English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands)with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest?
For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful. The Language Strand consists of the following: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6), as well as the review/special attention Standards of the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” Note: Grades 9-10 and 11-12 are combined throughout the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.
Let’s break down all of the gobbledygook.
Overview of the Common Core Language Strand
The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 1) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” In other words… heavy doses of specific and rigorous grammatical constructions, throughout the grade levels with “special attention” and “review” in the “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade.” These progressive skills begin with two Standards at Grade 3 and “staircase” to eighteen at Grades 11-12. Even a cursory glance at the Language Strand will convince die-hard DOL/DLR (Daily Oral Language/Daily Language Review) practitioners or TGOitWP (Teach Grammar Only in the Writing Process) purists that direct instruction of these Standards, interactive practice, and plenty of writing application will be necessary to get the job done. The heaviest burden falls on elementary teachers, but most secondary teachers will have to “bone up” on their old McCracken to teach “coordinate adjectives” (L.7.2). Yes, it’s going to take time and a bit of effort to teach these Standards with any sense of fidelity.
The Conventions of Standard English (Standard 2) requires students to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.” Spelling gets short-shrift here with little specificity: “Spelling correctly” (L.6.2-12.2)
Knowledge of Language (Standard 3) requires students to “Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.” These Standards focus on using language and its conventions in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The L.3.3-L.12.3 Standards include the following: word choice and word order for precision and effect, sentence structure, sentence patterns, and sentence variety, sentence expansion, sentence combination, and sentence reduction, writing style, voice, mood, point of view, rhetorical stance, informal and formal language, standard and non-standard language, language variety, language context, language form, and MLA citations. Lots of writing application practice.
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 4) requires students to “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade…level… reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.” Plenty of homonyms.
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 5) requires students to “Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.” All the different figures of speech: similes, metaphors, idioms, adages, proverbs, alliteration, onomatopoeia, imagery, symbolism, personification, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, irony, puns, oxymorons, euphemisms, paradox, understatement. Plus denotative and connotative definitions with word resources (dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses, etc.) and word relationships (semantic spectrums, word analysis, four square activities, etc.
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standard 6) requires students to “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” Grades 9-12 require students to “Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” In other words, both direct instruction in academic language (Beck and McGowan’s Tier 2 and 3 Words). I highly recommend building “deep level” vocabulary instruction from the well-researched Academic Word List. Standards also include Greek and Latin morphemes from Grade 3-Grade 8. Note: Greek and Latin morphemes are not included, for some reason in the 9-10 or 11-12 Standards. I doubt if many high school teachers will abandon Greek and Latin vocabulary as they help prep their students for the ACT/SAT reading sections.
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.
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.
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).
Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing