A New Page on The Literacy Cookbook Website: “English Language Learners”!!!

Friends: In response to popular demand, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve added a new page to The Literacy Cookbook Website: “English Language Learners.” (It appears under the “Reading” section.) This page is a work in progress, so if you have any suggestions for additional resources, please Email me at sarahtantillo@literacycookbook.com.

Please tell your friends!

PS–As a reader of this blog, you’re entitled to a 50%-off discount membership to the TLC Website.  Click here and use this code: TLCBOOK50.  NOTE: The code must be entered in ALL caps in order to work.



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I apologize for the shameless self-promotion, but I’m pleased to share Susan Chenelle’s recent review of my book, which originally appeared on the NJ Council of Teachers of English Blog. Susan is the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, NJ, and she has co-authored several books with Audrey Fisch:


Here’s her review:

First off, the journalist in me requires that I state that this is not an unbiased review. I have had the benefit of Sarah Tantillo’s wisdom and guidance since the beginning of my teaching career, nearly ten years ago. That said, I would not have taken time out of the precious last days of my summer to write this review if I were not so genuinely excited about Sarah’s recently published third book, Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action.

Tantillo’s approach forefronts the critical why of grammar instruction, i.e., learning to write and express ideas well. As she emphasizes in her introduction, “How we frame grammar instruction matters. If you view it as ‘fixing incorrect sentences,’ you teach it that way. If you view it as ‘building strong, compelling sentences,’ you take a different approach.”

Tantillo’s first chapter, “What should we STOP doing?” goes after four dysfunctional yet common elements of grammar instruction, including having students copy down grammar definitions or rules, having students correct error-laden sentences, and over-editing students’ work. After clearing the decks, so to speak, Tantillo presents principles that will help teachers design lessons that engage students in developing their skills in noticing and wrestling with syntax and language choices and their effects, rather than memorizing rules by rote and trying to remember when and how to apply them. Instead Tantillo encourages teachers to use model sentences from the texts students are already reading to give students opportunities to imitate and/or expand upon them after acting as detectives to identify the grammatical moves each set of model sentences exemplifies and infer the writer’s intention in crafting them that way.

Tantillo grounds her clear, practical directives in research about grammar instruction and teaching best practices, synthesizing the ideas of educators like Constance Weaver (Teaching Grammar in Context), Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), and Jeff Anderson (Mechanically Inclined). These references to such well-respected and well-known teaching texts make clear how Tantillo’s approach sits within the field. Her work, moreover, and her insights about opportunities to capitalize on, pitfalls to avoid, and ways to fit everything in also draw on Tantillo’s extensive experience in the classroom.

The book is structured in a straightforward, easy-to-use format; readers can absorb the fundamentals of Tantillo’s approach in part one and then dive into the specific section of part two relevant to the grade level(s) they teach. Tantillo also emphasizes the importance of teachers knowing the standards above and below the grade(s) we might teach so that we can meet our students’ diverse needs; this volume makes it easy to see the underlying skills or understandings to target when students are struggling with tasks specified for their grade level in the CCSS. Along with her breakdown of the standards for each grade, she gives concrete advice for how to teach each standard, complete with sample pitches for conveying the importance of each skill to students and “genre alerts” that highlight particularly effective opportunities to teach certain aspects of grammar with specific genres of writing (i.e., teaching interjections and verb tenses with narrative writing). The appendix offers a handy CCSS tracker and sample overviews of weekly grammar, reading, writing, and vocabulary routines based on the particular genre(s) being taught.

While I have already recommended this book to the English department at my school, I will be sharing two bits of Using Grammar with all of my teachers in September: 1) her reminder that “telling is not teaching” in chapter one, and 2) the strategies she shares at the end of chapter four for combatting learned helplessness in our students. As anyone who has attempted to teach grammar knows, persistence and effort are at the heart of revision in writing, but they are also at the heart of learning in general. Tantillo urges teachers to wage this battle by “encourag[ing] engagement and accountability,” “provid[ing] models for clarity, and “encourag[ing] risk-taking.”

