling pattern.

Writing Application

When teaching Jerry’s here and there memory trick, I teach students that even though the trick works only for there adverbs, good writers learn to avoid the other uses of there in their writing. I remind students that we shouldn’t use padded words or expressions because readers like concise writing. If the word or phrase does not contribute meaning, get rid of it!

Demonstrate the difference between padded and concise writing with this example:There, there, darling. There are ways for us to fix this mess.

Help students brainstorm deletions of the there interjections and expletive. Students (will a little of your prompting) will eventually revise as “Darling, we have ways to fix this mess.”

My Writing Openers Language Application Grades 4-8 programs provide this instruction in one of 56 lessons:

Our language application task is to delete the unnecessary “here” and “there” words. The unnecessary “here” and “there” words begin sentences or clauses and follow with “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been). The “here” and “there” + “to be” verb constructions are frequently followed by a noun or pronoun and a relative clause beginning with that, which, or who. To eliminate the unnecessary “here” and “there” words at the beginning of a sentence of clause, revise to place the subject of the sentence at the beginning. Example: There are many students who do their best. Revision: Many students do their best.

In my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 programs, my subject and predicate lessons focus on removing prepositional phrases, interjections, and expletives from the hunt for the sentence subject. Students learn to spot the “here are” and “there are” (as well as the is, was, and were) words rather quickly.


Meaning and Usage

Their is a plural possessive pronoun. Unfortunately, that definition assumes a considerable amount of grammatical knowledge. I begin the their lesson by listing the personal pronouns (Actually I just point to the poster on the wall… I use my own program resources :)).

I start instruction with the definition of a pronoun: “A pronoun is used to take their (nouns) place in the subject, possessive, or object case,” which is found in my Parts of Speech Song. Yes, that definition is comprehensive, and your students won’t understand all components at this point, but teaching the whole and scaffolding in the parts will build a conceptual framework much better than a piecemeal approach, such as limiting the definition to the simplified “a pronoun takes the place of a noun.”

Pointing to the poster, I review the third person singular pronouns, he, she, and it and match them with the third person plural pronoun their. Next, I tell students that when a pronoun is used to show ownership, we mean that it possesses something, so we call these pronouns possessives. I point to the singular possessives, his, her, and its and tell students that these possessives usually come before nouns, for example, his pencil, her pen, and its zipper. Finally, I point to the plural possessive their and show how this one word serves as the third person plural possessive. for example, their pencils, their pens, and their zippers.


Tell your students that, unlike the there spelling, the their spelling follows the conventional spelling rule. More specifically, it’s the famous “i before e Spelling Rule.” At this point, a brief digression is in order. The traditional “before e, except after or sounding like long /a/ as in neighbor or weigh” does apply, but it mis-teaches students that the “after c or sounding like long /a/” are exceptions to the rule. They aren’t exceptions; they are parts of the rule. Much better to teach my version of the rule with its catchy song. Play it!

i before Song

(to the tune of “Rig ‘a Jig Jig”)

Spell i before e ‘cause that’s the rule

Rig-a-jig-jig and away we go,

That we learned back in school.

Away we go, away we go!

But before comes after c,

Rig-a-jig-jig and away we go,

and when you hear long /a/. Hey!

Hi-ho, hi-ho, hi-ho.

After that happy song, I bring some sadness to the lesson. I tell students the sad news that some day their parents will die, and that as sons and daughters, they will likely possess what their parents owned (after taxes) and had rights to, such as houses and positions of authority. We say that children are the heirs to what their parents have owned. For example, in monarchies the prince and princess are heirs to the jewel-studded, golden crown and also to the position of king or queen.

I write the word heir on the board and ask how the word fits the “i before e Spelling Rule.” Then I draw a crown on top of the word and I underline that word. Finally, I add the “t” to the beginning of heir to spell their. I sum up the meaning, usage, and spelling memory trick by saying, “T-h-e-i-r is a plural possessive because it has an heir inside the word to shown possession. An an heir, you will one day possess your parent’s crown. It works! Thanks again to Jerry Lebo for that one.

Writing Application

I remind students that singular possessive pronouns must take the place of single nouns, but that this rule can create confusion when the pronoun antecedent (usually the noun to which the possessive pronoun refers) is not gender-specific. All-too-frequently, in our effort to treat men and women equally, we misuse the plural possessive pronoun, their, by referring to a singular subject. For example, this sentence is incorrect: The student ate their lunch. The plural possessive pronoun, their, cannot refer to the singular noun, student. Again from a lesson in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 programs:

Avoid using gender-specific pronouns to refer to pronoun antecedents, which the writer does not intend to be gender-specific. The best way to fix this error is by making the antecedent noun or nouns plural. Revision Example: The student students ate their lunch lunches. Or revise the sentence without the pronouns. Revision Example: The student ate their lunch.


Meaning and Usage

They’re is a contraction, meaning they are. To start this lesson, I re-teach the four are contractions.

You are you’re Example: You’re funny.
We are we’re Example: We’re family.
They are they’re Example: They’re going to the store.
Who are who’re Example: Who’re you?

