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Spelling Tests and Instruction

Spelling Tests

Spelling Assessments

Years ago I attended a four-day training by Dr. Shane Templeton, an author of a new program titled Words Their Way®. Dr. Templeton drove down to Elk Grove to in-service our cadre of 18 reading specialists. An entertaining presenter, he demonstrated the theory of five developmental spelling stages and introduced the Qualitative Spelling Inventory (later reworked and published as the Primary Spelling Inventory, Elementary Spelling Inventory, and Upper-level Spelling Inventory.

From Dr. Templeton’s training, I developed numerous district and site level in-services for teachers interested in word study, primarily spelling. For each training, principals provided Words Their Way® for each teacher, and our district adopted the spelling inventory as one of our elementary literacy placement assessments. Teachers dutifully engaged their students in exploratory word sorts and other activities recommended for each spelling stage. After a two-year investment in the Words Their Way® approach, here’s what our reading specialist team and teachers found:

Virtually no gains on both standardized tests and our other writing, reading, fluency, spelling, syllabication, and phonics posttests. Our elementary students’ reading scores were mired in the 40th percentiles. The inductive Words Their Way® approach to word study and other similar approaches to spelling, phonics, and vocabulary acquisition were not paying off. Teachers rightfully complained that the Words Their Way® instructional activities took up inordinate amounts of their literacy block time.

Fortunately, our district chose to change direction and adopt a direct instruction, explicit and systematic phonics program: Open Court for kinder-third grade. Within two years our scores improved to the 70th percentiles. Grades 4-6 students improved as well upon later adoption of the program and because students coming out of primary had such a solid foundation. An interesting anecdotal sidebar: In our highly transient and growing district, our reading specialist team found that new transfer students in grades 4-8 were woefully unprepared for the rigors of multisyllabic expository text. As a result, our literacy leadership team created diagnostic assessments and instructional activities for site-level literacy intervention classes.

One of these diagnostic assessments, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, was my primary contribution. The test grew out of the Words Their Way® spelling inventories, which indicated a need for different levels of spelling instruction. However, unlike the inventories, we reading specialists and our district teachers wanted teachable data, not just placement test data. Rather than discover that a fourth grader was scoring in the “Within Word” developmental spelling stage, we wanted to know precisely which spelling patterns had and had not been mastered to target instruction for our grade level and reading intervention students, rather than spend inordinate amounts of class time with exploratory word study and word games.

My reading specialist colleagues were ruthless revisers. We argued over many test items, but finally achieved consensus on a comprehensive assessment that mirrored the Open Court phonics program sound-spellings and added the conventional spelling rules which applied to the “Syllable Juncture” and “Derivational” spelling stages of Words Their Way®. We field tested the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment in grades 4-8 and teachers found that this comprehensive assessment provided much more teachable data than did the old spelling inventories.

To compare the more popular Words Their Way® spelling inventories to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I’ve put together a four-minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8 to compare test items and determine which assessment provides the most teachable data. I’ve also included the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (with audio file), recording matrices, and sample spelling worksheets as a free download in case the video convinces you to do so. Just click the link in the YouTube description.

Unfortunately, the Open Court® program, which did such an admirable job with decoding and comprehension had no systematic spelling instruction. As you know, decoding (phonics) is the one side of the words coin and encoding (spelling) is the other. Our spelling scores remained far below our phonics scores. Principals, who tend to always be about test results, demanded spelling curriculum. However, publishers remained reticent to invest monies and resources in outlier states, such as California, because just a few years back at the height of the whole language movement, State Superintendent of Instruction, Bill Honig, refused to adopt spelling workbooks for the state and directed principals to squash direct spelling instruction.

I was tasked by a school principal from the highest performing elementary school (out of 33) in our district to develop curriculum to “get my spelling scores up.” For that entire school year, two days a week, I continued to refine the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and write targeted spelling pattern worksheets to correspond to each test item. Students benefited from my hyper-focus in the reading intervention class I taught after school and grade-level teachers snatched up my targeted worksheets to use in their classrooms. Yes, our spelling scores shot up through the roof on the spring standardized tests.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The next year I published (with district permission) my own spelling workbook for reading intervention. Over the next few years, I wrote five grade-level spelling programs (grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8), using the best of the Words Their Way® instructional components (word sorts, book searches, games, etc.), but using a much more efficient deductive approach. Each program retained the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets, each with a formative assessment, that teachers found so valuable to pinpoint spelling instruction. The result? The Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs, designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling instruction.