These nuggets of wisdom exemplify the thorough, thoughtful support Tantillo offers teachers in this book. Teachers starting a new school year will find it a valuable resource that will help them begin with clarity and purpose.


Thanks, Susan!


Posted in Combatting learned helplessness, Grammar, Professional Development, Resources, Using Grammar to Improve Writing BOOK | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Hi, all—

I’m pleased to report that I’ll be presenting twice in October at events that are open to the public:

Oct. 11: “Using Grammar to Improve Writing” at NJ Charter Public Schools Association Annual Conference in Newark, NJ (Click HERE to register.)

This workshop explains how to connect writing and grammar instruction systematically and provides practical tools to support teachers in doing this. Topics include:

· Why students struggle with grammar

· What to STOP doing

· Seven Principles for Effective Grammar/Writing Instruction

· How to help students who are not on grade level

· Other factors that affect how well we write

· How to meet the Common Core Standards for Language and Writing SYSTEMATICALLY

Oct. 27: “Education in America: The Past, Present, and Future” at the Educational Forum for Intellectually Curious Students in Grades 4-12, organized by Scholar Search Associates at Oak Knoll School in Summit, NJ (Click HERE for FREE registration).

Follow the evolution of the American educational system over the last century and obtain an understanding of why American education is what it is today. Learn particularly how the 1983 federal report, A Nation at Risk, which described a declining American educational system, sent ripple effects through government programs and policies that we are still feeling today. We’ll also take a close look at how advances in technology and the growth of the charter school movement continue to transform the field of education. Join in and gain a richer awareness of today’s education and what you can expect in the years to come.

Please spread the word, and I hope to see you soon!



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Another Cool Resource: C-SPAN!

Until very recently, I thought of C-SPAN as merely a government cable channel, a place to see the ongoing proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. So: ho hum. Not my favorite channel. But it turns out that the mission of C-SPAN includes more, so much more!!!

If you go to C-SPAN’s Website, brace yourself for a thrilling ride. Seriously, this Website has SO MUCH CONTENT, it is like trying to eat an elephant while riding your bike. I must now give a LOUD SHOUT-OUT to my father, who was doing some research of his own, discovered the vast riches of C-SPAN, and showed me what he found. Thanks, Dad!!!

If you are an English teacher, check out the series called “American Writers,” which provides extensive information and video clips about writers ranging from William Bradford (born 1590) and Abraham Lincoln to Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, plus dozens more. If you’re a Hemingway fan like me, there’s a two-hour show about his life here. The BookTV series In Depth offers “a comprehensive, live three-hour look at one author’s work, with questions from viewers via phone, e-mail, and social media,” featuring interviews with many well-known authors.

If you teach social studies: O.M.G. Let’s start with the section on The Supreme Court, which includes transcripts and video clips about landmark cases. And the series American History TV is too overstuffed to describe. If you’re looking for transcripts of important documents or video clips to complement your instruction, this Website is PHENOMENAL.

I know there’s a lot on the Internet, so it is easy to miss some things. But this C-SPAN Website is not to be missed!

Posted in Curriculum, DBQ Approach, Lesson-planning, Nonfiction, PARCC, Research, Research Writing, Resources, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CURRICULUM RESOURCES & LINKS: A Page from The Literacy Cookbook Website

If you already subscribe to The Literacy Cookbook Website, you’re probably aware of the thousands of resources available. In addition to the Website’s 1,200-plus field-tested Word documents that you can download to use instantly with your students, I’ve also curated links to many other useful Websites.

Today’s post highlights the “Curriculum Resources & Links” page, which offers essential resources to anyone writing curriculum. You do not need to reinvent the wheel! PS–If you’re not yet a TLC subscriber, here’s the 50%-off discount code: TLCBOOK50 (Note: ALL CAPS). Click HERE to subscribe for a FULL YEAR! It takes less than a minute to sign up!

Here’s what you’ll find on the “Curriculum Resources & Links” page:

Planning or revising curriculum?

