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How to Teach Writing Transitions

Well-intentioned teachers sometimes create more problems than they solve. Teachers often fail to teach developing writers how to use effective writing transitions within or between paragraphs in argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing (Common Core Writing Standards 1, 2, and 3). Three key instructional practices can lead to counter-productive learning.

How to Teach Writing Transitions

First, many teachers assume that their students understand the meanings of transitional words and phrases. These teachers simply post a Transitions Poster on the classroom wall and assume that their students will grab which ones they need for each writing exercise. Both are faulty assumptions. To use transitions effectively, developing writers must know both the denotative and connotative meanings of commonly used transitions. Using the wrong or imprecise transition create confusion for readers. Developing writers also need to learn which transitions work in each writing context. One helpful solution to this problem is to teach transitions in categories of meaning. Download this helpful Writing Transitions page for instruction and reference.

Another reason some teachers fail to get their students to use effective writing transitions is because teachers tend to focus on teaching writing structure over content. Requiring students to “write a five-paragraph essay with transitions between each sentence and paragraph” will force most students into incoherent writing. Requiring students to use an arbitrary number or placement of transitions within and between paragraphs will result in padded and chunky writing. Some teachers even award points for each transition–not the best motivator for concise and coherent writing. Instead of pitting structure versus content, my advice is to teach flexible writing. Begin students with a structure to paragraphing and multi-paragraph writing, but model, permit, and encourage deviation from the basic structure to fit the needs of the content. Content should always dictate structure.

Finally, teachers sometimes fail to teach their students the two secrets of effective transitions. The first writing rule for argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing is to “Always continue a new paragraph where the previous one ended.” This continuity helps the readers understand the progression of the writing and is oftentimes a better writing technique than “add-on” transition words and phrases. The second writing rule is to “use repetition, paraphrase, and reference.” Repeating key words or phrases found in preceding sentences or paragraphs unifies the writing and is considerate to the readers. Paraphrasing previous ideas helps the readers see the idea from another point of view and avoids the over-use of irritating repetitions. Reference to previous writing with relative pronouns and adverbs, demonstrative pronouns and adjectives, and well-connected pronouns and antecedents improves writing coherence. However, make sure to teach students not to use references to the writing itself. For example, “In the last paragraph…; This essay was about… That sentence proves that…”

Using effective writing transitions can significantly improve writing coherence and help the reader understand the writing as a unified whole. However, teachers need to emphasize the precise meanings of “add-on” transition words and phrases, avoid over-emphasis of structure over writing content, and teach the value of repetitions, paraphrases, and references.TES

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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Active and Passive Voice

active voicepassive voice

In passive voice, the subject receives the action with the use of a passive verb. A passive verb combines a “to-be” verb with a past participle (_d, _ed, or _en ending). For example, is practiced, was doubted, had been eaten. In active voice the subject does the action. For example, “John ran to the post office.” The two comics above, part of a set entitled Grammar Comics: Grammar and Usage, explain the difference between passive and active voice.

Passive voice is one of the biggest grammar pet peeves out there. There is nothing grammatically wrong with passive voice, but in general active voice is preferable. The problem with passive voice is that your reader often has to figure out what is going on. For instance, in the sentence “The ball was thrown by Phil” the person who is doing the throwing is not revealed until the end. Using active voice helps clarify who or what is doing the action.

However, there are certain cases where passive voice is effective. Consider this sentence: “Sally has been told frequently not to pick her nose.” In this case, who don’t need to know who told  Sally; the emphasis in the sentence is on Sally. Also consider this recent classic example: “Mistakes were made.” If there were a subject, we would know who made the mistakes. Passive voice absolves anyone from blame while admitting error.

Also, lab reports are written in passive voice; no one actually does anything, things just get done. For example, “2 ml of the solution were poured into a beaker.”

So passive voice is acceptable to use in certain cases. However, unless you have a specific reason not to, stick with active voice in your writing.

For more comics to use as overheads and handouts, check out Grammar Comics: Grammar and Usage.

The author of this article is David Rickert, who has not lived a passive life. When not creating comics out of thin air, David actively teaches high school English Language Arts in Columbus, Ohio. His witty and engaging cartoons turn abstract and complicated concepts into concrete and concise images to embed content into our long term memories. Let’s face it: he makes boring topics entertaining. Check out his Grammar Comics and more resources to bring life to your ELA instruction: Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics.

 

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Subject and Verb Agreement

Subject and Verb Agreement

 

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Common Core Language Standards: K-5 L.1.f.