Source: Fry, E.B., Ph.D. & Kress, J.E., Ed.D. (2006). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists 5th Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Teach your students that the apostrophe in a contraction is used to indicate a missing letter or letters. With the are contractions, the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “a.”

The they’re word is often mispronounced as three sounds (/th/, /ā/, /er/), rather than as two (/th/, /ār/). Thus, the there, their, and they’re homonyms are perfect homophones, though they are not homographs. Take time to teach these terms: Homonyms are words which sound or are spelled the same. One subset, homophones, are words which are pronounced the same; the other subset, homographs, are words which are spelled the same.

Have students say this sentence out loud, pronouncing the there, their, and they’re  exactly the same as two sounds:

They’re waiting for their friends over there.


Again, with they’re, we have a non-phonetic sight word, or outlaw word spelling. They’re is a common contraction, but does not make the Fry 300 High Frequency Sight Words List. In fact, only one contraction, it’s, does make the list at #300 in terms of frequency.

However, the pronoun in the word is they, which is #19. Because the word appears so often in text, students beyond second grade usually have mastered the spelling. The spelling trick for they’re, which is often misspelled, is to see the contraction as two separate words: they + ‘reOnce students make this visualization, they usually spell the they’re with consistency.

Writing Application

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Teach your students that contractions, such as they’re only belong in informal writing and speaking. The use of they’re is usually confined to story dialogue, because we tend to say “they’re” more often than “they are.”

Point out that good writers not only avoid using they’re in formal writing because it is a contraction, but the word also includes a “to be” verb: are. Good writers tend to reduce the number of their “to be” verbs in narrative and expository writing and replace these with more active, vivid, show me–don’t tell me verbs. Check out this article, “How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs” for strategies to help your students reduce “to be” verbs in their writing.


If more than one of the above curricular resources interests you, you may wish to check out the

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES. Each BUNDLE includes these full-year grade level programs: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language ApplicationDifferentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit, plus many additional instructional resources. Each grade level BUNDLE was designed and classroom-tested as a seamless program to help your students master each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards and provides perfect instructional continuity among the grade levels.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

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Program Overview

  • 56 language conventions (grammar, usage, and mechanics) lessons with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 28 spelling patterns tests and spelling sorts with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 writing openers language application with teacher display and student worksheets
  • 56 vocabulary worksheets
  • 28 biweekly grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary unit tests and summative spelling assessments
  • Diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics tests with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Diagnostic spelling patterns assessment with corresponding remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Language application remedial worksheets–each with a formative assessment
  • Complete syllabication program
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Don’t Use Mad Libs to Teach Grammar

Mad Libs: Not for Grammar Instrction

Don’t Use Mad Libs to Teach Grammar

This morning I woke up to the usual pinging of Pinterest pins. As a teacher-publisher, I use Pinterest to market my ELA and reading intervention programs. I normally create a few pins per day in those subject areas. As a result, my daily allotment of “Fresh Pins” are, of course, targeted to those areas.

One of those pins this morning was titled “12 Fun Ways to Teach Grammar in Your Classroom.” I’m familiar with the author and her products (quite good, by the way) and so I read her article. After all, who doesn’t want to add a bit more fun to one’s teaching? Her 12 ideas were contributed by other teachers, posting on her Education to the Core Facebook Group.

One of the 12 suggestions is MAD LiBS™. For the few who are not familiar with this game and published materials, now the property of Penguin Random House, the procedures and name were created and coined in the 1950s. According to Wikipedia, more than 110 million copies of Mad Libs books have been sold since the series was first published in 1958.

The Mad Libs format consists of a short story in which a number of key words are replaced with blanks. Under each word is some categorical term, such as a part of speech. The person who is it (the assigned reader) asks the others playing the game for an example of the categorical term, such as a noun.  The reader does not read the story, and so the other players must provide an example of the noun without any story context. The reader elicits word or phrase examples for the rest of the blanks until the story has been completed. Then the reader reads the story out loud, including the randomly chosen words. The results can be funny or not; the sentences and story may make sense or not. Usually, the results are a mixed bag.

In my own family, Mad Libs were standard road trip entertainment, along with the license plate game (looking for plates from different states), for our yearly car vacations. As a teacher, I naturally (and irritatingly) took advantage of each game to remind my three boys about the parts of speech and U.S. geography respectively. Notice that I, as the dad and teacher, had no control over introducing the content, but was restricted to reviewing or reinforcing previous learning regarding out-of-context Mad Lib categorical terms and whichever car or truck we passed or passed us on the highway. The reviewing and reinforcing were incidental. According to Merriam-Webster, incidental in this context means “occurring merely by chance or without intention or calculation.” Incidentally (the other definition of the word, meaning “being likely to ensue as a chance or minor consequence”), Hawaii is the hardest to find!

