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Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work

Most teachers are familiar with Daily Oral Language, abbreviated as D.O.L. or under the guise of similar acronyms. Teachers like the canned program because it requires no teacher preparation, it provides “bell ringer” busy work so teachers can take attendance, and it seemingly “covers” the subjects of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. D.O.L. is probably the most popular  instructional technique used to teach grammar. The second most often used technique would be the “teach no grammar-nor-mechanics technique” as is frequently employed by writing process purists who save this “instruction” until the last step of a process piece, if they ever get to it at all. However, the subject of this blog is the latter technique, and why D.O.L. does not work.

1. D.O.L. is proofreading, not sentence construction. As such, D.O.L. is error-correction, not meaning-making. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.”

2. D.O.L. has no scope and sequence. It is random, repetitive, and hodgepodge. Many D.O.L. programs claim to offer grade level editions. Who determined that parentheses are at third grade instructional level and semi-colons are at the fourth grade instructional level?

3. D.O.L. is implicit, part to whole instruction, divorced from any meaningful writing context. Correction is not teaching, and no D.O.L. program that I know of has effective teacher prompts to teach the grammatical concepts.

4. D.O.L. aims to teach writing without writing. Would a seamstress teach sewing by having her students spend all their time analyzing stitching errors? No. To sew, you have to practice sewing. To write, you have to practice writing.

5. D.O.L. involves little critical thinking. Writing involves decision-making about why and how sentences should be constructed for different rhetorical purposes. “Grammar is something to be explored, not just edited (Jeff Anderson).”

6. D.O.L. is not diagnostic. D.O.L. has too much repetition of what students already know, and not enough practice in what students do not know. Teachers need to use diagnostic assessments to determine individual student strengths and weaknesses in grammar and mechanics and then use instructional materials to effectively differentiate instruction.

7. D.O.L. rehearses errors and imprints them in the long term memories of students. The more visual and auditory imprints of errors, the more they will be repeated in future student writing.

8. D.O.L. correction does not transfer to student writing. Students fed a steady diet of D.O.L. throughout elementary, middle, and high school repeat the same old comma errors in the university setting. D.O.L. simply does not teach “deep learning.”

9. D.O.L. is bad test prep. Although teachers often advocate use of D.O.L. for this purpose, the multiple choice format of standardized tests is dissimilar. Tests generally ask “which is right?” not “which is wrong?”

10. D.O.L. uses bad writing models to teach good writing. It teaches what is wrong, not what is right. Although some error analysis can certainly be beneficial, at least as much time should be spent analyzing what makes good writing so good. Good “mentor texts” (Jeff Anderson) from both professional authors and student authors can teach what students should aspire to and emulate.

11. D.O.L. teaches from ignorance. “If they don’t become familiar with the concepts they are asked to edit for BEFORE they are asked to edit, of course they won’t do it well. How could they? How can you tell if something like a mark is missing if you don’t know where it is supposed to be in the first place?” and “But do we start history class with all the wrong dates and names on the board and ask kids to fix them? What about learning the concepts first (Jeff Anderson)?” Students cannot show what they do not know.

12. D.O.L. doesn’t teach the whys and hows of grammar and mechanics. Math teachers do not just teach the process of long division; they also teach the concepts behind the process, using examples, manipulatives, etc. to provide the “deep thinking” that students need. Students need to know why commas set apart appositives, for example. Students need to know how position of word choice affects meaning, for example.

13. D.O.L. isolates writing instruction from student writing. Students are invested in their own writing, not in that of pre-packaged print shown on the overhead, LCD projector, or SMART board®. Relevance and personal connection motivates student buy-in. “If the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear (Regie Routman).”

14. D.O.L. does not provide enough practice. One isolated error correction does not teach to mastery. Good teaching involves instruction and immediate guided practice, followed by independent practice with teacher feedback. D.O.L. is throw-it-all-against-the-wall-and-hope-some-of-it-sticks instruction, not the targeted practice that students need to learn and retain the grammatical and mechanical concepts.

15. D.O.L. is boring. Ask students. They almost universally characterize D.O.L. as “repetitive, irrelevant, unhelpful, and a waste of time.”

16. D.O.L. has little research base to indicate that it works. Why use what does not work, when workable, effective alternatives are available for effective instruction in grammar and mechanics?