Pre-teaching: The subject is the “do-er” of the sentence. It tells whom or what the sentence is about. The simple subject is the common noun, proper noun, or pronoun that the verb acts upon. The complete subject includes additional words that describe the simple subject. The compound subject describes a subject with two or more nouns or pronouns.

The predicate is the verb that does the work of the “do-er” of the sentence. The predicate shows a physical or mental action or it describes a state of being. The simple predicate is the verb that acts upon the subject of the sentence. The complete predicate includes additional words that modify the predicate. The compound predicate describes a predicate with two or more verbs.

To identify the subject and predicate in a sentence, first look for the main verb and then ask “Who?” or “What?” The answer is the subject and the main verb is the predicate. Check to make sure that the subject is not part of a prepositional phrase or dependent clause. The subject and predicate must be part of an independent clause.

Definitions and Examples: When we say that the subject and verb must agree, we mean that they must match in number. A singular subject must match a singular verb. A plural subject must match a plural verb.

Singular Agreement

  1. A singular subject agrees with (matches) a singular verb and involves a single person, place, or thing. In the present tense nouns add an s to the singular form. For example, A songbird sings.
  2. Collective nouns are words that suggest more than one, but that are considered singular if they act as one unit and not as individuals. Collective nouns take a singular verb. For example, The herd is large.
  3. Be careful to match subject (nominative) case pronouns to their proper helping verbs: Singular I matches am, was, have, and had. Singular he, she, it, and you match is, was, has, and had. For example, He was my friend.
  4. These indefinite pronouns take singular verbs: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, someone, somebody, and something. For example, Each tries hard.
  5. These words or phrases do not form compound subjects and so the two nouns that they connect take singular verbs: or, nor, together with, as well as, and along with, as with, including, in addition to. For example, Blue or green is my favorite color.
  6. Some words end in s, but are still singular. For example, Mathematics seems bad, but measles are definitely worse.

Plural Agreement

  1. A plural subject agrees with (matches) a plural verb and involves more than one person, place, or thing. In present tense the plural nouns do not end in s. For example, Birds chirp.
  2. Be careful to match subject (nominative) case pronouns to their proper helping verbs: Plural we and they match are, were, and had. Plural you matches are, were, have, and had. For example, We were watching the game.
  3. Some words seem to be singular, but are actually plural because they each have two parts: scissors, tweezers, pants, and shears. For example, The tweezers are in the top drawer.
  4. Sports teams not ending in s are plural and require plural verbs. For example, The Orlando Magic have been looking for a point guard.
  5. A compound subject joined by and is plural and takes a plural verb. For example, Bob and Pam are friends.
  6. These indefinite pronouns take plural verbs: both, few, many, others, and several. For example, Others ask to attend.

Special Cases

  1. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer the verb. For example, Neither the boy nor the girls like the teacher.
  2. In sentences beginning with there is or there are, the subject follows the verb. Since there is not the subject, the verb agrees with what follows. For example, There is a spider.
  3. These amount or measurement pronouns take singular or plural verbs depending upon surrounding word clues: half of, a part of, a percentage of, a majority of, all, any, more, most, some, any, and none. For example, A percentage of time is devoted to study.

Writing Style Hints: Avoid using verbs that act upon the subject as this creates the passive voice. Instead, use verbs which perform the action of the subject to use the active voice.

Practice: Correct the following errors in subject-verb agreement by changing either the subject of the verb and explain in your own words how the singular, plural, or special case subject-verb agreement rule applies.

  1. He like me.
  2. The group are friendly.
  3. He have a lot of problems.
  4. Everyone know the answer.
  5. John or Pablo want the pie.
  6. Mumps were a childhood disease.
  7. The dogs barks all the time.
  8. They has much to learn.
  9. The pliers is in the toolbox.
  10. The Oklahoma Thunder remains in first place.
  11. Pete and Bobby walks to town.
  12. Several choices attracts the buyers.
  13. Potato chips or a cookie are included in the meal.
  14. There are a real problem here.
  15. A majority of players has wives who travel with the team.

Formative Assessment Dictations: Write the following dictations, correcting or leaving “as is” the verbs in each sentence.

  1. She loves him.
  2. The flock fly in a v-formation.
  3. They just seems to have the answers.
  4. Nothing helps the situation.
  5. Frank, Rosa, or William needs to bring dinner.
  6. Measles is a bad disease.
  7. Her pants was two sizes too big.
  8. You all have done your best.
  9. The scissors need to be sharpened.
  10. The Orlando Magic have to win this game.
  11. Sue and Mark love their new home.
  12. Few does as much as that man.
  13. Baseballs or a football are in the basket.
  14. There is an ending to this nightmare.
  15. Any of the five solutions works just fine.