  1.  Go to Templates for Lessons & Units to see sample curriculum overviews and unit plans and download the necessary templates.  See Recommended Reading for tips on finding appropriate texts for your students (This link should help, too).  See also these TLC Blog posts on text selection.
  2. To ensure that your curriculum is aligned to your state’s standards, check out the Standards page!!!
  3.  Don’t forget about Bloom’s Taxonomyto ensure that your lessons and units are RIGOROUS.
  4.  If you’re not already familiar with backwards design, check out the Recommended Reading below.
Wiggins, Grant, and McTighe, Jay.  Understanding by Design.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005 (2nd ed.).


For NJ test-prep links, go to Test Prep Resources & Links.

Achievement First:
Achievement First, a network of high-performing charter schools, has developed a pool of best-practices resources.  VERY handy! (Thanks to Justin Testerman of TN Charter School Incubator for this lead!).  I particularly dig their Interactive HS Writing Rubric!

This Website features hundreds of lessons, now with an entire section devoted to the Common Core Standards.

Byliner Spotlights:
“Editor-curated collections of nonfiction stories from the Byliner archives.  Some timeless.  Some timely.  All guaranteed great reads.”

The CNN San Francisco bureau and Literacyworks (Western/Pacific LINCS) have partnered to develop an online adult literacy site that benefits all learners and instructors. This site offers Web-delivered instruction using current and past CNN San Francisco bureau and CBS 5 news stories. Each story module includes the full text of each story and interactive activities to test comprehension. The learner can choose to read the text, listen to the text, or view the broadcast through streaming video.  Check out the STORY ARCHIVESa vast array of news stories, including abridged versions of the articles, outlines, vocabulary, and other supporting materials!  NOTE: The content is appropriate for students as well as adults who wish to strengthen their reading comprehension skills.  If you’re a teacher looking for more nonfiction texts for your students, this is a GREAT RESOURCE!  PLUS: The Website supports inquiry and additional research by referring to other resources relating to the stories presented!

THE COMMON CORE CONVERSATION provides links to DOZENS of other Websites dealing with the Common Core.

Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project: 
Common Core’s Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts translate the new Common Core State Standards for K-12 into unit maps that teachers can use to plan their year, craft their own more detailed curriculum, and create lesson plans.  They were written by teachers for teachers and are available for $20-60.  Flexible and adaptable, they address every standard in the CCSS.  Any teacher, school, or district that chooses to follow these Common Core maps can be confident of adhering to the standards!

Commonlit.org is “a collection of poems, short stories, news articles, historical documents, and literature for classrooms.”  Its free resources are organized by theme, essential questions, and Lexile levels.

More than 3,000 primary sources selected from the National Archives, plus activities: a phenomenal resource for history teachers!  (Thanks to Brent Maddin of Relay College of Education for this lead!)

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence: Teaching and Learning Resources from Federal Agencies

“the original and largest literature study guide search engine on the web. We have meticulously scoured the web to track down all of the free book notes, study guides, book summaries, chapter summaries, and analyses available for thousands of books, plays, and poems. Our team has indexed resources from over 23 study guide providers, including SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, BookRags, Shmoop, Pink Monkey, WikiSummaries and many more.” (Thanks to Carole Fegan for this lead!)

This Website contains links to many other helpful history-related sites.  (Thanks to Kaity Korda of Academy Charter HS for this lead!)

Khan Academy:
A great FREE resource.  They proclaim: “With over 3,300 videos on everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and hundreds of skills to practicewe’re on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace.”

The Learning Network:
This blog, “Teaching and Learning with the New York Times,” bases lesson plans on articles.  This post offers 12 ways to use this blog effectively.

This FREE Website, designed for use by teachers and students, contains more than 2,000 video lessons on math and ELA, aligned with the Common Core Standards for grades 3-12.

Match Fishtank:
This FREE Website provides access to the Pre-K to 12 curriculum used at Match Charter School (a high-performing network in Boston).  PS, it includes SS/Sci, ELA, and Math units, lessons, etc.

