Posts Tagged ‘high school’

Free Science of Reading Lessons | High School

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Many high school ELA teachers are curious about the Science of Reading and (SOR) and, specifically, what a complete SOR phonics-based lesson looks like for struggling readers at this age. Following are two complete lessons (free) to study and try out with your students. Lesson 5 is a beginning short vowel /u/ focus, and Lesson 40 is a more advanced diphthong /ow/ focus. The lessons are 90 minutes each and include initial instruction and weekly review activities.

Each word recognition (phonics) lesson includes these instructional routines and resources:

1. Phonemic and Morphological Awareness
2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling
3. Sounds and Spellings and Heart Words Practice
4. Say It! Spell It! Read It! Word Chains:
5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (Decodable texts on the lesson focus and review, featuring read alouds, comprehension questions, word fluency practice and timings, re-reads)
6. Elkonin Sound Box Dictations, Personal Sound Walls, and Morphology Walls



The author, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist. Mark is happy to answer any questions about these lessons or how to implement SOR with your struggling readers. Email mark at

Grammar/Mechanics , , , , ,

Syntax in Reading and Writing

Syntax in reading and writing

Syntax in Reading and Writing

The greatest bang for the buck for fluent readers to improve academic reading comprehension and writing sophistication? Syntax

What does the research say about syntax?

“In addition to lexical development, syntactic development plays a key role in reading comprehension” (Poulsen and Gravgaard, 2016 as cited in researchgate).

“Inadequate ability to process the syntax of language results in the inability to understand what is heard, as well as what is read. Beyond word knowledge, it is the single most powerful deterrent to listening and reading comprehension” (J.F. Greene, 2011).

“Fostering young writers’ awareness of the linguistic choices available to them in writing and how those choices differently shape meaning is developing their metalinguistic knowledge of writing” (Myhill, Jones, Lines, Watson as cited in Research Online).

Students will learn to understand (read) and apply (write) the key syntactic features in 18 weekly lessons of about an hour each. Focus is on function at the sentence level, not on rote memorization or drill and kill. Huge indebtedness to the late William Van Cleave… However, whereas William gave us the Why? and How? of reciprocal reading and writing syntactic instruction, this program gives you and your students the What?

But, how should we teach syntax?

The research over the last half-century is clear that isolated explicit grammar instruction is ineffective. However, the late William Van Cleave was certainly correct that implicit grammar instruction in the context of reading and writing provides no overarching framework, no consistent language of instruction, and not enough practice for students when taught only as problems arise. Bottom line? Neither explicit, nor implicit grammar camps link reading and writing instruction. As Van Cleave has concluded: “We need a new camp.”

That new camp is function-based syntax in reading and writing at the sentence level.

Syntax in Reading and Writing will help your students learn the function of syntactic tools in reading and writing. No endless grammar identification and terminology worksheets; no DOL error correction; no mini-lessons; but lessons which teach how challenging sentences are constructed.

The program provides syntactic content and examples, short identification practice, 153 complicated syntactic sentences to analyze and revise with sentence kernels, sentence combination, sentence expansion, and more. Plus, short writing applications to practice each syntactic lesson focus in a variety of genre.

The 18 parts of speech, phrases, and clauses weekly lessons are leveled from basic (elementary) to advanced (middle school and high school) and feature 5 lesson components (10–15 minutes each):

  1. Learn It! (the syntactic content and examples)
  2. Identify It! (a short practice section)
  3. Explain It! (analysis of challenging sentences featuring the syntactic focus)
  4. Revise It! (kernel sentences, sentence expansion and combination)
  5. Create It! (Short writing application with the syntactic focus in different genre).

Additionally, the teacher and students Reinforce It! by searching class and independent reading texts for syntactically similar sentences to analyze and explain.

Check out the Syntax in Reading and Writing program. Pronoun Examples


Syntax Programs

Pennington Publishing Grammar Programs

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

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

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

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

Grammar/Mechanics , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Characteristics of Pre-Teen Learners

Characteristics of Pre-teens in Reading Intervention

Characteristics of Pre-teen Learners

Pre-teen learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. Teachers and parents can significantly enhance the learning of students this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of pre-teen learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of pre-teen learners can make all the difference in their success.

I began my teaching career at the middle school level for four years and made the jump to high school for the next eight years. I taught both social studies and English-language arts. After several years at the high school, I began to be interested in how students learn. Specifically, I became concerned about all the students who relied upon survival skills to pass my classes. These students had significant learning gaps, and the one common denominator was their inability to comprehend the high school reading material. They weren’t dumb kids; they just needed help.

I went back and got my master’s degree as a reading specialist and taught reading intervention classes at the high school and local community college. Thereafter, I made a mid-career and took a job teaching teachers. I served as a district reading specialist with a focus on elementary schools. Given my background, I had no experience with crazy fourth graders (except for my own three boys). I quickly learned that I had absolutely no credibility with my elementary teachers.

I took some good advice and began teaching reading intervention programs at a few elementary schools. What a game-changer! I learned that as much as I wanted to teach reading,  I was going nowhere with these students and their teachers until I learned to teach elementary students. 

Teaching is both art and science and we’ve got to learn what makes the students we teach want to learn.