Here is the most effective alternative…

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.tls-thumb

Teaching the Language Strand also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Teaching the Language Strand “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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  1. Denny Hills
    January 5th, 2010 at 11:14 | #1

    Both Teaching Grammar and Mechanics and Teaching Essay Strategies make sense out of integrating grammatical instruction and writing. Easy to teach, too. My kids have definitely improved their writing and test scores as a result of using these curricula.

  2. Lisa Mathews
    January 3rd, 2011 at 11:04 | #2

    Daily Language Review is meant to supplement grammar and mechanics lessons that are in textbooks. The textbook lessons include teacher guidance, lessons that lay foundations for students, and activities that provide application opportunities. DLR or DOL is meant to provide purposeful practice and get students thinking about what they’ve already learned.

  3. January 3rd, 2011 at 18:20 | #3


    Absolutely true; however, most upper elementary, middle, and high school teachers use DOL as their only means of grammar and mechanics instruction. Additionally, DOL is divorced from the context of authentic writing and has no meaningful instructional scope and sequence. Everyone assumes that someone else has taught a given subject, and only review is needed. Diagnostic assessments, such as the one on my http://www.penningtonpublishing.com site would prove otherwise. I think teachers can do better.

  4. Sandy
    January 23rd, 2011 at 17:51 | #4

    I disagree with this assessment. I’ve used D.O.Ls extensively in my classes and found success with them. Requires no teacher prep? Really? I expect that may be true for those teachers that just put these sentences up there, go over the corrections, and call it a day. However, I review each concept and model the ones students have most trouble with. I understand that the current educational climate is peppered with the idea that we have to make every lesson into a game, but practice and repetition are not “evil,” nor should they be excluded from the classroom. Yes, it is editing, but the booklet isn’t the teacher…it’s a tool. As such, it can be adapted…SHOULD be adapted. Anyone who relies solely on a text to provide all the questions, all the activities, all the answers, all the modifications…that person is not doing their job. They’re merely an automaton.

  5. Derralee
    February 12th, 2011 at 08:33 | #5

    I totally disagree with this commentary. I have used D.O.L.s in my classroom for many year, and contrary to what the author wrote, I do NOT use it as busy work! I teach grammar, writing, and mechanics as well, but I supplement the teaching with the D.O.L.s. It helps to teach my students editing skills, as well as how to recognize what is wrong and how to correct it, and it also allows me the opportunity to review the vocabulary and spelling words I’m teaching that week. I alternate between these and journal writing, and my students leave with a clear understanding of how grammar works and how to incorporate those into their writing components.

  6. Mary Barrera
    May 17th, 2011 at 18:45 | #6

    Hello? Did you miss the ORAL in D-O-L? The correct way to use the technique is for the teacher to be actively involved and DISCUSS the errors. Does it involve higher level thinking skills? You bet it does if the teacher knows how to use them. For example: What are the grammar errors? What are the spelling errors? What are the punctuation errors? What are the capitalization errors? What type of error is this? Why is this wrong? Is there another way to correct it? The teacher makes the corrections as students contribute the right answers. An equally effective method is to let a student come to the board and make the corrections and then discuss them with the whole class.

    When used as an ORAL activity (as intended)student participation is enthusiastic and the activity is fun. As a result, students experience success and achievement is raised—significantly.

  7. Daily Oral Language Proponent
    November 13th, 2011 at 04:01 | #7

    As a current high school educator, and a recipient of the 1980s Daily Oral Language Curriculum, I have to stay I totally disagree with your argument presented here. You sir may be a M.A Reading Specialist, but as an M.A in Education with experience in an urban classroom, I can tell you children need to learn editing skills. Learning how to edit and correct sentence structure, spelling, and grammar are the very basis of becoming a fully literate adult. I benefited greatly, as did my peers, by the emphasis of my school on identifying and correcting writing errors. I have always been keen on checking my writing for errors ever since my elementary school teachers placed such a high regard for being aware of proper English mechanics and grammar. I doubt that I have achieved such academic success without Daily Oral Language from 1st grade throughout elementary school.

  8. Daily Oral Language Proponent
    November 13th, 2011 at 04:08 | #8

    In addition, I’d like to support the above commentator. My experience as a child was with teachers who lead a whole class discussion in order to correct the sentence on the board. There were always plenty of volunteers to go up and fix an error on the board and explain to the class why. The “Oral” part of “DOL” is very constructivist, student centered, and effective. Children must learn to edit and correct grammar and mechanics.

  9. November 13th, 2011 at 08:46 | #9

    I certainly agree with you that we need to teach grammar, mechanics, and spelling. My take is that D.O.L. and D.L.R. are not the best instructional methodologies. The proof is in the pudding. After years of such instruction in elementary, middle school, and high school, one would think that remedial writing courses in our community colleges and universities would be non-existent. Not so.
    Now to be fair, the other popular means of language instruction, Writers Workshop mini lessons taught in the context of the Writing Process, has produced similar results.
    My point is that perhaps it’s time for a language curriculum that emphasizes both direct and differentiated instruction, aligned to the Common Core State Standards Language Strand. Students simply need more in-depth instruction and practice in the writing context to ensure mastery and transfer than the above approaches offer. Additionally, rather than “reviewing” the same grammar, mechanics, and spelling skills year after year (whether students know them or not), it makes sense to differentiate instruction according to diagnostic assessments.
    According to teacher reviews and testimonials, my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum seems to accomplish these ends.

  10. Jeanne Averhart
    February 22nd, 2012 at 19:17 | #10

    I have to disagree with your assessment of Daily Oral Language. It gives short, to the point practice in editing. I found that when my classes were working compositions, we had a common frame of reference for why a correction needed to be made, and the kids knew what I was talking about. We could speak the “language” grammar and punctuation.

  11. February 23rd, 2012 at 18:59 | #11

    I agree that DOL is excellent editing practice; however, grammar-usage-mechanics are not just about fixing things. They are about writing, and DOL does a miserable job transferring to student writing.

  12. Angela
    September 10th, 2012 at 08:56 | #12

    My child is learning DOL now and it is confusing and she has one of the best teachers in her school. I suspect this was supposed to be used as a supplemental curriculum and public school funding was cut and the classrooms grew too big for anyone to handle. Now we have SOLs and teachers unions are disappearing and so are critical thinkers from our entire culture. America needs to slow down, let our children process and think. Just another example of the “stupification” of this country.

  13. Mark
    September 19th, 2012 at 08:14 | #13

    Mr. Pennington:

    Welcome to the world of education. My point is pointed, as my concern is students. You’re absolutely right about everything you have written; I couldn’t agree more.

    I have done my own research in the classroom, and your comment “DOL does a miserable job transferring to student writing” is dead-on accurate.

  14. October 10th, 2012 at 11:30 | #14

    This is so true….don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If this program is used by thinking caring teachers, it canbe very successful!

  15. Sherry
    October 10th, 2012 at 11:31 | #15

    I am on here because my step son who has autism is struggling with DOL and has been. He attends a public school, in a regular classroom and for the past 7 years, I have done everything from almost standing on top of my head to making fun time out of studying to help him maintain his GPA which right now is a 3.5 but falling because of DOL. Just looking for new ways to try to make this “work” for him. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

  16. Writing Tutor
    October 18th, 2012 at 09:21 | #16

    Hi! English is my second language and I am currently a Professional Writing Tutor at my college. I can tell you that DOLs helped me a great deal in understanding the functions of grammar. It helped me see where a comma should go and when I didn’t need one. It was a great tool in getting me where I am today. No device, or system is perfect, it works for some and doesn’t work for others. Do not dismiss it completely. Every technique serves a purpose.

  17. Stephanie
    January 8th, 2013 at 05:07 | #17

    DOL is meant to supplement a lesson. My problem is not with DOL, but with Common Core that excludes grammar. In the state of NC where I teach, ELA teachers are supposed to use the Reading/Writing workshop style for teaching. When this is used exclusively, as is asked for us to do, there is really no “teaching” going on. When a teacher tries to do grammar lessons, they are told that they are not doing the reading/writing workshop method correctly. It is hard to do what you are told when you know in your heart that it is not what is best for kids.