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Words Their Way® Spelling Inventories v. the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Spelling Assessments

Diagnostic Spelling Tests

Teachers who are committed to differentiated and individualized spelling to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction believe that spelling assessment should inform their instruction. The relevant question for this presentation is which spelling inventory or assessment provides the most teachable data for grades 4–post secondary students who struggle with spelling.

We’ll take a look at the two most popular spelling diagnostic tests, the Words Their Way® Elementary Spelling Inventory (ESI) and the Upper-Level Spelling Inventory (USI) and compare these to the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (DSA).

What’s the Same?

The ESI is designed for kindergarten–sixth grade; the USI is designed for upper elementary, middle school, high school, and post secondary students. The DSA is designed for grades 4–post secondary students. Note that Words Their Way® also provides another spelling inventory which will be excluded from our comparisons: the Primary Spelling Inventory, which is designed for kindergarten–third grade

The ESI, USI, and DSA  tests are administered in the traditional word–example sentence–word format, and the focus spelling appears at the beginning, middle, and end of words. Only the focus spelling is corrected. For example, if the focus spelling is short /o/, the misspelling of the double consonant “gg” would not be marked incorrect for the test item foggy. Thus, “fogy” would be marked correct, but “fuggy” would be marked incorrect. All 3 spelling tests include features analysis on recording matrices. Each of the 3 tests diagnostically points to areas which need spelling remediation and practice for individual students.

What’s Different?

However, the purpose of the ESI and USI inventories differs from that of the DSA. The ESI and USI have been designed to identify which of the 5 Words Their Way® developmental spelling stages matches the spelling competencies of the assessed students. In contrast, the DSA has been designed to identify which specific spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules have and have not yet been mastered by the assessed students.

The test administration differs in that the ESI and USI administrator may stop an individual’s test when the student has missed 8 items in succession because the test is in order of difficulty. Students taking the DSA take the entire allotted amount of test items assigned to each grade level. Note that the DSA includes a recommended audio file for test administration.

Finally, the composition of the ESI and USI differs from that of the DSA. The ESI and USI test sample words for each of the program’s 5 developmental spelling stages. The ESI includes 10 single syllable words and 10 multisyllabic words; the USI includes 6 single syllable words and 19 multisyllabic words. The ESI has 25 test items with 62 measurable features, and the USI has 31 test items with 68 features. Both assessments use some words to assess more than one orthographic feature. For example, the test item,  float, assesses knowledge of the “fl” consonant blend, the “oa” long /o/, and the “t” consonant.

In contrast, the DSA assesses all common spelling patterns introduced in previous grade-level spelling programs and reading. Fourth grade students complete the first 64 test items to assess kindergarten–third grade spelling patterns; Fifth grade students complete 79 test items to assess assess kindergarten–fourth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; Sixth grade students complete 89 test items to assess assess kindergarten–fifth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; Seventh grade students complete 98 test items to assess assess kindergarten–sixth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; and eighth grade, high school, and adult students complete 102 test items to assess assess kindergarten–seventh grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. Unlike the ESI and USI inventories, all test words are multisyllabic to attempt to isolate the sight word variable, and only one spelling feature is assessed per test item.

Which Test Provides the Most Teachable Data?

Now, let’s get down to comparing the specific test items for each of these three spelling tests to determine which test provides the most teachable data to help teachers remediate the spelling deficits of their students. To see all kindergarten–third grade spelling pattern test item comparisons, check out the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8 

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Which Test Data Would You Prefer?

Most teachers prefer comprehensive spelling assessment data, rather than sample spelling features. Rather than learning that a child is spelling in the “Within Word” developmental stage, most teachers would prefer knowing which specific “Within Word” spelling patterns have and have not yet been mastered.

In our example chart, both Words Their Way® inventories provide minimal test items for the Silent Final e. To be fair, remember that the purpose of these inventories is to determine students’ developmental spelling stages. These test items in conjunction with other vowels, consonants, blends, and digraphs do accomplish their purpose. However, learning students’ spelling stages does not indicate what students know and what students do not know within those spelling stages. 

For example, the Silent Final e test items on the Words Their Way® inventories only show whether students know the “a_e” and “i_e” spellings. Teachers have no data on the “u_e” long /u/ and long /oo/, “o_e”, “le”, “i_e” as in motive and as in submarine. Students may have mastered some of these spellings, but teachers do not know, so students are forced to study all Silent Final e spelling patterns, as well as all vowel, consonant, blends, and digraphs. Hardly efficient assessment and instruction.