Certainly, both of these games exposed gaps in my sons’ learning (or their teachers’ instruction). However, because of the adhoc nature of the games, I certainly could not infer all of my sons’ grammatical or geographical gaps or determine how one gap related to other gaps. For example, if one of my sons came up with caves for the Mad Lib noun, did this mean that he understood the difference between proper and common nouns or the complete definition of common nouns as ideas, persons, places or things? I couldn’t tell you. The game provided no means of meaningful formative assessment.

Now, before you throw your vast collection of Mad Libs books into the school dumpster, I would continue reading just a bit more.

As a rainy day activity or carefully contrived review activity, teachers may find some merit in playing once in a while. The Mad Libs publisher even has a teaching resource page with a few fun games.

However, with respect to being one of “12 Fun Ways to Teach Grammar in Your Classroom,” (my emphasis) I would beg to differ. Mad Libs should not be used to teach grammar. Now some would argue that providing a context for incidental learning is, indeed, teaching. Some may suggest that many forms of incidental learning, such as vocabulary acquisition through independent reading are essential. Fair points, but incidental learning is effective and necessary in some academic areas, but not in others. Grammar, or the structure of our language, is not conducive to incidental learning. To argue that we should teach the structure of our language in an unstructured way is downright silly. You wouldn’t hire an architect to design a home who would forego blueprints and direct the contractor to “just start building from the front door and see what happens next.” Neither would you teach someone to play Monopoly by adding relevant rules only upon each role of the di. True teaching in some academic areas, such as grammar, needs a plan.

As an ELA teacher since the 1980s, grammar has always been an important component of instruction in my classroom. Not the most important component, but important.  As a teacher-publisher, I have created numerous products for teaching grammar, usage, and mechanics over the years with evolving instructional formats. On my Pennington Publishing store, I provide traditional programs, interactive notebooks, and literacy centers for both grade-level instruction (aligned to the Common Core Standards) and remedial instruction (focusing on the Common Core Progressive Skills Review Standards). All three instructional approaches make sense to me because they follow a coherent instructional scope and sequence. Each program begins with a plan and follows with lessons and activities designed to fulfill that plan. With respect to grammar, that plan is linear (it moves from A to Z), but it is also recursive. Instruction cycles back within each year and year to year to remind and reinforce and then to build upon past learning. The Common Core State Standards follow this approach with both grade-level and progressive skills review Standards.

What does not make sense to me is incidental methodology for teaching grammar. It’s teaching without a plan. It’s a road trip without a clear destination or without using a nav system. Incidental learning is the very nature of the Mad Libs game and is why Mad Libs should not be used to teach grammar. The game may provide some benefit and fun for learning reinforcement and review, but it certainly should not be a chief focus of the teacher’s instruction. By the way, Mad Libs is not the only incidental approach to grammar instruction. I would also classify Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) as a random sample instructional approach. I would also say that the grammar mini-lessons approach, built around issues some students are facing in the context of their own writing would certainly falls into this category.

Want a full-year grammar and mechanics instructional scope and sequence for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8?

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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, Literacy Centers, Writing , , , , , , , ,

School Absence Excuses

Funny School Absent Excuses

School Absent Excuses

No doubt you’ve heard a few of these. Following are my favorites from BuzzFeed’s collection, which has been gathered from school attendance clerks over the years. But, read past and I’ll provide one of my own that I think you will enjoy. Ah… truth is stranger than fiction.

I once told a teacher two weeks before a school concert that I wouldn’t be able to go because I would be sick. She just asked “you’ll be sick?” and when I nodded she just dropped it. She either believed in my ability to see into the future or thought my stupidity was just too much to even question.

Emmy Bloomberg, Facebook

Once during my high school spirit week, it was “superhero” Thursday. I didn’t have a costume and didn’t have time to buy/ make one… I had a genius idea… I skipped school that day, and then on Friday, everyone was demanding a reason why I wasn’t at school, and my excuse was, “I was here, I just came as the Invisible Woman.”

Submitted by mydnytestorme13

I used the excuse that I missed the bus for months, until the school caught on that I lived across the street. I could see my high school from my porch.

Submitted by carleighg

Jimmy Gordon’s Excuse

I’ve told quite a few people over the years about my student, Jimmy Gordon, and his excuse for cutting school. I’ve never put it into print until now. No, the name has not been changed to protect the innocent… because he certainly was not. Call this post “Teacher Payback.”

My first teaching job was at a grades 4-8 school in Sutter Creek, California. This beautiful Gold Rush town was split in two halves by Sutter Creek (hence the name). Good fishing, swimming, and gold panning in that creek!

In the spring of 1986, Jimmy Gordon transferred to our school from out of the area. Jimmy was an eighth-grader and I was his history teacher. Jimmy seemed like a nice kid and he made a few friends right away–something teachers (and parents) are always concerned about with a mid-year transfer.

A week before Open House, the principal called an emergency staff meeting to inform us that Jimmy Gordon’s dad had died suddenly. Jimmy had come in that morning, sobbing about his dad’s passing and telling us that the funeral was planned for the following week when relatives would arrive. Jimmy went home to console his mom.

The staff felt horrible and we quickly allocated money from our “Sunshine Fund” to send a bouquet of flowers and a card to Jimmy and his mom.

After Open House, the seventh and eighth grade teachers walked down to the local watering hole, “Berlotti’s” to unwind, per our custom. I sat down toward the end of the bar, next to a man a few years older than I. He was an outgoing sort and soon leaned over to me and said, “You all sound like teachers.”

I told him, “Yes, we just finished our Open House at Sutter Creek Elementary.”

“Oh really,” he replied, “My son just started school there a few week’s back.”

“What’s his name?” I stammered.

“Jimmy Gordon.”


Jimmy had been ditching school for a week, fishing in Sutter Creek.

Now, that’s a funny school absence excuse. When Jimmy returned to my class the next day, he didn’t say much. But I asked him anyway, “Were they biting? Jimmy just turned red and put his head down for the rest of the day.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , ,

Teacher Hygge

5 Strategies to Teacher Hygee

Teacher Hygge

Everyone could use a little more hygge, especially teachers. You’ve heard about it and searched how to spell it, but what is it?

Essentially, hygge is the Danish (and some claim Norwegian) term for that moment in life when you sigh, smile, and say, “Life is good.” It’s the cozy, comfortable, and fun lifestyle. Some say that it derives from hugge, the old Norse word for hug. Hygge is not solely introspective; it is also other-focused. Hygge is about the individual fitting into the community. That’s my version of mindfulness. I call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.”

To achieve hygge, teachers need to recognize and take advantage of the rhythms of our teaching lives. Summer is the perfect time to play (not work) toward this goal with the five strategies of “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Now, put aside all the stuff you’ve heard about mindfulness training. No one has the copyright or monopoly on this term. It need not have a religious connotation, but it can and does so in a variety of religious practices: some Eastern and some Western. My concept of mindfulness is simple: Take time to decompress and restore a proper work-life balance. Take time to enjoy our profession and be re-encouraged about the importance of our career paths.

My five “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” strategies are simple to understand and implement: Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. No, I’m not writing a self-help book on these strategies; I’m no expert. These strategies are nothing new. Take them as reminders of what you already know to be true as a teacher. Notice, I don’t claim that these will work for every profession; I only know what I know as a teacher. Check out the article detailing these strategies here.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness and Hygge

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Note that the sequence is important. It moves from an inward focus to an outward goal, taking care of yourself so that you can do so for others. Teaching is a sacrificial profession: we do give up some personal prerogatives for the benefit of our students. No need to list them here. But, learn the wisdom from Jesus’ words: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39 New International Version). You can only sacrifice what you have to offer.

So let’s get practical here and talk about what teachers do during summer vacation. Yes, I know the term is an oxymoron. No teacher I know has the summer off. Some of us have other jobs to pay the bills. Most teachers spend some (or a lot) of their summer taking graduate coursework to expand their knowledge base (and improve their position on the salary schedule), or they attend professional development training. Most teachers also use the summer months for grade-level team or individual planning. Think curricular maps and lesson plans. My experience is that this process involves the latter three strategies: Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train. It’s the cart before the horse. How much better to learn and plan after the first two strategies: Relax and Re-group?

Beginning the summer in the right place makes the rest of our “vacation” go so much better. We re-connect with our friends, families, and colleagues in a relaxed state of mind with an openness to new ideas and fresh, out-of-the-box approaches. We are in the proper mental state to re-commit to the love of our lives: teaching and our students, and we can prepare for the newness of our fresh start to the school year by re-training with new things to try. Following the process is simply rejuvenating. That’s the feeling of teacher hygge.

After relaxing and re-grouping, want to re-connect, re-commit, and re-train without re-inventing the wheel? Check out these grade-level English-language arts curricular maps for you summer team and individual planning.

Curricular Maps for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer Plannin’ for Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Summer plannin’ made easy! Day by day grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary plans for next year! A FREE curricular map completely aligned to the CCSS and ready to write in your planner. Want the grade-level CCSS alignment documents? They’re in there!

No need to re-invent the wheel this summer by applying the Common Core State Standards to your grade-level curricular mapping. For those “other than reading and writing” subjects we all need to teach (think grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary), check out these twice-per week curricular listings:






Following each curricular map are sample lessons from my own program (designed to teach each lesson in the curricular map), followed by the CCSS alignment documents.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Re-charge Batteries with Summer Teacher Mindfulness

Summer Teacher Mindfulness

It sometimes seemed as if it never would arrive, and then it showed up so surprisingly soon: summer! Built into every teacher is a certain life cycle, even if the teacher is teaching year-round, or (God-forbid) summer school. The anticipation of the weekends, holidays, breaks, and summer vacation is often more rewarding than the thing in-it-of-itself. This summer, let’s make the thing better than the lead-up.

I’m Mark Pennington, a teacher publisher and ELA teacher/reading specialist. Of course I want to sell you books, but I also care about my profession. Teaching is the love of my life, as it is for many of you. However, the research (with which I will not bore you) shows that more and more teachers are entering the profession with idealistic high hopes of truly making a difference in others’ lives, but crashing and burning within a few years. Even for veteran teachers, a 7, 17, or 27 year itch or even PTSD can threaten a meaningful career.

