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Individualized Spelling Patterns Instruction

In this article, teachers will learn how to how to diagnose and remediate the spelling pattern deficits of their individual students to help them “catch up while they keep up” with grade-level spelling instruction. To read my article about how to differentiate and individualize grade-level spelling instruction, click How to Teach Spelling. First, let’s forget what we have heard about older students who are poor spellers:

“Once a bad speller, always a bad speller”; “You can’t teach an old dog new spelling tricks”; “Einstein was a horrible speller”; “Spelling is only an editing skill”; “Now that we have spellcheck, spelling doesn’t matter.”

Reading research demonstrates that your students can learn what they’ve missed while they learn grade-level spelling rules and patterns. But, first you need to determine specifically what your students do and don’t know and how to fill any gaps in their spelling knowledge. Let’s not waste valuable instructional time re-teaching what they already know. Instead, use the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to pinpoint exactly what they need to learn. I’ll provide a FREE download at the end of the article.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

FREE Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

But, wait. Most of the teachers in my school use the Elementary Spelling Inventory found in Words Their Way. Isn’t that just as good?

In a word, “No.” The Elementary Spelling Inventory includes 25 words. The test is designed to indicate which developmental spelling stage each of your students has and has not yet mastered. Laying aside the theory of developmental spelling for our purposes (many notable spelling researchers including Louisa Moats and Richard Gentry dispute this theory), the individual test results only narrow down the spelling deficits to general stages. Knowing a student’s developmental spelling stage does not tell the teacher what to teach and what not to teach within that spelling stage.

In contrast, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment provides that specificity. Reference the graphic to see examples of how much more teachable data is provided by the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment than that provided by the Elementary Spelling Inventory.

Yes, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment takes a bit longer to administer and correct, because it tests all of the common spelling patterns. However, the included audio file makes administration simple. Total test administration time is less than 25 minutes.

  • Grade 8 students complete words #s 1–102 to assess all kindergarten–seventh grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 7 students complete words #s 1–98 to assess all kindergarten–sixth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 6 students complete words #s 1–89 to assess all kindergarten–fifth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 5 students complete words #s 1–79 to assess all kindergarten–fourth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 4 students complete words #s 1–64 to assess all kindergarten–third grade common spelling patterns. 

The Diagnostic Spelling Assessment uses multisyllabic words to isolate the variable of sight word knowledge. The test is ordered according to the research-based instructional phonics sequences of instruction. After all, encoding (spelling) is the opposite side of the same coin as decoding (reading). Spelling and reading are mutually dependent and research is clear that good spellers and good readers tend to be good writers (Adams, 2011; Gentry & Graham, 2010; Moats, 2005; Reed, 2012).

How to Administer the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Preparation

Pass out binder paper and pencils. Model how to number the test items on the board and tell students to number accordingly.

Administration

I recommend using the audio file, which includes the test directions, spelling words, and example sentences. The test pacing is exactly timed to ensure proper and controlled testing. Additionally, make-up tests for absent or newly enrolled students is a simple task with the audio file.

However, some teachers prefer to read the directions and dictate the words and example sentences themselves.

Introduce the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to students. Say—

“This is a test to see if you can accurately spell the words I say out loud. I will first say the spelling word; then repeat it; then use it in a sentence; and then repeat the spelling word once more. Listen carefully because I won’t repeat the words after the test is finished. Please print the spelling words.”

Don’t elongate the vowel or consonant sounds to emphasize spellings. Keep a consistent pace of about seven seconds per test item. Any longer and students will lose their place or begin daydreaming. Since this is a long test, teachers may elect to take a short stretch break in the middle of the test administration.

Grading

Grade the assessment, marking only the specified sound-spelling pattern for each word.  In other words don’t mark the word wrong because of other spelling errors in the word. For example, if the sound-spelling pattern is Long /a/ “__ay” and the word is “payment,” the student spelling of “paiment” would be wrong, but “paymunt” would be right. This selective grading isolates the sound-spelling pattern problem areas for each student. I’ve found that instructional aides and parents are quite capable of accurately grading and recording the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with minimal training.

Recording

The teacher, instructional aide, or parent charts the individual skills that your students have not yet mastered on the mastery matrices. Yes, these recording matrices are provided in your FREE download. Record a slash (/) for un-mastered skills, and leave the box blank for mastered skills. Make two copies of the matrices: one for student reference and one for teacher reference.

Post one set of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrices on a wall at the rear of the classroom for student reference. Note that teachers may choose to list students by identification number rather than by name on these matrices. Keep the teacher copy in a binder at your desk.

How to Remediate Spelling Pattern Deficits through Individualized Instruction

Each of the spelling test words corresponds to the Spelling Patterns Worksheets. Count and total the slashes (/) for each of the spelling patterns on the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrices to determine how many of each Spelling Pattern Worksheets you will need to copy. Copy these worksheets and group them in separate numbered  file folders.

The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are designed to help students master the previous grade-level Common Core Language Spelling Standards. Each worksheet lists the sound-spelling pattern focus, example words, a spelling sort, a rhyme or word search activity, word jumbles, a short writing application, and a sentence dictation formative assessment. Students progress at their own rates to master previous grade-level spelling patterns. Yes, sample Spelling Pattern Worksheets are included in your FREE download.