In contrast, because the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment tests all common spelling patterns, teachers will learn which of the 9 Final Silent spellings their students know and do not know (plus all the other common spelling patterns in the “Within Word” stage as demonstrated in the video link above). As a result, teachers can target spelling instruction to what students need and avoid teaching what students already know. Effective spelling instruction need not take up too many instructional minutes. In fact, many teachers have abandoned the Words Their Way® programs because of time constraints.

Additionally, although the Words Their Way® authors claim that their instructional approach is word study, including spelling, syllabication, phonics, writing, and vocabulary, other instructional approaches simply work better and are more efficient.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Compare the Words Their Way Spelling Inventories and their plethora of word study resources to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the resources in the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction. Each of the latter’s full-year spelling programs include weekly grade-level spelling pattern tests and spelling sorts, summative spelling assessments, and remedial spelling worksheets corresponding to each test item on the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with sorts, rhymes, book searches, jumbles, and a writing application which serves as a formative assessment. Also get supplementary word lists, spelling songs, and spelling review games. These no prep, minimal correction programs take much less class time than Words Their Way® and other programs. Plus, at $29.99 and the 10% discount (enter code 3716 at checkout), every teacher can afford the spelling program designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling standards.

The Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs are 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:

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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.

*****

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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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 teachable data. The Words Their Way inventories narrowed down the deficits, but were rather useless, according to my elementary school teachers, in terms of instruction.

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 tools 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 and conventional spelling rules appropriate to each grade level. My reading specialist colleagues and elementary staff were gracious and supportive, yet demanding in their suggested revisions. The result? 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. Interested in side by side comparisons of the Words Their Way® spelling inventories and the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment? See all kindergarten–third grade spelling pattern test item comparisons in this four-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8

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 Words Their Way® 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. 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.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Years later, I developed five grade-level spelling programs (4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) to teach commonly acknowledged grade-level spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. Check out my Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs or my Spelling Literacy Centers. For grade-level spelling instruction: 1. Weekly spelling pattern pretest 2. Spelling pattern sort 3. Personalized spelling lists 4. Paired posttest. 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. The programs take much less class time than the Words Their Way® program and require absolutely no prep and only minimal correction. Plus, every teacher can afford Differentiated Spelling Instruction at only $29.99 and even more so by entering discount code 3716 at check-out.

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

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Word Crimes (Revisited)

"Word Crimes (Revisited)" Video

“Word Crimes (Revisited)”

Let’s have a bit of fun at the president’s expense (and that of his English teachers). Check out a few of the more egregious examples of President Trump’s tweet and speech word crimes in this English teacher’s tongue-firmly-planted-in cheek lyrics and video spin-off of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” found on his hilarious Mandatory Fun album.

Remember, “We’re all role models: Kids are watchin’ and they’re listenin’.”

Following are the lyrics, YouTube video link, and crass commercial plugs for Mark Pennington’s grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs. Suitable for both Democrats and Republicans. Special 10% discount for White House staffers: Enter discount code 3716 at check-out.

Check out the YouTube video: “Word Crimes (Revisited)

WORD CRIMES (Revisited) © Mark Pennington 2018

I’m an English teacher; I care about our GRAMMAR‒SPELLING, PUNCTUATION, and PRONUNCIATION matter.

So, when “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped his “WORD CRIMES,” I played it for my students, and we laughed a THOUSAND TIMES.

But since the election, we haven’t been the same; the kids are laughing at the PRESIDENT and he’s to blame

for those CHORUS

WORD CRIMES

against the English language.

WORD CRIMES

He causes so much anguish;

WORD CRIMES

High crimes and misdemeanors;

WORD CRIMES

Can’t he get a Twitter screener?

WORD CRIMES

His teachers couldn’t teach him;

WORD CRIMES

I think we should impeach him.

His Favorite Word is BIGLY

BIGLY

He thinks that something BIGGER is always something better; that’s why he starts his common nouns with CAPITAL LETTERS.

His favorite word is “bigly,” and he brags about his hands. No HYPHENATION, nor QUOTATION MARKS he understands.

The only BIG THING we know for sure is an ego so HUGE we can’t take anymore

of those CHORUS

His pronunciation is nothing short of mangled; his usage and his word choice are twisted, forced, and tangled.

He mispronounces CHINA and always gets some laughs, but every speech he’s ever made is filled with countless gaffes.

Just one word I’d like to hear from his tweet: Is it covĕfē or is it covēfe?

It’s those CHORUS

Teachers, popstars, parents, politicians:

We’re all role models‒kids are watchin’ and they’re listenin’.

The only dumb mistake is one that is repeated

So, keep that in mind before you say it or you tweet it.

He says he has the power to pardon his own grammar. I think we ought to put his English teachers in the slammer.