I’m not self-help guru, but I recently read an article in the Washington Post by Megan McDonough in which she highlights some of the thoughts of Finnish author, Miska Rantanen in his book, Pantsdrunk. Read that title again; you can’t make this stuff up.

I like people from Finland because one of my lifelong friends was a Finnish foreign exchange student back in high school and because everyone has heard that the Finnish educational system is the best in the world. My friend, Mika, says it isn’t, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I saw the Finnish name, Miska, and decided to read the article. It’s about different cultural approaches to the latest American pop craze: mindfulness. The article confirms a few practices which I and some of my happiest colleagues have been doing during the summer to re-energize and re-charge.

All foreign language terms come from the Washington Post article.

One of the points of the article is that mindfulness means different things to different cultures. It’s purposes and practices can be completely different. It can also be religious or purely secular. If you are studying Zen Buddhism or the early Christian meditation practices, you will get different approaches and purposes. (The former’s goal is emptiness, while the latter’s goal is filling.) If you are a secular type, you may beg, borrow, and steal from either, any, or none. (My wife and teaching colleagues would agree that I’m an equal opportunity annoyer.) Anyway, the author’s purpose and mine is not to harmonize these different ideas of mindfulness and pretend that they are all the same. My purpose is to describe a few practices that seem to work for me and other teachers.

Since anyone with access to the Internet and a blog can coin a term these days, I’ll call it “Summer Teacher Mindfulness.” Since “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is my own term, I get to make up my own ideas and practice. Join in if it makes sense to you. Teachers only. This is an exclusive club 🙂 like the staff-only bathroom.

Please feel free to add on your own ideas for each of these five steps in the comments section.

Summer Teacher Mindfulness? My take is that teachers need summer to Relax, Re-group, Re-connect, Re-commit, and Re-train.


It’s been a long year and you’ve worked hard. Perhaps no other profession is as emotionally draining. Non-teachers don’t understand how much students, colleagues, administrators, and parents take from you. Just like your phone, you have to re-charge your batteries. I say it’s okay to focus on yourself a bit. Didn’t Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 New International Version)? We focus on the first part, but can only do that well if we take care of the last part.

The Danes call their approach to a relaxed lifestyle, hygge (HOO-ga). They emphasize simple, cozy, comfortable living. Check out my related article, “Teacher Hygge” and learn how to take concrete steps toward living the good life. Nothing you don’t already know, but an encouragement to restore FUN in your life. Also, download my free grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary curriculum maps in that same article to make your summer plannin’ easy.


Relaxing allows us to take stock of our lives, to put things in perspective, and to see ourselves as we really are (warts and all). I’m a reading specialist and so I think about a technique to improve comprehension called metacognition. Essentially, metacognition means to think about thinking. That’s re-grouping. It’s deliberate and may take a portion of your summer, but my view is that we often skip this step and move from a week’s vacation (Relax) to re-connect to0 quickly with others and our profession. If you’re doing lesson planning on your Hawaiian vacation, you are are not relaxing nor re-grouping.

For me, two practical steps of re-grouping are walking and reading. I jump full-throttle into these summer disciplines as soon as I’ve relaxed a bit. These recreational

Teachers and Ikigai

Ikigai for Teachers

disciplines do just that: they re-create. The Japanese re-group with nature through movement. They call it ikigai (Ee-KEY-guy), or “reason for being.” The Norewegians re-group by embracing nature and use the term, friluftsliv (FREE-loofts-liv), to describe open-air living. I imagine Norwegians really have to make use of their summers for this practice, given the gloom they live in for much of the year. As soon as I’m done with this article, I’m going on a short hike.


We can’t lead self-focused lives forever, nor should we. We are teachers. Our focus in the teaching profession is giving the who and what plus how. We give of ourselves to students. If you haven’t figured this out yet, you won’t last long in our profession. Teaching is all about relationships. But in the summer we need to practice building (and re-building) relationships. A teacher’s positive relationships with family, friends, and community statistically correlates with positive professional relationships. So call your mom; hang with friends; get to know an unknown neighbor and do some volunteer work.

The Dutch practice these social re-connections and term it gezellig (Heh-SELL-ick). I don’t think the Dutch have Facebook or Instagram in mind. It’s all about re-connecting in person.

Of course we do have to (let’s go with “get to”) re-connect with what we teach and how we teach it.


Before you re-connect with work planning, take time to re-commit. I’m serious. Every teacher needs a solemn ceremony (it may need only last until you finish reading this article) to re-affirm our contract. It’s like reciting wedding vows in a re-commitment ceremony.

Recently, I attended my niece’s graduation from nursing school. The graduation involves a group recital of the The Nightingale Pledge, named in honor of Florence Nightingale. It’s a modified version of the Hippocratic Oath. The recitation is followed by a pinning ceremony in which registered nurses receive a specially designed pin bearing the name of their nursing school. It’s a tangible reminder of their professional commitment.