Let’s look at the individual instructional components. The format of the Spelling Patterns Worksheets is intentionally similar to promote independent student work. The spelling pattern  is listed first and connects the sound to the spelling. For example, Spelling Pattern Worksheet #47 (numbers vary per program) lists: oo Sound as in woodpecker “_u_” and provides the FOCUS: The oo sound heard in woodpecker can b spelled “_u_” as in put. Notice that blanks are included in the spelling pattern. Each represents a missing sound-spelling. In this case, the “_u_” spelling is missing both beginning and ending consonant sounds. No syllable can be written as a consonant–u (oo sound). No syllable can be written as a u (oo sound)–consonant. Both consonants must be included to write a syllable. For example, put could be written as put to show the spelling pattern.

The next instructional component is the SORT section. Students use pronunciation, analogous spelling patterns, and the spelling marks and blanks to categorize the spelling pattern words. Notice how the Spelling Pattern Worksheet #47 sort provides the key components of the /ion/ spelling rule. Students are told the rule up front and apply the rule with the spelling variations. Unlike “other discovery sorts” in which the spelling rule must be learned inductively, don’t leave your students guessing! Teach and apply the explicit rule. Here a teacher might opt to have the student(s) listen to, practice, and memorize the /ion/ spelling rule with a little help from the “Ending /ion/ Rule” spelling song. The author’s grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs include conventional spelling rule songs and raps.

Students also complete a RHYME or BOOK SEARCH activity. For spelling patterns conducive to rhyming, such as the “aw” spelling pattern, four rhyming words which apply the /aw/ spelling are provided. For other non-rhyming spelling patterns, students use their sustained silent reading book or a class novel to write example words which use the focus spelling pattern with their corresponding page numbers.

Additionally, students complete four JUMBLE words, which include the focus spelling patterns. Students quickly discover that using the spelling pattern clues helps them unravel the jumbled words A multisyllabic Bonus JUMBLE is included. For example, in Spelling Worksheet #48, knowing the “al” spelling pattern helps students identify also; the “awl” spelling patterns helps identify drawl; the “aw” helps with pawn; and also helps with the Bonus jawbone.

Finally, the WRITE section requires students to apply the spelling patterns to additional words, not listed on the Spelling Pattern Worksheet. This spelling pattern application serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have or have not yet mastered the individual spelling pattern.

Correction and Formative Assessment

After completing a Spelling Pattern Worksheet, the student self-corrects and self-edits with a different color pen or pencil from one of the Spelling Patterns Worksheets Answer Binders. I suggest making several of these binders and storing them in different parts of the classroom for student access. Tell students that they receive the same credit for completing a worksheet with errors and different color revisions with the correct answers as they do for completing a worksheet without errors. It’s the practice that’s important. This procedure eliminates the incentive to cheat. Note that no answers are provided for the WRITE formative assessment.

When finished correcting the worksheet, the student comes up to the teacher’s desk to mini-conference. If the student has self-corrected and self-edited the practice section and “passed” the WRITE formative assessment, change the slash (/) into an “X” for mastery on the appropriate box on the mastery matrix and record an A on the student’s worksheet. Convert the A to points, if you use a point system for grading. For example, 10 points for an A. Note that the teacher determines the level of mastery for each WRITE formative assessment.

If the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern or patterns, you have two instructional options:

1. If the student understands the spelling pattern after the mini-conference, direct the student to re-do the WRITE formative assessment and return for re-correction.

2. Record a a instead of an A and direct the student to move on to the next worksheet. The student will have the chance to re-do the worksheet after completing the rest of their assigned worksheets. Award half-credit, say 5 points, for a .

Here are a few Helpful Hints to ensure instructional success. 

Tell students to begin with the lower numbered Spelling Pattern Worksheets and to complete only those worksheets indicated by slashes (/). Tell them that they won’t receive credit for completing worksheets without slashes because they have already mastered those spelling patterns.

After a student has mastered a Spelling Pattern Worksheet, direct him or her to change the slash (/) into an X for mastery on the appropriate box on the matrix. Using pencil of course. Filling in the X gives students a sense of accomplishment and motivates students to complete additional work. Don’t forget to mark the X in your teacher binder, as well.

Set an expectation as to how many Spelling Pattern Worksheets must be completed per week. Teachers may choose to have students and/or parents set specific goals. Monitor student progress and adjust expectations as needed. Worksheets may be completed in class or for homework.

Maintain a productive work environment by managing time. Limit the mini-conference to no more than 30 seconds. The focus should be on the WRITE formative assessment, not the rest of the worksheet. Also, manage crowd control by limiting the length of your mini-conference line to three students. Waiting students can sign up for their places in line on the board and then work on their next worksheet until their turn arrives to conference. Finally, establish group norms regarding talking, helping peers, and work ethic.

Want to see how to use the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Spelling Pattern Worksheets? Check out this four-minute video!

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Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Grades 4-8 Spelling Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction is a complete grade level spelling program built upon conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Five programs are available: Grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. This digital download (eBook) program includes all resources teachers need to individualize instruction. Developing a weekly spelling plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher, but help has arrived! There is no better spelling program for your grade level students, GATE students, special ed, ESL/ELD, and below grade level students. Perfect for RtI.