Newsela is free and presents articles (and quizzes) on a range of topics (War and Peace – Science – Kids – Money – Law – Health    – Arts – Sports).  You can filter your search by grade level, reading standard, and whether the Newsela folks have designed a quiz for the article.  Even better, the system enables you to convert the articles INSTANTLY into higher or lower Lexiles so you can use them with any grade from 3-12.

Open Court Resources: 
If you use the Open Court textbook series, you will want to check out this link.

PARCC is “a 23-state consortium working together to develop next-generation K-12 assessments in English and math.”  As you plan curriculum, it’s of course important to consider how it will be assessed in this high-stakes standardized test.

PBS Learning Media:
PBS LearningMedia provides “access to 100k+ standards-aligned digital resources, productivity tools that can help you integrate content into your instruction, and professional development opportunities that will strengthen your teaching skills.”

The non-profit ReadWorks is committed to solving the nation’s reading comprehension crisis by giving teachers the research-proven tools and support they need to improve the academic achievement of their students.  ReadWorks provides research-based units, lessons, and authentic, leveled non-fiction and literary passages directly to educators online, for free, to be shared broadly.  The ReadWorks curriculum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and the standards of all 50 states. Most importantly, ReadWorks is faithful to the most effective research-proven instructional practices in reading comprehension.

Rewordify.com is powerful, free, online software that improves reading, learning, and teaching. This site can:

  • Intelligently simplify difficult English, for faster comprehension (IN OTHER WORDS, it paraphrases for you!)
  • Effectively teach words, for building a better vocabulary
  • Help teachers save time and produce engaging lessons
  • Help improve learning outcomes

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium
“The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness. Smarter Balanced is one of two multistate consortia awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the 2014-15 school year.”

Smithsonian Learning Lab
“Discover more than a million resources, create personal collections and educational experiences, and share your work.”

The on-line equivalent of CliffsNotes, this Website provides summaries, questions, and quizzes on many commonly-taught books.

Success Academy Education Institute:
This FREE Website provides access to great resources from the high-performing Success Academy Charter School Network (in NYC), including curriculum materials for K-8 literacy, video tours, and more.

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project
This Website features an array of helpful literacy resources, including Frequently Used Booklists.

Teachers’ Domain:
Teachers’ Domain is a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners. You’ll find thousands of media resources, support materials, and tools for classroom lessons, individualized learning programs, and teacher professional learning communities. (Thanks to Shawn Vizenfelder of Paul Robeson CSH for this lead!)

ThinkCERCA.com is a “CCSS-aligned literacy program with tools and content teachers need to help students learn to read closely, think critically, and develop powerful arguments.”  It provides grade-leveled informational texts with PARCC-aligned questions and includes tools to produce reading and writing lessons.  The site promises to “help students build college and career readiness skills with engaging real-world ELA, Science, and Social Science topics for grades 3-12.”  This is a great resource for quick practice on Reading Informational Text Standards!

Time for Kids: 
Time magazine has developed an on-line resource to support K-6 literacy instruction.  It includes many helpful items, such as articles, questions, quizzes, graphic organizers, and mini-lessons.

Write Source: 
Write Source is a group of teachers and writers who develop materials for students and instructors from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  The site includes writing topics, student writing models, and information on how to judge sources.

K Language Arts Literacy Effective Curriculum Practices Using Common Core Standards



Posted in Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, PARCC, Recommended Reading, Resources, TLC Website Resources, Uncategorized, Unit-planning | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Techniques and Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

When it comes to vocabulary instruction, teachers have many, many questions. Here are just a few: “How can I fit vocabulary in with everything else I have to do? How should I pick the words? What should my quizzes look like? And can you give me something that will work that won’t take eight hours a week to prepare?” This post (which was previously published in slightly different form on MiddleWeb) answers those questions and others.

The first step is to prepare your lists. I recommend using Vocabulary.com (which is FREE) to either find pre-existing lists or create your own.