  18. January 9th, 2013 at 06:43 | #18


    I’m afraid you are mistaken. The Common Core State Standards have been roundly criticized because of their intense focus on grammar. In fact, a separate Strand is dedicated to grammar, mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, and language application: The Language Strand. I’m quite familiar with this Strand, having just launched a series of curricula to address these specific Standards. Unlike “supplemental” D.O.L., my Standards-based programs are sequential, comprehensive, and effective. If teachers teach these Standards with fidelity, students will certainly learn their grammar and usage. Following are brief program descriptions.

    Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) Grades 6, 7 and 8 are three comprehensive programs, designed to address each grade-level Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. Each full-year program provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. Each program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. A student workbook accompanies each grade-level program. More at Teaching the Language Strand at http://penningtonpublishing.com/grammar-mechanics/teaching-the-language-strand-teacher-s-guide.html

  19. Pam
    February 12th, 2013 at 11:26 | #19

    I’ve been doing DOL with my 4th graders for several years. Students use worksheets and I have a class copy on the computer, which is projected onto a screen. Students identify errors and make corrections on worksheets and the computer, then rewrite the sentences. Kids take turns retyping as well. That way I’m teaching word processing skills as well. I alternate teaching grammar units with writing units, but do DOL every day along with them. I thought I had the right approach until I read the “walk and chew gum” comment above. Maybe I’m trying to accomplish too much. I’ve been considering dropping the DOL. Opinions?

  20. February 12th, 2013 at 20:48 | #20

    Yes. DOL certainly does not match the Common Core Language Standards. No sequential instruction, no connection to writing, no connection to reading… Teachers know what works and what does not.

    As the author of this article, I’ve struggled to find grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary resources that make sense and are authentically connected to the writing and reading context. It’s easy to criticize a flawed program such as DOL, but harder to put forth a constructive alternative.

    This next month I launch Teaching the Language Strand: a comprehensive Grades 5-8 program, perfectly aligned to the Common Core Language Standards. Having field tested these programs for the last two years, I’m excited to share these materials with teachers who truly want to improve their students’ language skills.

    Each full-year program provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. Each program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. A student workbook accompanies each grade-level program.

    I invite you to check out the Teaching the Language Strand program.

  21. Nick
    April 14th, 2013 at 11:19 | #21

    I am a case study for DOL not working, I went through Portland Public Schools in the 90’s where it was used extensively. The kids used to refer to it as “dull” my teacher would put a sentence on the board and call on individual students to make a correction. It was easy to cherry pick an easy capitalization error etc. and avoid trying to figure the more complicated concepts. I’m a smart guy, high sat scores and all that but have remedial punctuation skills at best. I had multiple professors in college remark that I was one of their most talented student who had no clue on how to use a semi colon. I survived college with extensive editing help from the writing lab on my campus.

  22. Mellisa
    October 21st, 2013 at 17:31 | #22

    Funny how most teachers disagree (is it about how easy this is for them or the long term benefits of the student??) As a parent, I completely agree with everything in this article. As a transactional attorney all I do is read, write, and edit documents. I’m shocked by the poor writing and grammar by most people-even the educated. My son struggles with these stupid things. He received a F once but when my husband and I reviewed it, turns out the teacher (or whomever graded it) doesnt understand independent clauses. She is also apparently against the Oxford comma. I had to re-learn everything I learned in school once I got to college and law school! Fortunately, my son understands the fundamentals because his dad and I teach him (Dad is very intense about grammar and punctuation). I think they need to spend more time actually writing. How many elementary teachers know what an em-dash is…. So frustrated by this.

  23. October 21st, 2013 at 21:06 | #23

    It’s not just elementary teachers… I’ve taught English at the middle school, high school, and community college levels. Few have had any coursework in grammar, usage, and mechanics. Many do pick it up on the job and learn to help their students.

    But with the rigorous Common Core State Standards, all teachers will have to up their game. Literacy is a shared task among all grades and subject areas. Quick fixes such as D.O.L. simply do not work.

    My just-released Teaching the Language Strand is perfectly aligned with the Common Core Language Strand. I invite teachers who are as interested as this parent in teaching all components of writing to check out this Grades 4-8 series. Word press won’t allow me to use the em-dash in the aforementioned grade level ranges :)

    Mark Pennington
    Pennington Publishing

  1. February 23rd, 2010 at 17:16 | #1