Plus, get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the targeted spelling pattern worksheets you need to remediate previous grade level spelling deficits for all your students. Now that’s effective differentiated and individualized instruction! Your students can catch up, while they keep up with grade level spelling instruction. You’ll also appreciate the helpful resources in the appendix, including how to study spelling tips, spelling proofreading, word lists, spelling rule memory songs (Mp3s), and spelling review games.

The program is easy to teach. We even provide two quick YouTube training videos to ensure your success!

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

 

Certainly, spelling ability is one key indicator of reading ability as recent studies have demonstrated (Adams, 2011; Gentry & Graham, 2010; Moats, 2005; Reed, 2012).

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How to Teach Spelling

Whether using a spelling program or a collection of spelling resources, most teachers apply this traditional method of spelling instruction:

How to Teach Spelling

  1. Pretest a list of 15−20 themed words on Monday. Students pass in their tests for correction. The themes might be holidays, months of the year, animals, plural words, words with prefixes, words ending in “tion,” the vocabulary words from social studies or a reading selection, etc.
  2. Assign some form of spelling practice using the pretest words: a crossword puzzle, a word search, write each word ten times, partner quizzing, use each word in a sentence, etc.
  3. Ask parents to practice the words with their children.
  4. Posttest on the same list of words on Friday.

How’s that working for your students? Are you seeing tangible evidence of spelling improvement in their writing?

My guess is “No, you aren’t.”  After all, you’re reading an article titled, “How to Teach Spelling.” 

Fair to say that the traditional instructional plan makes no use of the teacher as an informed practitioner. The first task of an informed teacher is to determine what students already know and don’t know. The second task of an informed teacher is to make use of the diagnostic data to differentiate and individualize instruction.

So, how can an informed teacher make sense of the Monday spelling pretest to differentiate and individualize spelling grade-level instruction? Simply follow these four steps:

1. Pretest 

Dictate 15—20 words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students on Monday.

Of course, the words do matter. Rather than selecting unrelated theme words such as described above choose a spelling program or do the Google work to create weekly word lists designed to teach the English-American orthographic system. In other words, the conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Check out the spelling sequence of instruction I use in my Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 spelling programs. Unlike the themed word lists (including the all-too-common teacher practice of combining vocabulary word memorization (a good practice) with spelling (a bad practice), teaching these spelling rules and patterns will improve your students’ spelling ability.

Display the spelling pretest words with the spelling patterns identified in boldface. Teach students to self-correct their own pretests by circling any misspelled spelling patterns.

2. Personalize 

Now, use the diagnostic data your students have provided by personalizing the weekly spelling list. Tell your students to copy up to 10 of their pretest spelling errors to begin a 15−20 word personal spelling list. For younger students, the personal spelling list can be kept in a spelling notebook or word study notebook. For older students, the personal spelling list can be placed following a binder divider labeled “Spelling.”

Students supplement their pretest errors to complete their 15−20 word personal spelling list with the following resources:

  • Writing errors: Have students add up to 3 spelling errors marked in student writing.
  • Last week’s posttest errors: Have students add up to 3 spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Supplemental spelling word lists: outlaw (non-phonetic) words, most often misspelled words, commonly confused words, and the 450 highest frequency words. However, not the words which students already know how to spell. Parents should dictate these word lists and create an unknown words list for their child. Student pairs can also produce this diagnostic data.

If created from these resources, the weekly 15−20 word personal spelling list will be a list of 100% unknown words for each student.

Spelling Pattern Sorts

3. Practice

Have students practice weekly focus spelling pattern by completing a spelling sort of the spelling patterns within the conventions spelling rule. For example, in the chart to the right, four spelling patterns comprise the .ion/ spelling rule. No crossword puzzles, word searches, write each word ten times, partner quizzing, use each word in a sentence, etc.

Do teach your students and their parents how to study. Circle problem spelling patterns. For non-phonetic spelling words, teach students to create their own picture spelling words. For example, for the irregular schwa ending syllable in principal, circle the “pal” spelling and use the circle as your friendly principal’s face. Or  for the commonly confused words: desert-dessert, circle the one “s” in desert and attach palm branches on top; circle the “ss” in dessert and attach two lighted candles on top to create a birthday cake.

4. Posttest 

On Friday (or why not test every two weeks for older students?) tell students to take out a piece of binder paper and find a partner to exchange dictation of their personal spelling list words. Now, this makes instructional sense—actually using the posttest to measure what students have learned! But, you may be thinking… what if they cheat? For the few who cheat…It would be a shame to not differentiate instruction for the many to cater to a few. Truly, they are only cheating themselves. Have the partners correct the posttest and do so yourself.

See it in action! Check out this four-minute video to review the Pennington Publishing 1. Pretest 2. Personalize 3. Practice and 4. Posttest plan to differentiate and individualize grade-level spelling instruction.

