Posts Tagged ‘Common Core State Standards’

Common Core Literalism

Beware Common Core Literalism

Common Core Literalism

In Psalm 62 Verse 2, David talks about God saying, “Truly he is my rock...” (NIV)

Now, no one I know would interpret this verse as claiming that God is igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. This “anyone” would also include children. After all metaphor is a grade 4 Standard: “Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors in context. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5.b.

Obviously, David did not mean that God is literally a rock. However, this is not quite the meaning of literally. Technically speaking, we should take what David wrote literally because literally means “as it is written.” An easier way to understand the word, literally, would be “as it is intended.” In other words, David intended to use a metaphor to describe the character of God; that is how it is written

However, many educators are taking the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in a wooden literal sense: not at all in the ways that the Common Core authors intended the Standards to be used. The point I’m getting at is that the CCSS authors intended the Standards to provide a common ground for grade-level teaching, not an all-inclusive, detailed instructional scope and sequence. Last I checked, the 10 Common Core Standards were not written on two stone tablets!

Additionally, when educators look at the CCSS appendices, is is clear that the authors trust administrators, teachers, and publishers to exercise some judgment regarding the implementation of the Standards. This is especially true with necessary prerequisite skills and with remediation.

As an educational publisher I am constantly placed into “no-win” situations in which some school districts are demanding the citation of the specific CCSS Standard on every activity, lesson, worksheet, etc. I could comply with their demands and fudge some of the Standards (as is the usual practice of most educational publishers, use the more generic Anchor Standards, or choose to lose the sale. I choose to lose the sale in these cases, but I always try to explain why I won’t fudge the Standards citations.

To illustrate the problem, here’s a recent exchange from a preschool/transitional-K/kindergarten classroom teacher, who happens to sell her curricula on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Teacher: I’m trying to add the Common Core Standards to my Alphabetical Order resources. I can’t find anything anywhere! Am I missing it? I know other teachers besides myself teach it, as the resources are selling. Or is it one of those things like Patterning where it is still taught by some just not emphasized?

Other Teacher: I’ve looked, too. It’s not a Standard.

Pennington Publishing: This raises an important point. As a reading specialist, I would certainly argue that knowing alphabetic order, as well as recognition, matching, and replication of upper and lower-case letters are critically important prerequisites for reading.

Yet, as others have said, these are not detailed-out in the CCSS.

I recently lost a potential school-wide sale via my Pennington Publishing store because I answered a principal’s question honestly.

She was asked by her reading intervention teachers to purchase my Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLES. She asked me, “Are your assessments and teaching resources Standards-based? Are they specifically aligned to the Common Core State Standards?”

I answered, “Yes, my assessments and corresponding teaching resources are aligned to the Common Core State Standards as detailed in Appendix A. Because the assessments and resources are remedial-based, they encompass multiple grade-level Standards and the prerequisite skills articulated by the Common Core authors that are necessary to scaffold these Standards.”

The principal couldn’t buy my programs because I could not place a specific Common Core Standard on each and every activity, worksheet, story, etc.

Now, I do develop curriculum to specifically address the CCSS and I provide alignment documents in each of my ELA and reading intervention programs. However, we’ve got to give the Common Core authors some credit. We can’t make the Standards “walk on all fours.” Some Standards are stated generally; others with specificity. Some Standards list examples; some do not. I know some teachers who will only teach the examples given in the Standards and none others. That’s crazy. The Common Core authors expect that teachers will need to fill-in-the-blanks. The Standards were not intended as educational straight-jackets.

Teacher: Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sad that you lost a sale, but it’s good to know that there are others who share my belief that prerequisite concepts are missing at certain levels of Common Core.

We all had to learn to crawl before we could walk. So, when my students are ready, I will continue to teach those missing prerequisite materials. It can only help them when they move on to the next grade level.

I’m glad that this teacher is exercising such good judgment. She is teaching the CCSS literally–as the authors wrote them and intended the Standards to be applied in classrooms throughout the United States. She is teaching the Standards with fidelity. I would argue that teachers who are teaching grade-level Standards in a wooden literal sense are not teaching really teaching the Standards.