My summer re-commitment involves taking out and contemplating a simple framed pencil drawing, completed long ago by a friend upon receiving my teaching credential from U.C.L.A. It’s a simple drawing of a classroom scene in which I’m sitting among my students. You have your own re-commitment ceremony, but do it. Remind yourself of the privilege it is to teach and your idealist commitment to do so when you first began your teaching career. You didn’t get into this profession for the money; although, the vacations are not too bad 🙂

Part of a teacher’s re-commitment should include a commitment to a balanced work and home life. The Swedish practice this balance, “not too much and not too little” in their cultural philosophy called lagom (lah-GOM). One practice of lagom, which I plan to incorporate in my “Summer Teacher Mindfulness” is a daily break involving either a hot beverage or a treat. Yes to both.


My strong advice is to do something new. Intentionally abandon some of what has proven to work for you and your students and try something different. For me, I’ve loved the flexibility of change within our profession. I’ve changed subject areas (history to reading to ELA), grade levels (I’ve taught elementary, middle school, high school, and community college), and schools. In the last few years I’ve tried literacy centers, interactive notebooks, Socratic seminars, and more. I’ve taken on new committee assignments and served on different district task forces. You get the idea. Change is good. We teachers love to learn and so re-training fills that need.

I will make one suggestion for re-training. Consider re-training your mindset from teaching to learning. Be about what and how students learn, not only about what and how you teach. There is not a distinction without a difference.

One way to focus on learning is to shift from a class to an individual student mindset. Here we go back to the relational component of our profession which I’ve already discussed. The best way to re-focus on the individual student’s needs? Assessment-based individualized instruction. That’s what my Pennington Publishing ELA and reading intervention resources are all about. Of course, we also teach grade-level Standards, but quick, accurate, whole-class assessments can determine what and how you teach to individual students. Want the assessments (absolutely free) that I use? Grammar and Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Sight Words and Syllables, Reading Fluency. Click below and I’ll send the assessment downloads with recording matrices to your email address. What a great way to re-train this summer!

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t Teach Grammar Mini-Lessons

Don’t teach grammar mini-lessons for two reasons: this instructional methodology is implicit and ineffective.

Currently, the top Google search for “new research on teaching grammar” brings up this article from The Atlantic, written by Professor Michelle Navarre Cleary:

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

Case settled? Not exactly. In educational research it is much easier to disprove than to prove. Educational researchers frequently employ the null hypothesis in their experimental design. In a nutshell, a grammar program research study might have the following hypothesis: “There is no statistical significance between the achievement of grade 8 students taught with such and such grammar program and those not taught with said grammar program as measured by such and such assessment over such and such a period of time.”

By design, any findings would have to be extremely limited and the control group, unless unexposed to any literacy activities in hermetically-sealed isolation chambers, would have so many variables that any findings would be questionable. Such has been the case with the century of research on grammar and usage acquisition and its transfer to writing. Two separate issues, by the way.

What the good professor is advocating is learning grammar implicitly from reading and writing, especially the latter. She suggests mini-lessons in the context of writing as a superior method of writing instruction (Notice: not grammar instruction).

We know that grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones. Often, surprisingly little formal grammar instruction is needed. Researcher Marcia Hurlow has shown that many errors “disappear” from student writing when students focus on their ideas and stop “trying to ‘sound correct.’”

These grammar mini-lessons are part and parcel of the implicit instructional approach: “If you do something over and over again, you’ll eventually stop making mistakes and get gooder at the task.” It’s akin to playing Monopoly for the first time without reading the rules. No, you don’t eventually learn to play by playing and being interrupted by occasional mini-lessons on what to do when passing “Go.”

What’s Wrong with the Implicit Approach in Mini-Lessons?

  1. It is simply inefficient. Waiting to teach a mini-lesson as students need the grammatical tool always comes with this advice: “When you notice that some of your students are having capitalization issues regarding article titles, pull a group of students needing the instruction and teach the relevant rules.” Of course, other students may need that same instruction, but have not yet evidenced the problems in writer mini-conferences with the teacher. Furthermore, why not teach the capitalization rules for all proper nouns. You know you are going to have to teach another mini-lesson next week on the capitalization of song and poem titles. Lastly, the beauty of the Common Core State Standards is the grade-level expectations and the mastery approach to learning. The CCSS Language Strand has quite explicit grammar, usage, and mechanics grade-level Standards.
  2. It is haphazard and disjointed. A traditional grammar approach provides explicit, planned instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on combining sentences by starting with a prepositional phrase will not make sense unless students have a solid foundation of subjects, predicates (a prepositional phrase never includes the subject or predicate), the characteristics of a phrase and a complete sentence, the role of commas with introductory phrases, etc. All other academic disciplines build upon foundations: no math teacher would do a mini-lesson on long division before teaching the multiplication tables.
  3. It does not connect to other  language instruction. An isolated mini-lesson on semi-colons does not connect to related lessons on comma-conjunction rules, independent and dependent clauses, the use of phrases in lists, etc. The amount of scaffolding required to teach a mini-lesson on mis-use of the semi-colon is significant. Interestingly, the most popular approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction, Daily Oral Language, is at the forefront of criticism by those favoring the mini-lesson approach for not connecting to other language instruction. See my article “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work” for more.
  4. It falsely teaches students that grammar is an editing skill alone. Aside from the sentence combining practice, advocates of the mini-lesson approach teaches students that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction is all about mistakes, rather than about tools to enrich speaking and writing.