Now that you know how to differentiate and individualize grade-level spelling instruction, HOW WILL YOU HELP REMEDIATE PREVIOUS GRADE LEVEL SPELLING PATTERN DEFICITS FOR YOUR STUDENTS? Read the next article, INDIVIDUALIZED SPELLING PATTERNS INSTRUCTION, to learn how to use the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (a FREE comprehensive spelling patterns assessment audio file) to determine individual spelling pattern deficits. Students complete targeted worksheets corresponding to the spelling patterns they missed on the diagnostic assessment.

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Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Grades 4-8 Spelling Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction is a complete grade level spelling program built upon conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Five programs are available: Grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. This digital download (eBook) program includes all resources teachers need to individualize instruction. Developing a weekly spelling plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher, but help has arrived! There is no better spelling program for your grade level students, GATE students, special ed, ESL/ELD, and below grade level students. Perfect for RtI.

Plus, get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the targeted spelling pattern worksheets you need to remediate previous grade level spelling deficits for all your students. Now that’s effective differentiated and individualized instruction! Your students can catch up, while they keep up with grade level spelling instruction. You’ll also appreciate the helpful resources in the appendix, including how to study spelling tips, spelling proofreading, word lists, spelling rule memory songs (Mp3s), and spelling review games.

The program is easy to teach. We even provide two quick YouTube training videos to ensure your success!

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10 Reasons Middle School Teachers Should Teach Spelling

Teach Spelling to Middle School

Middle School Spelling

As an MA reading specialist and ELA teacher, I spent the last dozen of my 36 years teaching ELA to seventh and eighth graders. At my last middle school, I taught with 14 highly skilled ELA teachers. None of them taught spelling. Some years ago I mentioned in a department meeting that I still taught spelling and my colleagues were curious as to why. I told them that my kids needed it and asked them if their kids needed spelling instruction. They stumbled around a bit, blamed elementary teachers for not doing so, provided anecdotes about Einstein being a poor speller, and finally settled on “We don’t know.”

Seeing the opening, I volunteered to email them the audio file of my diagnostic spelling tests and told them I would correct the tests and show them what their students know and don’t know. They readily agreed. A week later I placed the mastery matrices of the spelling assessments in their teacher boxes. The results clearly indicated that most had a few areas of spelling deficits in terms of spelling patterns. However, some of their students showed many areas of spelling pattern deficits. I suggested to our department chair that we might dedicate a portion of our next department meeting to brainstorming how we might address those deficits. That brainstorming session never took place. I did brainstorm why with some of my reading specialist buddies. They provided reasons why middle school teachers were not interested in teaching spelling (mainly because they did not know how), but also why they should be teaching spelling to their students.

10 Reasons Middle School Teachers Should Teach Spelling

1. Intermediate, upper elementary, and middle school teachers are not doing their jobs teaching spelling. Take a look at the yellow chart. Clearly, beginning readers in grades 1 and 2 tend to score similarly on reading comprehension and spelling. However, as intermediate teachers (grades 3 and 4) tend to assume that all necessary phonics skills have been mastered, they also tend to stop teaching the other side of the decoding coin: encoding (spelling). The results for middle school spellers are undocumented by research; however, teachers would certainly agree that middle schoolers do not reverse the trend.

Mehta et al. (2005)

2. Spelling is not acquired naturally through wide reading It’s not caught; it must be taught.

3. Spelling is not a primary skill; it is a literacy skill for all ages.

4. Spelling is not a genetic predisposition. Once a bad speller, not always a bad speller.

5. You can teach middle schoolers spelling. Spelling is more predictable than many middle school teachers think. Spelling expert, Dr. Louisa Moats, estimates that 84% of English words either directly correspond to their sound-spellings or do so with an additional spelling rule (https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Moats.pdf.) Plus, middle school students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling. Remedial spelling skills are teachable.

6. Spelling helps with reading. According to Catherine Snow, the real importance of spelling for reading as follows: “Spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading” (https://www.readingrockets.org/article/how-spelling-supports-reading).

7. Spelling aids vocabulary development. This is especially true with respect to Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots: the meat of middle school orthography.

8. Spelling helps with writing. Teachers often underestimate the amount of mental muscle expended by poor spellers attempting to select words which they can substitute for difficult spellings. Dictionaries take too much time, including online ones. Spell check is less than 80% accurate.

9. Teaching spelling (both grade level and remedial) does not take much instructional time and produces immediate pay-off for students.

10. Spelling matters. Poor spellers are brutally bullied and suffer considerable discrimination. A misspelled word on an employment application almost always dooms an applicant. Want to be the subject of a meme? Misspell a word. Think about how many puzzles and games require good spelling. Poor spelling is equated with lack of intelligence by a majority of Americans.

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My take? Synthetic phonics is the most efficient means of teaching the alphabetic code and should be taught systematically as part of any beginning reading program or reading intervention program. However, good reading and spelling programs provide additional analytic phonics activities, such as syllabication and spelling pattern word sorts. Plus, while most students learn with a synthetic approach, others respond best with an analytic approach. Good teachers also use incidental embedded phonics instruction as teachable moments to study words in depth as they use shared and guided reading. The best means of determining whether any method of reading instruction is working? Assessment. Flexible teachers use data to inform instruction and the instructional approach to meet the needs of individual students.