He doesn’t know the difference between right or wrong: an adjective or adverb, a fragment or run-on.

Now, I “Ain’t [sic] saying we never make mistakes (except the President of the United States)

with his CHORUS

"Word Crimes (Revisited)" The Video

“Word Crimes (Revisited)”

*****

Thanks for listening. I’m Mark Pennington, ELA and reading intervention teacher-publisher and amateur songwriter. Check out my assessment-based grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs at Pennington Publishing. Let’s keep our kids from committing word crimes while we keep our sense of humor.

Need more of my songs? Check out “Quick Looks at Good Hooks” for a nice sampling of my repertoire.

Need more grammar?

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 Multiple Meaning Words Vocabulary

Multiple Meaning Words

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words

From an old vaudeville act:

“You drove me to drink!” her husband shouted.

“No, you walked there yourself every night,” his wife responded.

This mildly humorous exchange is built upon word play. Word play is a basic tool for many writing and speaking genre. The word play in the short vaudevillian dialog involves the double-meaning of the verb, drove. It also involves different uses of the parts of speech: The husband uses to drink as an infinitive (an unconjugated verb). The wife interprets her husband’s word, drink, as a common noun place (say a bar) and the object of the prepositional phrase to drink (where). Finally, the husband uses the verb phrase, drove me toas an idiom, meaning forced me or caused me, whereas the wife uses drove me as a colloquialism meaning he used the car to drive (no one drives a person).

Enough already! English-language arts teachers certainly can take the fun out of anything. My point is that multiple meaning words are important components of any language. English has plenty of them.

The Common Core authors include multiple meaning words in the Language Strand as Standard L.4.a., but word play is also included in word relationships Standard L.5.b. and figures of speech Standard L.5.a. By the way, I love the fact that the Standards include puns (my boldface):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

See how multiple meaning words fit into the breadth of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards in the Language Strand:

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

What is the instructional focus of multiple meaning words?

Our instructional focus with multiple meaning words is centered on homonyms. A brief reminder: Homonyms represents a general category, literally meaning same names, that is used to indicate similar words which have different meanings. Homographs (words spelled the same, but pronounced differently, such as bass (a deep tone or voice) and bass (a type of fish), and homophones (words pronounced the same but spelled differently, such as reed and read) are subsets of homonyms. So, yes, bass, reed, and read are all examples of homonyms.

How do context clues fit in… the Standard does not mention these.

True, however words are always used in context. Without context clues, we wouldn’t understand homonyms. For example, saying “I like a lot of bass” is meaningless unless we surround the homograph with context clues, such as “I like a lot of bass on my speakers” or “I like a lot of bass, but not a lot of trout.”

As an aside, the Common Core Standards are quite explicit in some sections as exemplars for instruction; however, they are not a detailed instructional scope and sequence (see below for a helpful example). The Common Core authors expect teachers to use their brains to fill in the blanks. As an educational author, I always list applicable Standards; however, I also include a good measure of common sense. For example, the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards (L.2) include plenty of specific Standards regarding the use of different verb forms; however, the Standards nowhere mention “Thou shalt teach thine students what a verb is.”

Which Multiple Meaning Words to Use and How to Team Them

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Examples

In my three vocabulary programs (see below), I use vocabulary worksheets to help students learn grade-level multiple meaning words and context clue strategies to explain their use. Check out my S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies with free lessons HERE.

Homonyms

Multiple Meaning Words

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Figures of Speech and Idiomatic Expressions

How to Teach Figures of Speech Vocabulary

How to Teach Figures of Speech

ELA teachers do a great job of teaching the traditional figures of speech, metaphors and similes and many or the poetic devices, such as alliteration and personification in the context of literature and poetry. Check out a nice list with examples of the “Top 20” figures of speech with examples. 

However, most of us give short shrift to the colloquial forms of language which actually fill more literature and poetry than the venerable figures of speech. For example, in Shakespeare’s Richard III:

GLOUCESTER
Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul I swear,
I will not dine until I see the same.

RATCLIFF:
Dispatch, my lord [Hastings]; the duke would be at dinner:
Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/short-shrift.html

The authors of the Common Core State Standards recognize the essential roles that colloquial expressions play in our English language. See the varied examples detailed in the Language Strand (L.5.a.). Did you know that the eighth grade standards include puns? I love that.

I especially appreciate the authors’ emphasis on teaching idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are more than just the archaic “A stitch in time saves nine” examples that I used to teach, one per day, and have my students illustrate for Open House.

In fact, our non-literal language fills what we read, say, and speak. For example, I love that idiom of ours: through the door. It always gets some head-shaking in my EL, SDAIE, ELD, ESL, etc. classes. But all languages are filled with colloquial language.

