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Progressive Skills Review

Although English-Language Arts teachers have rightly focused on the Reading Standards for Literature, the Reading Standards for Informational Text, and the Writing Standards Strands of the Common Core State Standards, other Strands now deserve our focus as well.

The Anchor Standards for Language have been more controversial among many educators. The Language Strand includes the following Standards for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).

Whole language (whole to part) writing and literature-based devotees have been chagrined at the inclusion of Language as a separate Common Core Strand. Anticipating this reaction, the Common Core writers went out of their way to placate the purists who believe that grammar, usage, and conventions (mechanics and spelling) taught in isolation from writing instruction and vocabulary taught in isolation from reading instruction are mortal sins.

“The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Less controversial, but still noteworthy, has been the inclusion of specific grammar, usage, and mechanics skills that need to be reinforced throughout the Grades 3‒12 Standards. These Language Progressive Skills found at the end of both the K-5 and 6-12 Language Standards include this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

The tacit admission that some skills-based instruction in language conventions is, indeed, desirable, and is, in fact, necessary to acquiring advanced literacy has been a tough pill for some purists to swallow. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process fellows have been loath to accept this distinction between skills and craft. Grammar rules are back in style.

However, most teachers have welcomed the emphases of these language skills across the grade levels. In fact, the repetition of the skills in the Common Core document validates what teachers have long been saying: Language acquisition and mastery is a cyclical and developmental process and not the introduction-reinforcement-mastery model that direct instruction gurus have long advocated. In other words, “No wonder we have to teach the same stuff year-to-year and over and over again before it starts to sink in. Maybe last year’s teacher really did teach this stuff after all.”

Let’s take a quick look at these 18 Language Progressive Skills:

CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards


  1. 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
  2. 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
  3. 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
  4. 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their).
  5. 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
  6. 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
  7. 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
  8. 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
  9. 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
  10. 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
  11. 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  12. 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
  13. 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
  14. 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
  15. 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
  16. 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
  17. 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
  18. 910.1a. Use parallel structure.

Of course these Language Progressive Skills Standards beg these two fundamental instructional questions: How do we teach these skills? How do students best learn these skills?

Increasingly, teachers are answering this question with assessment-based instruction. Check out the helpful free diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring matrices for grammar, usage, and mechanics in the upper right dropdown menu of the author’s website.


Syntax Programs

Pennington Publishing Grammar Programs

Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School) are full-year, traditional, grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics programs with plenty of remedial practice to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards. Twice-per-week, 30-minute, no prep lessons in print or interactive Google slides with a fun secret agent theme. Simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts, video lessons, sentence dictations. Plenty of practice in the writing context. Includes biweekly tests and a final exam.

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Interactive Notebook (Grades 4‒8) is a full-year, no prep interactive notebook without all the mess. Twice-per-week, 30-minute, no prep grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons, formatted in Cornell Notes with cartoon response, writing application, 3D graphic organizers (easy cut and paste foldables), and great resource links. No need to create a teacher INB for student make-up work—it’s done for you! Plus, get remedial worksheets, biweekly tests, and a final exam.

Syntax in Reading and Writing is a function-based, sentence level syntax program, designed to build reading comprehension and increase writing sophistication. The 18 parts of speech, phrases, and clauses lessons are each leveled from basic (elementary) to advanced (middle and high school) and feature 5 lesson components (10–15 minutes each): 1. Learn It!  2. Identify It!  3. Explain It! (analysis of challenging sentences) 4. Revise It! (kernel sentences, sentence expansion, syntactic manipulation) 5. Create It! (Short writing application with the syntactic focus in different genre).

Get the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments, Matrix, and Final Exam FREE Resource:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

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