Get the Diagnostic Reading  and Spelling Assessments FREE Resource:

The author’s Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Following are the program components:

Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

  • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment: a comprehensive test of each previous grade level spelling pattern to determine what students know and what they don’t know with Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix
  • 102 Remedial Sound-Spelling Worksheets Corresponding to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Grade 8… other grade levels have fewer to correspond with grade-level spellings. All grade levels use the same diagnostic assessment.)
  • Weekly Diagnostic Spelling Tests
  • Weekly Spelling Sort Worksheets for Each Spelling Pattern (with answers) formatted for classroom display. Students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.
  • Syllable Transformers and Syllable Blending formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction
  • Syllable Worksheets (with answers) formatted for classroom display
  • Four Formative Assessments (given after 7 weeks of instruction)
  • Summative Assessment
  • Spelling Teaching Resources: How to Study Spelling Words, Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays, Syllable and Accent Rules, Outlaw Words, 450 Most Frequently Used Words, 100 Most Often Misspelled Words, 70 Most Commonly Confused Words, Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs and Raps (with Mp3 links), and Spelling Review Games

Read one of our customer testimonials: “I work with a large ELL population at my school and was not happy with the weekly spelling tests, etc. Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important at this age group. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. We have just adopted RtI at my school and your spelling matrix is a great tool for documentation. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students.”

Heidi

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ELA Language Anchor Standards | Curriculum Maps

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

If you and your grade-level team and/or department are committed to teaching the ELA Language Anchor Standards (the CCSS Anchor Standards for Language), these resources are for you!

Download these FREE full-year detailed grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 curriculum maps to break down the grade-level CCSS Language Strand Standards into a specific instructional scope and sequence that is realistic and do-able for the entire school year. The 28 instructional weeks provide a rigorous pacing guide with additional time for beginning of the year diagnostic assessments, midterm and final exams, and standardized testing blocks.

These maps indicate which grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons to teach in the order that most teachers agree makes sense. The spelling components are organized by conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. The vocabulary section lists includes 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.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0) derived from the research-based Academic Words List.

This FREE download includes all grade-level L. 1,2 grammar, usage, mechanics (language conventions), L. 2 spelling, L. 3 knowledge of language, and L. 4, 5, 6 vocabulary Common Core State Standards.

The curriculum maps are included in the author, Mark Pennington’s standards and assessment-based programs. These programs help you teach each of the Language Anchor Standards with diagnostic, formative, and summative (unit) assessments to ensure that your students have mastered the standards. Plus, remedial worksheets provide the extra practice some of your students need to catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards. Read through the product descriptions before downloading your grade-level ELA Language Anchor Standards Curriculum Map at the end of the article.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics (L.1,2)

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Pennington Publishing provides traditional grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school programs, including interactive instruction, practice, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts, writing application, formative assessments, and biweekly unit tests. Diagnostic assessments help pinpoint remedial CCSS Standards deficits, and students are assigned targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment, correspond to all test items.

Additionally, Pennington Publishing sells grade-level and remedial grammar, usage, and mechanics literacy centers (stations) and multi-level grades 4−8 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics notebooks.

Spelling Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Spelling (L.2)

The Differentiated Spelling Instruction grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs offer grade-level spelling instruction built upon the conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Each lesson includes a 20-word spelling test and spelling patterns sort (all word provided). After 7 weeks of instruction, students take a summative assessment. The diagnostic spelling assessment includes all previous grade-level spelling patterns, and corresponding worksheets (each with a formative assessment) target each test item.

Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking (L.3)

Teaching Grammar through Writing

Writing Openers Language Application

The Writing Application Openers grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 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. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics High School includes these openers, as well.

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4-8

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (L.4,5,6)

The Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs include 56 vocabulary worksheets to help students master each standard: multiple meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, language resources (dictionary/thesaurus), figures of speech, word relationships, connotations, and academic language words (chosen from the research-based Academic Words List. Each lesson has vocabulary study cards and review games. Biweekly tests require students to define and apply the words in the writing context. Syllable and context clues vocabulary worksheets add depth to these grade-level programs.

BUNDLES

Pennington Publishing offers comprehensive grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language.

Get the Grade 4 Curriculum Map Anchor Standards for Language FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Curriculum Map Anchor Standards for Language FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Curriculum Map Anchor Standards for Language FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Curriculum Map Anchor Standards for Language FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Curriculum Map Anchor Standards for Language FREE Resource:

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The Problem with Words Their Way

Alternatives to Words Their Way

The Problem with Words Their Way

Back in the late 1990s, I served as an elementary reading specialist in a large Northern California school district. Our cadre of 21 reading specialists were in-serviced on new word study program, Words Their Way. Dr. Shane Templeton, one of the authors, trained us for four days. Two of Dr. Templeton’s training components, the Qualitative Spelling Inventory (developed by colleague and fellow author, Dr. Donald Bear) and the developmental patterns of spelling, were novel approaches to word study. By the end of the fourth day, we reading specialists had bought in hook, line, and sinker to the Words Their Way program. Our 50,000-student district adopted the Qualitative Spelling Inventory as our K−6 diagnostic spelling assessment, and teachers used the test results to both place students in reading programs and differentiate instruction within the classroom.