As a case in point, the CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards and Reading: Foundational Skills Standards make only scant mention of syllable awareness (primary), syllable rules (intermediate), nor accent rules (secondary). However, every teacher would place importance on these instructional elements.

Syllabication is for all ages. Download these FREE instructional resources for your students:

Get the Syllable Awareness Assessment FREE Resource:

Get the Syllable Rules FREE Resource:

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

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Knowledge of Language | Anchor Standards for Language

Tucked away in the often-overlooked recesses of the Common Core State Standards, the Anchor Standards for Language includes a practical, if somewhat ambiguous Standard: Knowledge of Language L.3. Over the past decade, I’ve noted with interest that the educational community has cherry-picked certain Standards and ignored others.

As an author of numerous ELA curricula, I assumed that the initial focus (rightfully so) of district curriculum implementation would be the reading, writing, and math Standards. In my field, I decided to write in anticipation of the next focus area. I assumed that, for ELA, it would center on the Anchor Standards for Language. These Language Standards were quite revolutionary in some circles because the Common Core authors emphasized the direct instruction of grammar, usage, and mechanics. Furthermore, the authors provocatively addressed the issue of non-Standard English and seemed to swing the pendulum toward a traditional grammar approach. Think rules, correct and incorrect usage, and application.

Over the next two years I poured hours into the development of comprehensive grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school programs to teach all of the Standards in the Language Strand. My Teaching the Language Strand title was ill-chosen. Much to my chagrin, ELA teachers rarely got past the Reading and Writing Standards. I moved the title to the subtitle position and re-named the series Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary . The longest title in the history of educational publishing. Subsequently, I broke the comprehensive program into affordable grade-level slices and achieved more sales: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsWriting Openers Language Application, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Syntax in reading and writing

Syntax in Reading and Writing

And now, Syntax in Reading and Writing.

Even within the largely ignored Anchor Standards for Language, one Standard, in particular, has received scant recognition:

The Hidden Gem: Knowledge of Language Standard L.3

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
The key word in the Knowledge of Language Standard is apply. The somewhat ambiguous term, language, refers to the other five Standards in the Language Strand which encompass grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The purpose of this practical Standard is to help students more fully comprehend how language impacts reading and informs writing and apply this knowledge. The slice of my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary series, which aligns to the Knowledge of Language Standards L.3 is Writing Openers Language Application.
Writing Openers Language Application (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) provides 56 whole-class, twice-per-week “quick writes,” designed to help students learn, practice, and apply grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and sentence variety Standards. The Common Core authors are certainly right that grammar should not be taught solely in isolation. Grammatical instruction needs to be taught in the reading and writing contexts and applied in spoken and written language.

The grade-level Writing Openers programs align to the Anchor Standards for Language:

Each of the 56 lessons takes about 5­-10 minutes to complete. Lessons are derived from the Conventions of Standard English (L. 1, 2), Knowledge and Use of Language Standards (L. 3), and the Language Progressive Skills found in the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. The lessons help students “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” (Common Core Language Strand Knowledge of Language). In other words, lots of practice in sentence revision, sentence combination, and identification of and application of grammar.

The lessons are formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction. The teacher reads and explains the Lesson Focus and Example(s) while students follow along on their own accompanying worksheet. Next, the students annotate the Lesson Focus and summarize the Key Idea(s). Afterwards, the students complete the Practice Section (sentence combining, sentence revisions). Finally, students complete the My Own Sentence writing task. The My Own Sentence serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the Lesson Focus.

Plus, get 13 sentence structure worksheets with answers. Worksheets include simple subjects, compound subjects, simple predicates, compound predicates, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences, identifying sentence fragments, revising sentence fragments, identifying sentence run-ons, revising sentence run-ons, and identifying parallelism.


Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 4) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 5) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 6) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 7) Lessons HERE.

Preview the Writing Openers Language Application (Grade 8) Lessons HERE.

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

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

Now that teachers have had plenty of professional development in how to write arguments (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1) and informative/explanatory texts (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2), teachers are looking at their students’ essays or narratives (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3) with a collective sigh. Students just cannot write.

Students seem to understand the content, they know the demands and constraints of the writing genre, they can dissect a writing prompt, they know the writing process… but the words they use, the sentences they construct, and the intangible feeling our student writers convey simply do not engage their readers (teachers especially).

The Problem

Many teachers are not equipping their students with the tools they need in their tool belts. Or, just as bad, teachers introduce the tools, but don’t provide the practice students need to master the tools.

The Solution

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

Fortunately, the Common Core authors do acknowledge the importance of teaching both sentence revisions and literary response in both the Anchor Standards for Writing and the Anchor Standards for Language (highlighting my own):

Writing Anchor Standards

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language Anchor Standards

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


Keep your focus on both the content and process of writing. Maintain a balance of extended writing process assignments (especially essays and stories) and short, say twice-per-week writing skill development, especially using sentence revisions and literary response activities.

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative

Teaching Essays


and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.


Get the Writing Skills FREE Resource:


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Common Core Test Results

As teachers have focused on the reading and writing strands of the Common Core State Standards the past three years, the Language Strand Standards have been given short shrift. As the testing data from the 2015 SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the PAARC (Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and other state tests has been or soon will be released, teachers and district personnel are identifying the instructional gaps and rediscovering why a balanced literacy program, including explicit instruction in grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary is so essential.

As of August 30, 2015, full or preliminary scores have been released for these states: Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Each participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The second testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAARC) has not released any results. Several other states that developed their own exams tied to the standards have been released. Many states have adopted a cafeteria model, using some of the two consortia online assessments plus their own paper ad pencil achievement tests.

A Brief Case Study

In Elk Grove Unified School District, the fifth largest school district in California, teachers have received extensive training, including over a week of all day sessions at the district office in the Reading (Literature and Informational) and Writing Strands. Teachers have learned and practiced Close Reading strategies, text dependent questions, and analyzed district-created writing rubrics in the narrative, argumentative, and informational/explanatory Writing Standards. A passing nod has been given to the Speaking/Listening Strand, but only minimal professional development has been delivered in the Language Strand. Until now.

Elk Grove Unified and all districts in California have now received the assessment results for the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) mix of online and paper-pencil assessments, including the online SBAC English language arts/literacy (ELA) tests. The district results? Not nearly as good as expected for this high performing school district.

Parents will soon be receiving the CAASP test results.

CAASP Test Results for Parents

Elk Grove is not alone. At Los Angeles Unified School District, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability, said the preliminary results received by the nation’s second largest district are “lower than what people are used to seeing.” Christine Amario AP

The current mantra? “It’s just a baseline year for us.”

The game plan to improve overall and sub-group scores? Focus on the Language Strand.

The Big Picture

It’s the Language Strand that provides the tools of language, that is the grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary that makes reading and writing intelligible. Now as teachers and district personnel, such as in Elk Grove Unified, have begun to deconstruct what the Common Core tests actually assess, it is evident that the whole is made up of many parts. Part to whole instruction is making a comeback.

In the words of the Common Core authors:

To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively. They must also be able to determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use; come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content. 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.

When most teachers and district personnel think grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary, they think about writing. The performance-based writing assessments evaluate students’ abilities to 1. Develop ideas 2. Organize their writing and 3. Craft their grammar and language usage to narrate, argue, or inform. Teachers have done a wonderful job on 1 and 2. Students now understand the difference between the writing domains (genre). However, as the 2015 SBAC and PAARC assessment results show so clearly, it’s the ability to use the tools of language that our students lack.

But these relative weaknesses are not solely found in the performance-based writing components. The language tools are critically important in every testing component. It’s time to give attention to these tools.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 Programs

Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Morphological Awareness with Greek and Latin

Grades 4-8 Comprehensive Vocabulary

Comprehensive Vocabulary

Morphological Awareness is the new buzz phrase to describe the connections students make among phonology, orthography, and semantics.

Older, close-to-retirement teachers or parochial school expatriates remember the value of their own high school Latin classes. Both grammar and cognates significantly improved their writing and vocabulary. They swear by it. Also those colleagues trying to make a few extra dollars by teaching SAT or ACT prep classes will affirm the importance of learning Greek and Latin word parts for the reading sections of these tests. So, high school 9-12 CCSS Standards strongly emphasize Greek and Latinates, right? Wrong. There are no Greek and Latin vocabulary Standards for Grades 9-12.

Interestingly, the CCSS vocabulary Standards dealing with Greek and Latin affixes and bases begin at 4th Grade and end at 8th Grade. Here are these Standards for each of these grade levels:

Common Core Greek and Latin Morphology


L.4.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies. Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

  • Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
  • Now, recent reading research has supported emphasizing the morphological approach to vocabulary development in elementary and middle school.

Why is it important to study Greek and Latin word parts?

  • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989).
  • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
  • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
  • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” wordsthat Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
  • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots (Nagy & Scott, 2000).
  • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
  • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 
  • Learning Greek and Latin affixes and roots may help reduce the literacy gap.

So, which Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and bases should we teach?

It makes sense to begin with the most commonly used word parts. Free bases (those which stand on their own as base words, prefixes, and suffixes. Bound bases (morphemes which require the addition of an affix to form a word) shortly thereafter.

Additionally, here are the most useful Greek and Latin word part lists I’ve found:

So, how many Greek and Latinates should we teach per week? I’d say from two to seven, depending upon grade level. Less is more. The more word play, analogies, writing, and games the better.

So how should we introduce the Greek and Latin word parts?

Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word.


For full-year vocabulary programs which include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), Greek and Latin morphology with Morphology Walls (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 the assessment-based grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Comprehensive Vocabulary.

Get the Grades 4,5,6,7,8 Vocabulary Sequence of Instruction FREE Resource:

Get the Greek and Latin Morphology Walls FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Academic Language Assessment FREE Resource:

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Common Core Instructional Minutes

Common Core Standards Time Allocations

Time Allocations for the Common Core Standards

Teachers and district administrators are busy attending staff developments and planning days on aligning curriculum to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Experts are making their rounds at districts still lucky enough to have a few dollars allocated to staff development. Far more often it’s the sales reps from publishers, eager to cash in on Common Core-aligned curriculum, who are assisting educators in instructional planning.

For most English-language arts teachers, the chief question to be answered is not what to teach or how to teach, but how much to teach. By and large, English teachers will teach what they are paid to teach. Few teachers have real issues with the overall concept, parameters, design, or scope and sequence of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We may grouse about the shift to expository reading and writing, but beneath our posturing at staff meetings, we are really a compliant bunch. Just let us hang on to some semblance of sovereignty re: how to teach, and we will willingly accept the dictates of what to teach.

But the question of how much to teach is keeping English teachers up at night. All instruction is inherently reductive. It’s an agonizing process of give and take. If we give additional attention to this Standard, we necessarily take attention from this Standard. Gone are the days when we simply fretted over losing cherished projects such as building Medieval Castles, writing Anne Frank Diaries, or performing Romeo and Juliet. We’ve been on this no-frills Standards kick for quite a while. We’re down to bare bones, and any new instructional focus takes away from teaching an English Language Arts Standard.

And let’s just take a moment to call out those well-meaning colleagues who insist upon some hodge-podge all-inclusive Standards, akin to 1990s thematic education. You can’t teach specific reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language Standards in one easy unified lesson. Gone are the days when we pretended to teach everything by teaching nothing in detail. It all sounded good, but it never worked.

So how do we teach the CCSS English Language Arts Standards with fidelity and specificity and still have time to take roll? It’s not easy, but here are some thoughts.

How Much Time for the Common Core?


My take on the CCSS English Language Arts emphasis of Standards is that a consensus is building toward a 35-30-25-10 plan. That would be 35% of class time spent on the Reading Anchor Standards (Literature and Informational Text), 30% of class time spent on the Writing Anchor Standards, 25% of class time spent on the Language Anchor Standards, and 10% of class time spent on Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards. Percentages include differentiated instruction in all instructional Strands.

