Posts Tagged ‘funnel paragraphs’

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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Essay Conclusion Response Comments

Fair to say that the essay conclusion tends to be the weakest instructional piece of our essay teaching repertoire. The full extent of my own high school English instruction regarding this essay component was “Re-state the thesis, sum up the essay main points, and give a finished feel to the essay.” Not much help and not much thinking required of the writer with those instructions!

For good and bad, most teachers teach as they were taught (or not). True, we do pick up a few things along the way… Early in my teaching career, I attended a writing workshop or read a book encouraging the teaching of a “Call to Action” in the conclusion paragraph. A revelation to me and to my fellow English teachers… something concrete I could teach to my students and a strategy that actually required some thinking! Unfortunately, English teachers square pegged that one to death. I remember an English teacher assigning a response to literature essay analyzing the themes of Moby Dick and requiring a “Call to Action” as part of the conclusion. Made absolutely no sense.

To my knowledge I’ve never met a teacher who said she remembers learning specific conclusion strategies in undergrad or grad school English composition classes. Nothing in Strunk’s Elements of Style on essay conclusions, either. We all tend to devalue what we don’t understand or experience and esteem that which we easily comprehend and practice. For example, I came across the same set of instructions when grading state writing exams a number of years ago. I was surprised in discussing the scoring rubric that a student could achieve a perfect 6 score without including a conclusion. Clearly, these test-writers did not appreciate the value of the essay conclusion.

As a teacher, I’ve found that most of my colleagues do an admirable job of teaching essay and paragraph structure, especially how to dissect a writing prompt, how to write an effective thesis statement, and how to compose body paragraphs. However, the teaching of the introduction strategies (the hooks) and the conclusion strategies receive short shrift. My guess is that teachers have little knowledge and experience about these essay components, and so they focus on what they know, have done, and can teach best.

But we do have other models of how the essay conclusion can be an essential ingredient to the essay. Talk to any upper elementary, middle, or high school science teacher about the role that conclusions play in the scientific method. The conclusions in science lab reports come to mind: a true analysis of the observations; commentary on the experimental design; verification of the hypothesis; suggestions for related research and experimentation.

I say let’s re-focus our attention on the essay conclusion. Let’s broaden the opportunities for students to reflect and provide meaningful analysis and application of the evidence, argument, and/or information presented in the body paragraphs. Let’s encourage students to not just re-state the thesis (Do so… the audience expects it!), but also to analyze the degree to which they were able or unable to prove their purpose or point of view.

How to Teach Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies

Check a related article on How to Teach the Essay Conclusion for a variety of conclusion strategies. Also, look at the targeted comments I’ve developed for all components of the essay, including conclusion paragraphs. They are the same kinds of comments you’d type up and program if you took the time to do so. Learn how to use these comments to respond to first or second drafts, and not just as summative comments on the final draft.

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


e46 Needs Thesis Re-statement Essay conclusions traditionally begin with a thesis re-statement. Consider using a different grammatical sentence opener or opening transition word to avoid repetition.

e47 Needs Another Conclusion Strategy Use at least two conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e48 Needs a Different Conclusion Strategy Use a  variety of conclusion strategies. Add a Generalization, Question for Further Study, Statement of Significance, Application, Argument Limitations, Emphasis of Key Point, Summary Statement, or Call to Action. GQ SALE SC

e49 Needs a Finished Feeling  A conclusion needs to provide a finished feeling for the reader. The conclusion must satisfy the reader that the purpose has been achieved or point of view has been convincingly argued.

As we all know, many of the same comments will apply to most students. How many times have we veteran English teachers written out this comment in an essay conclusion: “Don’t introduce new evidence in the conclusion”? 1000? One smart solution would be to develop a bank of most-often used essay comments to help students revise all areas of the essay:

Introduction Paragraphs, Body Paragraphs: Argument, Analysis, Evidence, Conclusion Paragraphs, Coherence, Word Choice, Sentence Variety, Writing Style, Format, Textual Citations, Parts of Speech, Subjects and Predicates, Types of Sentences, Mechanics, and Conventional Spelling Rules 

I’ve developed 438 of the most common comments teachers make to respond to student essays. Comments are categorized and given a simple alphanumeric code to

Response Comments for Essay Conclusions

Essay Conclusion e-Comments

access a downloaded comment (See above examples). Using e-comments to insert into online student essays submitted on Microsoft Word or in Google Docs can save grading time and allow teachers be selective, prescriptive, and efficient. Of course, many teachers prefer to copy and paste these comments and then print off a comments for each student. Teachers can then hold students accountable for revision.

Pennington Publishing's TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE


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

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