The elementary school to which I was assigned was over 1,000 students and drew from lower to middle income, ethnically and language diverse neighborhoods. Our supportive principal purchased each staff member a copy of Words Their Way, I was allotted 10 two-hour staff developments, and we dug into teaching the program to our students.

By the end of two years, here’s what we teachers found: The Qualitative Spelling Inventory (now in three iterations: the Primary, Elementary, and Upper Elementary) was a reliable placement assessment, alongside of our phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and writing sample assessments. Certainly, spelling ability is one key indicator of reading ability as recent studies have demonstrated (Adams, 2011; Gentry & Graham, 2010; Moats, 2005; Reed, 2012). However, the assessment gave only general information as to which developmental spelling stages matched our students’ spelling mastery. Diagnostic assessments, based upon random samples, which produce only general student data are problematic for teachers in the trenches. Teachers want comprehensive diagnostic assessments which pinpoint specific deficits. In other words, teachers want data to teach to. The Qualitative Spelling Inventory narrowed down the deficits, but was rather useless, according to my elementary school teachers, beyond its use as a placement tool. Teachers asked the legitimate question: Why can’t our placement assessments be teachable?

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

FREE Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

I took it upon myself to deliver what the teachers were asking for: a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment which would give teachers the tool to drive their instruction. Of course, the spelling assessment could not be the same for each grade level, but would add on additional spelling patterns appropriate to each grade level. My reading specialist colleagues and elementary staff were gracious and demanding in their revision suggestions. My Diagnostic Spelling Assessment in its five grade level iterations: Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 cover all K−3 spelling patterns as well as the grade-level additions. I also created an audio version of the assessment to make life easier for teachers (especially for make-ups and for new students). Yes, both written and audio versions and a progress-monitoring matrix are available in the FREE download at the end of this article.

After the first year of training and implementation of Words Their Way in my elementary school, only half of the teachers decided to continue the program for the next school year. By the end of the second year, only a handful continued use of the program. Why so?

  1. The program requires inordinate amounts of teacher prep and class time to implement with fidelity.
  2. The results from both standardized tests and teacher observations did not see the expected spelling improvement (nor reading and vocabulary improvement). That improvement did come two years later with the district’s adoption of the Open Court phonics program, albeit without a district-wide adoption of a spelling curriculum.
  3. Teachers began to see the Words Their Way word sorts as only one means of spelling practice and wanted to use other spelling instructional strategies. Notice that the program was not titled Spelling Their Way. Additionally, primary teachers, especially, questioned the accuracy the development stages. Their students and their spelling-reading instruction did not perfectly conform to and match each neatly described spelling stage. Intermediate and upper grades teachers found The Derivational Relations Stage to be an unwieldy creature to teach and did not see the pay-off for investing so much prep and instructional time in the program. As usual, teachers can be quite prescient when evaluating the application of theory into practice. Twenty years later, noted spelling researcher, J. Richard Gentry, PHD, echoed their concerns in his article, “Why America Can’t Read,”

Words Their Way is a guidebook for studying words; it is not a spelling curriculum. The original preface describes it purpose:  “…Ordered in this developmental format, Words Their Way complements the use of any existing phonics, spelling, and vocabulary curricula.”

Dr. Gentry cites what he views to be the theoretical flaw in the Words Their Way program:

In Chapter 1 of Words Their Way (2016 edition) we learn the theoretical basis for this method of word study: “Developmental spelling researchers have examined the three layers of English orthography in relation to developmental progressions from alphabet to pattern to meaning.” (Bear, et al, 2000, p.5.) As a developmental spelling researcher, I beg to disagree. There is no developmental progression in the child’s brain when constructing word knowledge that proceeds over time from alphabet to pattern to meaning. Word knowledge of alphabet, pattern, and meaning are being constructed at every stage of spelling development (Gentry, 2000).

More importantly, spelling development does not continue to develop in phases or stages beyond a ceiling which usually happens near the end of first grade if kids are developmentally on track. I pointed this out in The Reading Teacher in a refereed journal article about sixteen years ago (Gentry, 2000).

Let me be specific. There is no developmental stage for Ages 10+ in Grades 5 to 12 called “The Derivational Relations Stage” as claimed in all editions of WTW. In fact, as spelling researcher Louisa Moats points out, Derivational Relations begins in first grade: Words in a first grade spelling curriculum are Anglo-Saxon regular consonant and vowel phone-grapheme correspondences along with words such as goatwifemotherlove, and house. They all have an alphabet layer, an Anglo-Saxon pattern, and a meaning layer. In fact, derivational constancy is so dominant in English at early levels that the 100 most frequently used words in English—the ones teachers should teach in first grade—can all be traced back to Anglo-Saxon origins. This debunks Word’s Their Way’s “alphabet, pattern, and meaning” stage theory which suggests that clusters of error types develop later in brain development.

Years later, I developed five grade-level spelling programs (4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) to teach commonly acknowledged grade-level spelling patterns, using spelling sorts based upon specific spelling

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

patterns, for example, the /ion/ sound-spelling patterns. No prep. Pretest, spelling sort, post test. Done. Check out my Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs or my Spelling Literacy Centers.