  1. Sign up for a FREE Vocabulary.com account.
  2. If you want to FIND a list for a book you’re teaching, go to LISTS (https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/), then select the appropriate genre (e.g., Literature, Non-fiction, Morphology & Roots), and enter the name of the text.
  3. If you’re teaching a common text, your search will turn up more than one list. Look for the “official” list, which is labeled by the genre, attributed as “by Vocabulary.com,” and likely to be the most comprehensive. Here’s an example:
Maniac Magee: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/1252245

You will see that this book actually has three lists:

·      Before the Story, Part I: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/1252245

·      Part II: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/1252339

·      Part III: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/1252489

The vocabulary list you will see on each of the above links includes a user-friendly definition and each word as it is used in the text. Keep in mind that there may or may not be enough context clues in these initial sentences; often there are not. Fortunately, this Website provides NUMEROUS other example sentences with AMPLE instructive/directive context: All you have to do is click on each word, and you will find multiple examples of usage—for example, here:



You have two options:

  1. Open an existing list (see above for how to do that) and select “Copy this list to…” and “…New List.” You will thus turn this list into your own list, which you can name whatever you like, and you can modify the list or the example sentences.
  2. Create your own list from scratch here: https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/vocabgrabber

Dump in all of the words you want to teach and give this list a name, then the Website generates user-friendly definitions. Once you click on “Edit,” you can “Browse Example Sentences” and select the ones you want to include. These example sentences use the words in context, and they are great for building “Hypothesis Sheets” to introduce the words.

Once you’ve created your list, use the following resources from The Literacy Cookbook’s “Building Robust Vocabulary” page, explained below.

  1. Introduce new words with the “Hypothesis Sheet” (see examples below). Save time by copying and pasting context-laden sentences from your Vocabulary.com list. I recommend addressing 4-5 words in a Do Now (3 minutes for the “Hypothesis Sheet,” 7 minutes to go over the words with the “Note-taking Sheet”). PS—It’s a good idea to give multiple sentences for each word, to show students different nuances of meaning.
  2. Use a “Note-taking Sheet” to over the words to co-create user-friendly definitions and one more sentence per word with the class; students take notes (see example below). Use the Vocabulary.com user-friendly definitions as a guide.
  3. Use various tools to give students opportunities to practice using/playing with words during Do Nows and HW (see examples below). If you have a word wall, consider running the “Word Wall Game” as follows:

Students earn points for creating sentences using the vocabulary words (or old vocabulary words on the word wall).

  • 1 point = attempt
  • 2 points = correct usage
  • 3 points = context makes the meaning of the word clear

Students toss a ball.  Whoever has the ball gets to talk.  If the other students are too loud, you can’t hear and you can’t give points, so they waste their time and lose out on points.


  1. See “Sample Vocabulary Quiz” for ideas about how to build your quizzes. Note: Matching is a no-no because students can simply guess, and this doesn’t show they understand how to use the words. Require students to EXPLAIN their answers. If you decide to use the “scenario” approach, be sure to train students how to use that approach before you put it on a quiz.

HYPOTHESIS SHEET: Vocabulary from Somewhere in the Darkness

Vocabulary words: entwine, beckon, silhouette, fragment

DIRECTIONS: Underline any CLUE WORDS that help you form your hypotheses.

entwine If you want to arm-wrestle, you will need to entwine your arm with the person you’re arm-wrestling with.
beckon To beckon her dog to return to her, the woman called, “Come here, Snoopy!”


silhouette When you stand outside a lit window at night, sometimes you can see the silhouette of a person watching TV.
fragment When I asked him for a cracker, he gave me only a fragment, which was not enough to satisfy my appetite.





Underline clue words and formulate your hypothesis. 

exceed Barack Obama won by so much more than people had expected. His win exceeded expectations.  
proceed Barack Obama was proceeding with picking his cabinet, including Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  
precede Jesse Jackson’s famous presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 preceded Barack Obama’s win in 2008.  
concede John McCain conceded to Barack Obama when it became clear that he was not going to win 270 electoral votes.  