Now percentages are useful in that we all have different instructional minutes and some of our history/social science, science, and technology colleagues are actually getting serious about teaching their fair share of the CCSS Literacy Standards. But detailed minutes get to the nuts and bolts of how much to teach.

I’m fortunate to teach seventh grade English-language Arts in an eighty-minute block, five days per week. No, I won’t tell you where. You’re probably a better teacher than I, and I still have a few more years ‘til retirement. Adjust to your own instructional minutes, but here is how I make sense of allocating instructional time to the CCSS English Language Arts Standards:

  • Reading: 25 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty expository/informational, narrative/descriptive split.
  • Writing: 20 minutes each day with a fifty-fifty split of process pieces and essay strategies, sentence combining, quick writes, etc.
  • Language: 15 minutes each day of grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary development.
  • Speaking and Listening: 10 minutes each day of Speaking and Listening Standards: direct instruction and application in all facets of communication.
  • Differentiated Instruction: 10 minutes each day of specifically adjusting instruction to individual needs.

Homework: 20 minutes each day of independent reading at the student’s instructional reading level with interactive, graded discussion involving parents and book clubs.

Of course each day is not rigid according to this time frame and allocation of instructional minutes. I do tell a joke occasionally and take roll when I remember to do so.


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 hodge-podge 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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Academic Language Words

Grades 4-8 Comprehensive Vocabulary

Comprehensive Vocabulary

Teaching Academic Language Words is essential to improving reading comprehension and writing sophistication.

The principal authors of the Common Core State Standards have rightly criticized the dumbing-down of reading text in Appendix A of the Common Core document. Citing the research detailed in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines that high school student scores in reading comprehension have dropped over recent years, the authors pinpoint two primary reasons for this trend. First, the level of K-12 text complexity has decreased. Second, too many teachers are reading novels out loud and explicating line by line such that their students have little practice in independently accessing meaning from text.

Of course, pinpointing text complexity as a problem begs the question of just what constitutes complex text. To their credit, the authors do a nice job evaluating reading level formulas and analyzing the semantic and syntactic features that contribute to reading levels. Although they spend some time discussing the impact of syllable number and word length, the authors fail to adequately bullet-point the chief variable in text complexity: the words themselves. To be fair, the authors certainly do emphasize the importance of vocabulary throughout the rest of the Common Core document.

So, which words make reading text complex? And, if we know what they are, how can we teach them most effectively? I try to answer the latter question in a complementary article, How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards, but following is part of my answer to the first question.

To teach the types of words that are included in complex reading text, the Common Core document lists its primary Vocabulary Standards in the English Language Arts Language Strand. The Standards focus on these kinds of words: 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).

So as not to chew on too much for one article, let’s focus on the academic language words (L.6.0).

These Tier 2 (generalizable) and Tier 3 (domain-specific) words (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) require explicit instruction and practice in a variety of reading and writing contexts. These words are not incidental vocabulary that will naturally be acquired through “free choice” independent reading of novels. Indeed, academic language words show up most of the time in complex expository text.

I can hear English language-arts teachers thinking… “Isn’t the Common Core all about sharing the literacy load? Shouldn’t history and science handle this complex expository text?”

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. For example, tectonic plates will appear frequently in science textbooks, but rarely elsewhere. However, the word analyze will appear frequently in science textbooks and frequently in all other expository text. It’s the academic language that English-language arts teachers need to teach.

So, this is why the Common Core State Standards has begun the “Great Shift” from narrative to expository reading. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Academic Language Words

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?


For full-year vocabulary programs which include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), Greek and Latin morphology with Morphology Walls (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 the assessment-based grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Comprehensive Vocabulary.

Get the Grades 4,5,6,7,8 Vocabulary Sequence of Instruction FREE Resource:

Get the Greek and Latin Morphology Walls FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Academic Language Assessment FREE Resource:

eets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Grades 4-8 Comprehensive Vocabulary

Comprehensive Vocabulary

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts divides vocabulary development among a variety of instructional strands across the grade levels. For example, the Reading Strand in both Literature and Informational Text includes the same Standard (8.4): Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.


The Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects Standards include Vocabulary Standard RST 8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.

However, most of the specific Vocabulary Standards are placed in the K-12 Language Strand. The CCSS L.4, 5, 6 Vocabulary Standards include the following:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. Obviously, incidental vocabulary acquisition from independent reading won’t “teach” the Standards listed above with any degree of fidelity. Nor will introducing a few “story-specific” or “content-specific” words prior to reading a selection from the literature anthology or social studies chapter. Not that there is anything wrong with these approaches to vocabulary development. The bulk of Tier One (conversational language) are certainly acquired primarily through independent reading.

But Tier Two Academic Vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, Kucan), as discussed in the Common Core Appendix A, is different. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. In the words of the Common Core document:

This normal process of word acquisition occurs up to four times faster for Tier Three words when students have become familiar with the domain of the discourse and encounter the word in different contexts (Landauer & Dumais,1997). Hence, vocabulary development for these words occurs most effectively through a coherent course of study in which subject matters are integrated and coordinated across the curriculum and domains become familiar to the student over several days or weeks.

So which instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? After all, there are more Standards to teach.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Weekly Instructional Plan: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (L.4, 5, and 6)

Day One

  1. Introduce two multiple meaning words and read their definitions out loud. Write two sentences with the multiple meaning words on the board/projector and ask students to identify the use of the words. Direct students to compose their own sentences, using context clues to show the meanings of the words. (L.4.a.)
  2. Introduce two Greek and Latin word parts that fit together to form one word. Tell students to write down this word. Ask students to brainstorm which words they know that include each of the word parts. Write their example words on the board. Direct students to guess the part of speech and definition of the word formed from the word parts and to write down their guesses next to their vocabulary word. (L.4.a.)
  3. Pass out dictionaries, display an online dictionary, or use other language resources. Teach students to use the guide words to find the word entry, if using a print dictionary. Read the primary definition of the word formed from the Greek and Latin word parts and compare to student guesses. Teach students the different between primary and secondary definitions and read the secondary definition to compare. Teach students the symbols used from syllable division, accents, and parts of speech. Direct students to divide their vocabulary word into syllables with slashes (/), mark the primary accent (´), write the abbreviated part of speech, and write the definition that best matches the Greek and Latin word parts. Write the answers on the board and tell students to edit their answers as necessary. (L.4.c.d.)
  4. List a grade-appropriate figure of speech on the board/projector and explain the literal image of the expression. Tell students to write down the figure of speech. Ask students for their explanations and interpretations of the figurative meaning of the expression. Validate the correct student responses or provide the correct meaning as necessary. Tell students to paraphrase the figurative meaning next to the figure of speech. (L.5.a.)

Day Two

  1. Introduce two grade-level vocabulary words that have special denotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to compose a compound sentence with a connecting transition word or phrase to define one word in terms of the other, using context clues. (L.5.b.)
  2. Introduce two grade-level words that have special connotative relationships and read their definitions out loud. Explain the difference between denotation (dictionary definition) and connotation (definition in context). Explain that words have different shades of meaning when used in different situations. Explain what a spectrum is, using a rainbow as an example. Direct students to draw a four-word spectrum in which they place the two vocabulary words in connotative relationship with two already-known words with related meanings. (L.5.c.)
  3. Introduce two academic language words and read their definitions out loud. Direct students to draw two vocabulary four-squares, one for each academic language word. Quadrants are labeled “Key Words,” “Similar to…,” “Different than…,” and “Example.” Tell students to analyze the meaning of the academic vocabulary words by completing each square. (L.6.0)


For full-year vocabulary programs which include multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), Greek and Latin morphology with Morphology Walls (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 the assessment-based grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Comprehensive Vocabulary.

Get the Grades 4,5,6,7,8 Vocabulary Sequence of Instruction FREE Resource:

Get the Greek and Latin Morphology Walls FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Academic Language Assessment FREE Resource:

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