Why Are Grammar Mini-Lessons So Ineffective?

  1. There is no corroborating research. Those advocating the relegation of grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to mini-lessons have zero research studies to confirm a positive correlation with this approach on either grammar or writing assessments. It’s easy to throw stones at traditional grammar approaches, but it does not follow that mini-lessons are the best and only alternatives. The professor in The Atlantic article only cites anecdotal evidence that learning grammar from writing does, indeed, work.
  2. We’ve been there and done that. Decades of ignoring explicit grammar instruction have not seen increased reading or writing ability in our students. The Common Core authors in Appendix A crush the notion that implicit instructional approaches produce better results than explicit ones. Hence, the unpopular (among grammar mini-lesson fans) inclusion of a separate Language Strand. Even the most recent National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement in the NCTE Guideline now stresses the importance of direct instruction in these areas (even including parts of speech and sentence diagramming) with the caveat that instruction must be connected to reading, writing, and speaking. Regarding instructional approaches, the NCTE position might surprise some die-hard anti-grammar fanatics.
  3. There is less grammar teaching in mini-center classrooms. It’s just true. Those who use mini-lessons devalue the important contributions that grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction bring to developing readers and writers. Or, as is often the case, teachers did not learn grammar as students and did not learn how to teach grammar, usage, and mechanics in teacher preparation classes. Grammar can be scary and teachers seek their own instructional comfort levels.
  4. This instructional philosophy trickles into other language instruction. The implicit instruction of grammar mini-lessons bleeds into other areas of language instruction. Typically, those who teach grammar mini-lessons follow suit in vocabulary instruction. Again, the days of teaching only vocabulary in context and assorted mini-lessons on context clues has not done the job. The Common Core State Standards require a variety of direct vocabulary instruction at each grade level to improve the academic language of our students. See an example of the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards, again found in the Language Strand to see if these Standards are conducive to a mini-lesson approach (They are not). In reading instruction we abandoned the “whole to part” strategy years ago following the 1985 National Reading Panel Report with its reading research consistently supporting the explicit, systematic approach to reading development. Interestingly, many teachers who now teach direct vocabulary and reading instruction have hung on to the implicit approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction.

Of course, teachers want to know how best to teach grammar, if mini-lessons do not work. No, there are other alternatives beyond simply passing out drill and kill worksheets or DOL. Check out my article, “Grammar and the Common Core” and my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs.

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orton-Gillingham Review

One Size Does Not Fit All Reading Instruction

One Size Does Not Fit All

I don’t usually spend much time critiquing reading intervention programs other than my own Teaching Reading Strategies. Obviously, as a publisher I have built-in bias, and I will end up this article with a convincing case as to why teachers should purchase my own products.

I did review the READ 180 Next Generation, System 44, and Language Live! programs because each program was piloted in local schools last year. However, recently I’ve been getting a number of inquiries regarding the Orton-Gillingham Approach, so I thought I’d offer my thoughts and cite relevant research studies regarding this program. Many of the same comments could be applied to similar approaches to reading instruction: the Spalding Method, Wilson Reading System, and Lindamood Bell.

Orton-Gillingham Quick Overview

Orton-Gillingham (O-G) has long been a favorite program of special education and home school teachers. Some parochial schools also favor the program, and recently more and more public schools have embraced parts of or the whole O-G  resources for response to intervention classes. Response to intervention programs use a multi-tiered approach to remedial reading both in and out of mainstream classes to meet the needs of older, struggling readers.

The program is chiefly selected for developmental and remedial readers because of two instructional characteristics: explicit, systematic phonics and a multi-sensory approach to sight words acquisition and spelling instruction. The program features movement and color to make learning memorable. The Wikipedia article provides a concise and balanced overview of the O-G history and instructional philosophy.

Orton-Gillingham Review: the Good, the Bad, and the Weird

The Good

Any teacher with some experience teaching reading will be able to teach the O-G program without extensive training. You don’t need the Orton-Gillingham certification to use its program resources. It’s not rocket science.

The highlight of the program is the instructional scope and sequence. Its phonics sequence makes sense and is similar to that of Open Court, READ 180, Language Live!, and my own program. Its systematic instructional approach is consistent and explicit. No synthetic, analytic, or analogous crossovers.

Good teachers can separate the wheat from the chaff. There is much value to the O-G program and many teachers swear by its results.