Pre-Teen Cognitive Development

By ages 9, 10, and 11, most students are able to analytically process information and think for themselves. Piaget classified students of these ages as being in the “concrete operational stage.” Thinking in concrete terms, these students have difficulty with abstract concepts. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Willing to try new things
  2. Curious and willing to explore new ideas
  3. Want immediate gratification
  4. Desire recognition and praise for achievement
  5. Like hands-on learn-by-doing activities
  6. Perform well with many brief learning experiences
  7. Have quickly changing interests

Pre-Teen Social Development

At these ages, most students are rapidly developing a social awareness and are exploring how they fit into relationships. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Prefer interacting with members of own sex
  2. Feel comfortable in a structured learning environment
  3. Seek role models in older children or in media idols
  4. Demand a system of fairness in the home, in games, and in the classroom
  5. Want to be liked by friends
  6. Desire increasing independence–but want and need adult help

Pre-Teen Instructional Strategies

Although less concerned than older students about the labeling that takes place, when a pre-teen is identified as a remedial reader, the teacher still needs to be mindful of student self-perceptions and those of their peers. A few talking points to address with these young learners may prove helpful:

  • “All students need help in some areas.”
  • “Some students are good at ___________, while others are good at ___________.”
  • “This class is not for dumb kids; it’s for kids who just missed out on some reading skills.”
  • “You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”
  • “You will learn in this class. I promise.”

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted, sounds to print instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every grades 4-adult reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards, speech articulation songs, sounds to print games, and morphology walls. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

Click the SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES for detailed program description, sample lessons, and video overviews. Click the links to get these ready-to-use resources, developed by a teacher (Mark Pennington, MA reading specialist) for teachers and their students.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Cues FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:


Reading , , , , , , , , ,

Characteristics of High School Learners

Characteristics of High School Students in Reading Intervention

Characteristics of High School Students

High school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. You certainly can “teach an old dog new tricks” by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of high school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of high school learners can make all the difference in their success.

I began my teaching career as a high school history and social studies teacher. After a number of years teaching the rich content of world and U.S. history, I grew increasingly interested in students who were not able to access that content independently by reading their textbooks.

I enrolled in the M.A. Reading Specialist program at our state university. In class after class, I was the only secondary teacher in the program. A year into the program, my principal approach me about teaching a remedial freshman and sophomore course “to get these kids to master the reading portion of the high school proficiency exam.” The district was now requiring this proficiency to earn a diploma.

I said, “Yes” and the next fall faced my first group of thirty-some-odd struggling readers. After quickly weeding out a few students who self-admittedly “blew off” the proficiency exam the preceding year, I settled in to apply what I was learning in my master’s program. Big mistake!

The assessments, lessons, accompanying readings, and activities did not translate from primary students to high school students. Yes, several of the high school kids did not have all their phonemic awareness skills. Yes, a few more needed to learn the alphabet. Still more had significant phonics gaps. All had reading fluency issues. However, the “big head” cartoonish and juvenile resources and books that taught these skills were just not going to work on the high schoolers. In fact, whenever I passed out such a resource, the high school kids either completely shut down or began to act out.

It took me six years to finish that masters degree, but during that time I learned a bit about teaching secondary reading intervention.

The RtI (Response to Intervention) Action Network cites the following research-based conclusions regarding reading intervention for older students:

  1. the explicit instruction of reading and writing strategies (See my “Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection“)
  2. a focus on using reading and writing to support motivation and engagement
  3. a focus on developing student knowledge and understanding of essential content information (Torgesen et al., 2007)
  4. ongoing formative and summative assessment of students (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) (See my FREE ELA/Reading Assessments)
  5. a comprehensive and coordinated literacy program (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006)

High School Cognitive Development

Most high school students have achieved the formal operational stage, as described by Piaget. These students can think abstractly and need fewer concrete examples to understand complex thought patterns. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Need to understand the purpose and relevance of instructional activities
  2. Are both internally and externally motivated
  3. Have self-imposed cognitive barriers due to years of academic failure and lack self-confidence
  4. May have “shut down” in certain cognitive areas and will need to learn how to learn and overcome these barriers to learning
  5. Want to establish immediate and long-term personal goals
  6. Want to assume individual responsibility for learning and progress toward goals

High School Social Development

High school students are experimenting with adult-like relationships. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Interested in co-educational activities
  2. Desire adult leadership roles and autonomy in planning
  3. Want adults to assume a chiefly support role in their education
  4. Developing a community consciousness
  5. Need opportunities for self-expression

High School Instructional Strategies

High school students are still concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents), but are primarily internally imposed (by the students themselves). Years of academic failure, due to lack of reading proficiency, have damaged students’ self-esteem. Many students have lost confidence in their ability to learn. Students have developed coping mechanisms, such as reading survival skills e.g., audio books or peer/parent readers, or behavioral problems, or the “Whatever… I don’t care attitudes” to avoid the tough work of learning how to read well. High school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions. A few talking points with remedial high school students may prove helpful:

“Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”

“You can learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”

“I know you have tried before, but this time is different.”

“You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”

“Some of my past students were like some of you. For example, ___________ and he passed the high school exit exam after finishing this class. For example, ___________ got caught up to grade level reading and is college right now.” Personal anecdotes provide role models and hope for high school remedial readers. Any former students who have been successful will provide “street credibility” to the teacher and the class.

“You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”


Check out the two writing programs high school students need to succeed: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics and TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLEBoth programs include printables and digital options including Google Slides.

Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Printable and Digital Programs

High School Program

Teaching Essays


Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Writing , , , , ,