For example, when I arrived in Mexico City to really learn the language some years back, I already had six years of middle school and high school Spanish, one college conversational Spanish class and one Spanish-only literature class. I felt pretty confident with the language.

Upon my arrival I found that my new friends understood me just fine. However, I only understood about 50% of what was being said to me. My Spanish instruction was failing me. I knew the formal, but not the informal language.

My Mexican roommate asked me if I had a chamarca. It was 90 degrees out and humid, as well. Why was he asking if I had a jacket? I looked at him strangely, and he explained that he had substituted the slang, charmarca, for his novia. You see, chamarca is slang for girlfriend; while novia was the formal word for girlfriend I learned in Spanish classes back in the U.S.

Learning to really learn the language was all about learning the idiomatic expressions. Spanish uses a lot.

The Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development. Unlike some of the other ELA Standards, the vocabulary Standards are quite specific and especially so with figures of speech. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other methods of vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit, direct instruction. Take a moment to skim the vocabulary standards and see how you’re doing in your class or classes this year.

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

How to Teach Figures of Speech and Idiomatic Expressions

In my three vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (details follow), I use the wide variety of figures of speech (stated and suggested by the Language Standards) to teach students what the figure of speech is, what it means, and how to use it properly. My vocabulary worksheets require students to practice the figure of speech in the writing context, using surrounding context clues to show the meaning of the figure of speech.

Using Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech

Students love learning these figures of speech and practicing them in class conversations. This language play is essential to developing the utility and flexibility of our language. Students learn quite a bit about the etymologies of words and expresses with figures of speech.

As I mentioned, I provide three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Would you like to see a list of all 140 figures of speech used in my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs? Sure. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not show this list to your colleagues and purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Connotations: Shades of Meaning Vocabulary

How to Teach Connotations Shades of Meaning Vocabulary

How to Teach Connotations Shades of Meaning

Some of our English words are quite imprecise. Whereas the Greeks have at least four words for love, we only have one. How crazy is it that we can say, “I love you darling, and I also love hot dogs” in the same sentence? Some of our English words are extremely precise. When we’re discussing walking, we can use that general word, as in this example: Walking through the park, we stopped to feed the birds. However, we can assign more precision to the gerund by saying the following: Ambling, or Sauntering, or Cruising, or Strolling Walking through the park, we stopped to feed the birds.  

Whether the words we choose to say or write are imprecise or precise in the denotative sense (what the dictionary says), we pour meaning into the words (connotations) by the way we use the words and the surround context clues. After all, we could say, “I love you darling” in a romantic sense, in a sarcastic, mocking sense, or in a humorous sense. It all depends on the communication clues we provide.

However, words do mean something on their own and it makes sense to teach our students what they do mean apart from the surrounding clues to help developing speakers and writers make proper word choices. Teaching the connotative meanings of words is best facilitated through the use of synonyms.

The writers of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards include connotative vocabulary acquisition in CCSS L.5.c.:

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

How to Teach Connotations

One great way to teach connotations is with semantic spectrums. Just like a rainbow is a color spectrum, certain vocabulary words can be placed within their own spectrum of meaning (semantics). Typically, when using semantic spectrums to introduce new words, the teacher selects two new words which have connotative meanings. The teacher provides the definitions of the two new words (or students look them up), and students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare, in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

In my three standards-based vocabulary programs (described below with free downloads), my semantic spectrums look like this:

Connotative Semantic Spectrums

Semantic Spectrums

Notice that the parts of speech are all verbs for both the new words and already known words in the first example. In the second example, the new words are nouns, but the already known words are adjectives.

It makes no difference whether the parts of speech are consistent or not for the purposes of learning the connotations. Plus, it provides a nice means of extended learning, should you choose to use the teachable moment.

Teacher: Notice that social and shy are what kind adjectives. What inflected endings would we have to add onto our vocabulary words: extrovert and introvert to make them into what kind adjectives? 

Students: “ed.”

Teacher: Who could use the adjective forms in a sentence to show their meanings? What transition words would most likely be used to show the differences between extrovert and introvert? Can anyone think of another word to fit in our spectrum? Yes, you can use your thesaurus.

Semantic spectrums are wonderful teaching tools to help students master Connotations (L.5.c.) Standard. I provide 28 semantic spectrums for each of my vocabulary programs, different ones for each 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 grade level.

The full-year, twice-per-week, 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets are only part of these balanced programs. Among other resources, each lesson has vocabulary study cards and biweekly unit tests are provided. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Want to see all of the connotative vocabulary provided in each program? Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,