The Bad

The full program is not easy to implement and takes a significant amount of teacher prep for daily use. Additionally, new teachers will need the full O-G training. Because the program is so step-by-step, it takes an inordinate amount of time to achieve results for some beginning and remedial readers. Realistically, this is problematic for two reasons:

1. Teachers do not have unlimited time to prep, re-teach, re-teach, and re-teach until all students get it. Sometimes, skipping an unmastered skill, such as consonant digraphs, makes sense and students later master that skill in the midst of learning, say, consonant blends. This is not the O-G Approach. Furthermore, teachers, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students, want to see results quickly. This is especially true for older, struggling readers.

2. The program claims to be flexible, and it is in part; however, it does not yield on its systematic, explicit phonics methodology. The new position paper of the International Literacy Association correctly summarizes the reading research that explicit phonics instruction works, but that systematic instruction did not achieve better results than other approaches, despite claims to the contrary by the International Dyslexia Association (which does not advocate any one explicit, systematic phonics approach, but clearly favors that of Orton-Gillingham). In fact, the International Literacy Association specifically cites the lack of results with  the O-G Approach:

In their report on the effects of specific programs, the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) program had the lowest average effect size (0.23). The remainder of the programs ranged from 0.35 to 0.68 (p. 2-160). Looking further, only two of the O-G studies assessed comprehension, and the average effect size on comprehension was -0.03. Only one study reported a delayed assessment of comprehension, and the effect size was -0.81 (six months after
the completion of the intervention). That is minus 0.81—thus participation in an O-G program appears to have had a large negative impact on reading achievement in comparison with other intervention methods evaluated in the study.

Ouch! While I affirm the value of explicit, systematic phonics instruction and help teachers implement this approach with my 16 week sound-spelling blending and phonics workshops, I’ve taught enough beginning and remedial reading to know that every student does not learn in the same way. One size does not fit all. Sometimes, an onset-rime approach with rimes (word families), a syllable-by-syllable approach, or more word fluency will do the trick. My Teaching Reading Strategies program offers each of these alternative or both-and resources. Whatever it takes to get quickly to the end result: fluent readers with excellent reading comprehension. Begin with explicit, systematic phonics instruction for struggling readers; adjust as needed.

The Weird

Every reading program has its idiosyncrasies, mine included. For example, my 54 Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, which support the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies program, are purely decodable with the exception of only two high frequency sight words per book. While every other collection of decodable guided reading or take-home books cheats a bit by adding in a few extra sight words to improve reading coherency and fluent reading, mine do not. It’s one of the weird features of my resources… butI think a good one that is less confusing to struggling readers.

Orton-Gillingham has its share of idiosyncrasies. As teachers are trained in the O-G Approach, most will shake their heads at some of program practices, deemed essential to O-G purists. Two philosophical tenets of the program are simply unfounded and influence some instructional components:

1. Dyslexia is championed as the root cause of reading problems. In fact, Samuel Orton coined the term back in the 1920s. Recently, the influential International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association) published a position paper which debunks dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association, which affirms the Orton-Gillingham Approach, weighed in on the position paper. The International Literacy Association refuted point-by-point each of the O-G assertions. Read about the controversy in my article, Dyslexia Is Not Real. The gist of my position is that reading difficulties are not learning disabilities which cannot be cured, but only treated with coping mechanisms:

“Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies” (

Instead, I’ve found that quality assessment-based instruction can, indeed, cure what needs to be cured for struggling readers.

2. Orton-Gillingham’s multi-sensory approach does not have a solid research base. Following is the gist of this methodology:

Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented and involve constant interaction between the teacher and the student and the simultaneous use of multiple sensory input channels reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements, all language skills taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write. For example, a dyslexic learner is taught to see the letter A, say its name and sound and write it in the air–all at the same time. The approach requires intense instruction with ample practice. The use of multiple input channels is thought to enhance memory storage and retrieval by providing multiple “triggers” for memory (

Although all good teaching involves the learners’ variety of sensory experiences, the zealous focus on multi-sensory practice in the O-G Approach is extraneous or a waste of time, at best, and counterproductive, at worst. For example, writing spellings in the air reinforce the long-discredited notion that spelling is a visual skill. Most teachers stopped tracing letters and memorizing letter shapes decades ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, which is ironically reinforced throughout the phonemic awareness and phonics instructional components of the O-G program.

For more regarding the research on multi-sensory approaches, learning styles, and multiple intelligences, check out my article, Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences.

Comparing the Teaching Reading Strategies Program to the Orton-Gillingham Approach

The Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE follow nearly the same instructional phonics sequence as Orton-Gillingham and both programs provide explicit, systematic phonics instruction. However, Teaching Reading Strategies includes all the other resources teachers need to teach to each unique learner with assessment-based instruction. My program is designed exclusively for reading intervention. Resources are catered to older, struggling readers who have not yet mastered the basics of reading.

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, the Teaching Reading Strategies program helps teachers isolate and teach to the specific needs of struggling readers with targeted instruction.

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, the Teaching Reading Strategies program is much more flexible and cheaper!

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, my training program is free and included. Step-by-step videos introduce the instructional strategies. This program is user-friendly and requires only minimal prep and correction. Here’s an overview of the program:

Teaching Reading Strategies provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 




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