Plus, I included targeted, remedial spelling pattern worksheets to correspond to each grade-level Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Each worksheet explains the spelling pattern, provides examples, includes a spelling sort, has a word jumble, rhyme, and/or book search, and includes a short formative assessment to determine whether or not the student has mastered the spelling pattern. For example, the grade 4 program includes all K−3 spelling patterns, the grade 5 program includes all all K−4 spelling patterns, etc.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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Middle School Spelling

Diagnostic Spelling Patterns Assessment

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

In the Whole Language Movement and concurrent National Writing Project popularity of the 1980s and 1990s, spelling was relegated to the editing stage of the writing process. Teachers were instructed to throw away their spelling workbooks and some states, including California, prohibited state funding for the purchase of spelling programs.

I, like other ELA teachers, cheerfully relegated spelling to the dumpster. After all, one less subject to teach! And, to be honest, the only spelling teaching I ever did was to pre-test on Monday, throw out a word search or crossword puzzle of the spelling words, tell students to study the list, and post-test on Friday. Hardly teaching at all.

During that period of time I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. The buzzword(s) of our program was balanced literacy. Upon reflection, I have no idea of what opposite ideologies were being placed in proper balance. We had no phonics (decoding) training, nor any spelling (encoding) training.

For my masters thesis I was able to convince my supervisor to approve a qualitative historical analysis, not the usual experimental design. I chose the reading instruction included in the McGuffey Readers. For 85 years, these readers were the primary instructional tool for American teachers. The readers were not just for primary students: intermediate and middle school tweeners also received instruction in this series.

The readers consisted of morally-based character education stories, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, and a few comprehension questions. As I pored over the editions from 1836 up to the 1920s, I found certain pedagogical refinements, but the instructional methodology was remarkably consistent. As a publisher, I understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy; however, consumers have always been suckered by the “New and Improved” marketing strategy, as well. The readers were largely unchanged, in terms of how reading and spelling were taught.

As you might imagine, the juxtaposition of my masters program reading philosophy and that of the McGuffey Readers caused quite a bit of consternation for me. I had just completed six years of middle school teaching and was now at the high school level. Every professional development class that I took and taught ignored the skills of reading and writing and focused solely on the content of literacy. If I mentioned that spelling had been an integral instructional component for most of our country’s history (including the New England Primer and others prior to the McGuffey Readers), it was only in the context of see what outdated forms of instruction those ill-informed educators used to teach.

However, subsequent to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read in 2000, I, like so many other ELA teachers who practiced their skills as reading specialists, was confronted with new, consistent reading research findings  that have made me backtrack and see the value of teaching the reading skills found in the McGuffey Readers. In reading terms, structural (or word) analysis is essential for above grade level, at grade level, and below grade level readers. Computer detection of eye-movement and the correlation of good readers look at the sound-symbol relationships within words was convincing. In other words, phonics and spelling (two sides of the same coin) matter.

I took a job as a district elementary reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District (the third largest district in California) and, along with a cadre of other bright program specialists, we were able to help improve elementary student reading proficiency percentiles from 45 to 72% within only a few years Elk Grove Unified School District. However, the same growth was not achieved by middle and high school students. Middle school reading proficiency continued to under-perform in the mid 40 percentiles. Our brilliant District Reading Coordinator and Associate Superintendent for Elementary knew why this was so, but the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education refused to move entrenched secondary teachers toward reading skills instruction.

The false dichotomy of elementary teachers teaching students to learn to read and secondary teachers teaching students to read to learn continues to contribute to the widely recognized middle school slump in reading ability. Only one-in-six of below grade level readers by grade 6 ever improve to at grade level reading. “In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers” (American Federation of Teachers, as published by Reading Rockets).

Middle Schoolers Need Spelling

Middle School Spelling

As a reading intervention specialist, the Response to Intervention movement of the last decade has largely focused on early primary reading intervention. Few middle schools have adopted comprehensive reading intervention programs, and even fewer high schools. Interestingly enough, I have found more remedial reading and writing programs at the community college level than at the high school level, here in California.

So what can middle school ELA teachers do? Advocate for your students, especially those one-in-six students, to develop effective Response to Intervention reading programs in your school and district. Take the plunge and differentiate reading instruction within your classroom. Risk the behavior management challenges and multi-level lesson plans for the good of your kids.

However, if the above seems un-do-able for now, or if you’re in the been there and done thaphase, what small (yet, significant) step can you take to make a difference for your middle school students? Teach spelling. Not the useless pre-test, word search or crossword puzzle, study, and post-test method I used to employ; not the useless pass out and memorize the list of all “No Excuse” spelling words; not the silly requirement to spell correctly your list of hard SAT, ACT, or Academic Word List vocabulary words, but a comprehensive spelling patterns program for grade-level spelling patterns instruction and remedial spelling patterns instruction. Teaching spelling for a small amount of time per week will give your middle school students the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of reading skills development.

Do your middle school students need spelling instruction? Absolutely? Still unconvinced? I challenge you to administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Recording Matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Speling

Spelling errors always catch our attention. When my wife and I moved up to a small town in Northern California years ago, we used to drive by a burger joint with a revolving marquee. Every week its advertised special had a spelling error on that marquee. I shook my head for the first few weeks until I caught on… Brilliant marketing!