Answers:

  1. She loves him.
  2. The flock flies in a v-formation.
  3. They just seem to have the answers.
  4. Nothing helps the situation.
  5. Frank, Rosa, or William needs to bring dinner.
  6. Measles is a bad disease.
  7. Her pants were two sizes too big.
  8. You all have done your best.
  9. The scissors need to be sharpened.
  10. The Orlando Magic has to win this game.
  11. Sue and Mark love their new home.
  12. Few do as much as that man.
  13. Baseballs or a football is in the basket.
  14. There is an ending to this nightmare.
  15. Any of the five solutions works just fine.

Writing Application: Compose a paragraph using any of singular, plural, or special case subject-verb agreement rules that you missed on the formative assessment.

Related Language Standards: Verbs

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to teach each of the grade-level Common Core Language Standards in 60—90 instructional minutes per week. Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. Simple sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications with sentence combining and sentence manipulation, and formative assessments are woven into each lesson. Students learn to apply these language standards in both the writing and reading contexts. Each instructional component includes diagnostic assessments and remedial worksheets to help the teacher easily differentiate instruction. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

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Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and Acronyms

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Common Core Language Standard: L.5.2*

Pre-teaching: Abbreviations are shortened words or groups of words. Acronyms are groups of words that are abbreviated to form a word.

Definitions and Examples: Use periods following the first letter of each key word in an abbreviated title or expression, and pronounce each of these letters when saying the abbreviation. For example, U.S.A. for the United States of America.

But, don’t use periods or pronounce the letters in an acronym. Acronyms are special abbreviated titles or expressions that are pronounced as words. Most all acronyms are capitalized. For example, NASA for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Writing Style Hints: Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms in formal essays. Instead, write out each of the words.

Practice: Mr. James Kopp Jr. has worked outside of the U.S. for many businesses, but he now works in his home state for MADD. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)

Formative Assessment Dictation: Mrs. Johnson and her husband, Jim Johnson Sr., wrote a letter to all members of the NAACP who live in their ZIP Code.

Writing Application: Compose a short business letter, using one abbreviation and one acronym.

Related Language Standards: Common Latin Abbreviations

*Suggested Grade Level

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to teach each of the grade-level Common Core Language Standards in 60—90 instructional minutes per week. Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. Simple sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications with sentence combining and sentence manipulation, and formative assessments are woven into each lesson. Students learn to apply these language standards in both the writing and reading contexts. Each instructional component includes diagnostic assessments and remedial worksheets to help the teacher easily differentiate instruction. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

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Grammar and the Common Core

I hear the same two comments at English-language arts conferences all the time: 1. “I’ve heard that research has proven grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction doesn’t work.” 2. “I teach grammar and they seem to get it. They pass my tests and do okay on the standardized tests, but they don’t transfer the learning to their writing or speaking. And they just don’t retain what we’ve covered. Their next-year teacher always asks why I don’t teach grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.”

So, should we bother teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling? Some would say “No.” This is what Dr. Stephen Krashen recommends, at least until high school. Dr. Krashen finds that students learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary most efficiently through free voluntary reading, not explicit instruction or even writing, as my old National Writing Project colleagues would advocate. Now, to be fair, Dr. Krashen does see the value of teaching some usage issues and grammatical terminology. And he advocates teaching students how to use language resources, such as language handbooks, to correct errors and improve writing style. But he, and others of his ilk, certainly support the overall position described in the first comment listed above. My view is that the collective jury is still out on this research question.

Irrespective of the research into the effectiveness of explicit grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction, the writers of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) certainly affirm the need for instruction in these skill and content areas.  In fact, grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary now have their own CCSS Language Strand in the English Language Arts Standards. Apparently, language instruction is back in style.

According to the CCSS writers, “Students must have a strong command of the grammar and usage of spoken and written standard English to succeed academically and professionally.” And, despite the comments of the CCSS writers designed to placate English-language arts teachers clinging onto a teach-grammar-only-through-writing approach, the pendulum has definitely swung back toward explicit instruction of these Standards.

Even the most recent National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement in the NCTE Guideline now stresses the importance of direct instruction in these areas with the caveat that instruction must be connected to reading, writing, and speaking. Regarding instructional approaches, the NCTE position might surprise some die-hard anti-grammar fanatics:

Experiment with different approaches until you find the ones that work the best for you and your students. Some teachers focus on showing students how phrases add rich detail to sentences. Other teachers find that sentence diagrams help students see the organization of sentences. Some use grammar metaphors (the sentence, for example, as a bicycle, with the subject as the front wheel and the predicate as the back). Some emphasize the verb as the key part of speech, showing students how the sentence is built around it and how vivid verbs create vivid sentences.

But, back to the teacher comments at the English-language arts conferences. The second comment listed above reflects the common experience of so many English-language arts teachers in their own classrooms. There just is no doubt that students tend to have troubles transferring their learning of grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling to writing and (with grammar and usage) speaking, not to mention next-year’s-teacher.

The CCSS writers acknowledge and validate this common experience. The CCSS writers explicitly recognize the cyclical nature of formal and standard language acquisition in their narrative and in the Standards themselves. To wit, the Standards include specific “Progressive Language Skills” to review, practice, and build on key Standards precisely because of the “recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge.”

However, simply acknowledging the fact that students have trouble with language transfer does not solve the problem. Teachers do need to take a fresh look at instructional approaches. One approach would be to take a hard look at how students have learned some grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling and then devise instructional approaches to replicate this success for other un-mastered language content and skills. In other words, find out what has worked and do more of that.

What Works

1. We know from language acquisition research and classroom practice that new skills are best acquired when students notice and understand, before practice. That is, input is more important than output for student mastery of skills and/or content. This appears to be true for both primary language and secondary language students. Production, that is writing and speaking application and practice, should come after a certain degree of mastery has been acquired.

Application: Provide comprehensible input via oral language to learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary content and skills. Teaching grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary through active listening and interactive discussion with plenty of examples makes sense. Use mentor texts to analyze how writers and speakers use the language skill and content.

2. We have to teach through successive approximation and build upon prior knowledge.

New learning best takes place in context of the old. The CCSS “Progressive Language Skills” identifies the key Standards to scaffold instruction. Expect the need to re-teach foundational language skills and content.

Application: Begin the year with extensive review of language skills and content. Reference and practice prior Standards, then build upon these foundations to extend learning.

3. Students can chew gum and walk at the same time. Teach language form and meaning concurrently. Form influences meaning and meaning influences form. The CCSS Standards integrate form and meaning: traditional and descriptive approaches to language learning.

Application: Target the specific skill or content to be learned and teach, then practice in all of the communicative contexts. Teach the academic language, show and practice the variety of grammatical structures, validate the different purposes and forms of communication and contrast to Standard English, and provide a meaningful rationale for learning “correct” English to motivate learning.

4. Practice output in both contrived and meaningful contexts.

Application: Use canned, repetitive practice in limited doses. Most students don’t have to do “all of the even number exercises on page 223” to master a skill and/or concept. “Drill and kill” worksheets never killed anyone. But, contrived practice needs to target specific skills, inform the student as to “what is correct and what is not” via immediate feedback, provide a basis for formative assessment, and help the student practice skills and content already learned (#s 1 and 2 above.) Teachers do need to provide authentic writing tasks to practice what has been learned and give immediate and specific feedback regarding task application.

5. Assess learning, adjust instruction to re-teach, and differentiate instruction.

Application: English-language arts teachers need to buy-in to formative assessment to teach at the point of individual student needs. What good is it if we’ve “taught it,” if they haven’t learned it? That next-year’s teacher does have a point. And tracking students into remedial, regular, and honors classes does not address this point. Tracking, whether beneficial or not, is about delivery of content and skills, not about differentiating instruction according to what students have or have not learned.

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to help ELA teachers teach each of the Common Core Language Standards. Using the “What Works” strategies described in this article, Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) ©2012 Pennington Publishing provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

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Common Core Greek and Latinates

As we all know by now, the bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards. But not the grade levels most of us would expect.

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

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

Common Core Greek and Latinates

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

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

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

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

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

It makes sense to begin with the most commonly used word parts.

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

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

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

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed targeted, grade-level Vocabulary Worksheets (Click to see) to incorporate the most commonly used Greek and Latin word parts for Grades 4-8 teachers. These 56 Vocabulary Worksheets include practice in all other Common Core Vocabulary Standards. These worksheets are only one instructional component of the Grades 4-8 language program series: Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) ©2012 Pennington Publishing. This comprehensive curriculum provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners in 60-90 minutes per week. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

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Time for the Common Core?

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Time for the Common Core?

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

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

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

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

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

Of course each day is not rigid according to this time frame and allocation of instructional minutes. I do tell a joke occasionally and take roll, so I have to adjust instruction accordingly.

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to help ELA teachers teach each of the Common Core Language Standards. Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) ©2012 Pennington Publishing provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

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