Many of us have placed spelling on the back-burner as teachers have rightly focused on reading and writing Standards. But, spelling instruction is still critically important.

A principal came into my high school class years ago to observe my student teacher. The student teacher had misspelled a vocabulary term on the board. The principal motioned for me to step outside of the classroom. He told me he would never hire that student teacher because he didn’t care enough about his lesson to proofread his work.

And don’t forget how Vice-President Dan Quayle developed his reputation. Upon entering a teacher’s class with media in tow, he walked to the front of the class, picked up chalk, and corrected the teacher’s “misspelling” of potato. You guessed it, the teacher was right; he was wrong.

The question is how to fit a spelling pre-test, practice, and post-test into precious few class minutes. Here’s how to get it done in 13-20 minutes of class time per week:

  1. Prepare. Develop or purchase weekly spelling tests based upon a focus spelling pattern, such as the i before e rule. Never use vocabulary words or silly theme lists, such as days of the week, colors, or holidays. Here’s a comprehensive instructional spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns for grades 4˗8. Why reinvent the wheel?
  2. Pretest (7 minutes). Dictate the spelling test to all your students and have students self-correct from teacher dictation. Always record the dictation on your phone for other classes and make-ups. A lifesaver!
  3. Personalize (6 minutes). Have students create their own personal spelling list of words missed on the pretest, words missed in their own writing, and supplementary spelling lists, such as sight words, commonly confused words, and homonyms.
  4. Practice. (Students memorize their personal spelling lists and complete spelling sorts on the focus spelling pattern for homework).
  5. Posttest (7 minutes). Have students pair up, exchange personal spelling lists, and dictate to each other. Any words missed on the posttest go on next week’s personal spelling list. By the way, why not consider a bi-weekly spelling posttest based upon two spelling pretests?

Check out or purchase the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs. Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off.

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Spelling Scope and Sequence

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

For many teachers, spelling instruction has taken a back seat to other instruction, especially in the ELA middle and high school classrooms. Perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was relegated to an editing-only issue at the tail end of the writing process. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as part to whole instruction rather than in the predominant whole to part instruction of whole language reading and constructivism. Or perhaps this has been the case because of so many years in which spelling was considered as the stepchild of vocabulary. Spelling workbooks, once a staple in both the elementary and secondary classrooms, were removed from supplemental program lists at district and state levels. However, things are changing. Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns.

In fact, most all teachers support teaching some form of simple to complex instructional order in teaching spelling. For example, students need to be able to spell plurals for singular nouns with an ending prior to learning that nouns ending in /ch/, /sh/, /x/, /s/, or are spelled with “es” prior to learning nouns ending in /f/ are spelling with “ves” prior to learning about irregular plurals such as children and deer prior to learning about Latin plural spellings such as “” and “ae.” In other words, the simple academic language and grammatical instruction should precede the more complex. We have supportive (and recent–as of January 2016) educational research to validate this instructional order:

Here’s the research to support simple to complex instructional order…

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill) in which researchers summarize how instructional practice should be ordered: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

Of course, spelling instruction (like grammar and usage instruction) is certainly recursive. Once the simple is taught to “mastery” and the complex is introduced, the simple is always re-taught and practiced in other instructional contexts. For example, teachers will need to teach and re-teach the before spelling rule yearly from third grade through high school.

The Common Core Standards present a simple to complex instructional scope and sequence in the Language Strand Standards… albeit less so in the spelling Standards.

However, grade-level Language Strand Standards do not include a comprehensive spelling scope and sequence. A few examples from the L.2 Standards prove this out. Again, check out the simple to complex instructional order for the capitalization Standards.

The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.2.D  Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.D  Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.2.E  Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.C  Use an apostrophe to form contractions and frequently occurring possessives.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.2.2.D  Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (e.g., cage → badge; boy → boil).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.E  Use conventional spelling for high-frequency and other studied words and for adding suffixes to base words (e.g., sitting, smiled, cries, happiness).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.F  Use spelling patterns and generalizations (e.g., word families, position-based spellings, syllable patterns, ending rules, meaningful word parts) in writing words.
  •  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.2.D and 5.2.D  Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.2.B, etc.  Spell correctly.
 After grade 3 the Common Core State Standards provide no specific spelling pattern Standards.

So, to summarize… Both educational research and the authors of the Common Core State Standards validate a simple to more complex mechanics sequence of instruction.

How Should This Affect My Spelling Instruction?

The simple to complex instructional order is clearly conducive to spelling patterns instruction. Students need to master the basic sound-spellings and sight words before moving on to more complex spelling patterns influenced by derivational affixes and roots. 

A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order.

Site levels (and districts) need to plan a comprehensive year-to-year scope and sequence for spelling instruction. The Common Core State Standards provide bare bones exemplars or benchmarks, but educators need to fill in the blanks. Students will not improve spelling by reading and writing alone. Students need more spelling instruction than a weekly pre and post test, a personal spelling errors notebook, or simply being required to spelling content vocabulary words correctly. Spelling instruction is sequential.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING SPELLING RESOURCES. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has compiled the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. The full-year grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has

weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

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