What do these words have in common? ________________________________________________________


What does “cede/ceed” mean? _______________________________________________________


Vocabulary NOTES for Somewhere in the Darkness



            definition: _____________________________________________________________

example: ______________________________________________________________


            definition: _____________________________________________________________

example: ______________________________________________________________


            definition: _____________________________________________________________

example: _____________________________________________________________


            definition: _____________________________________________________________

example: ______________________________________________________________


Vocabulary PRACTICE for Somewhere in the Darkness


Directions: Complete the box by answering the questions. You DO NOT need to use complete sentences. This is a QUICK activity. Have fun and think outside the box.

baby basketball player mom
What might this person be entwined with?  







Who might this person beckon?  







What kind of silhouette might this person have?








What would be the most important fragment of this person’s life?  







Vocabulary HOMEWORK

Directions: Complete the sentences with logical responses. NOTE: There is NOT one right answer. 

  1. If two people entwine their fingers, they are probably ____________________


  1. If a stranger beckons you, you should _________________________________________________________.
  2. If you saw the silhouette of a man with a knife, you would __________________


  1. If your mom found her vase in fragments, she would probably ______________



SAMPLE Vocabulary Quiz

[Note: This is a composite of various types of quiz questions; you can decide which approach(es) you prefer. Notice the prevalence of the question “Why?”]

Scenarios: Pick the scenario that best matches the word and defend your answer (2 points each).

Word Scenario 1 Scenario 2



I was so angry that my writing was mixed with invectives. I was so angry that my writing was made up completely of invectives. .





My soul was saved because of my faith in God. I saved a kitten from the pound and brought him home with me.





The election was a joke because many people weren’t allowed to vote. It was ridiculous. The election was a joke because the woman who won is so funny. She could be a stand-up comedian.





She was young and strong and full of life. She is old and dying.


Answer the question: Use your knowledge of our vocabulary to answer the following questions (2 points each).

  1. Which of these do you think should be compulsory – buckling your seatbelt in a car or being in your house by 8:00 pm? Why?


  1. Which is more likely to petrify you – a spider or a growling dog? Why?


  1. Which is a priest more likely to sanctify – a wedding or a murder? Why?


  1. Which is more likely to make a throng disperse – free candy or rain? Why?


9 – 12 Using stronger words in writing: Improve the paragraph below by crossing out the weak word(s) and replacing it with a stronger word.   Write the stronger word above the crossed-out word. Make sure to use the correct form of the word. I am looking for 4 vocabulary words to be used, but if you see other opportunities to use stronger vocabulary, I will give you extra credit for doing so (2 points each). [NOTE TO TEACHER: Include a word bank. ***ALSO: Check out Rewordify.com to make your life easier when creating paragraphs like this!!!***]

In Night, Elie was very scared when he went to Auschwitz. When he arrived there was a big commotion, but then the guards forced all of the prisoners to line up and have their heads shaved. After this, they were told to strip and were given prison clothes to wear. It was a joke though, because they were given the wrong size clothes to wear. They were then looked at to see if they were strong enough. Of course, the guards treated them badly and yelled and cursed at them. These experiences, and seeing the crematorium, made Elie lose faith that God would rescue his people from the evil of the Nazis.


Using Context Clues: Read the passages to figure out which definition is best for the word in bold (3 points each).

  • 1 point = underlining context clues that make sense (underling the whole passage doesn’t count)
  • 1 point = explaining your choice with reasons (even if you get the wrong answer, if your thinking is logical and clear, you can earn this point)
  • 1 point = picking the correct answer


  1. Which of these most closely matches the meaning of stocky in the passage below?

He was a stocky man with big shoulders, the neck of a bull, thick lips, and curly hair (47).

  1. sturdy
  2. thin
  3. mean
  4. angry

Why? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Which of these most closely matches the meaning of extracted in the passage below?

Some twenty prisoners were waiting in line at the entrance. It didn’t take long to learn the reason for our summons: our gold teeth were to be extracted (51).


  1. poked
  2. examined
  3. removed
  4. cleaned

Why? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Which of these most closely matches the meaning of famished in the passage below?

The bread, the soup – those were my entire life. I was nothing but a body. Perhaps even less: a famished stomach. The stomach alone was measuring time (52).

  1. full
  2. starving
  3. hungry
  4. large

Why? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Posted in Assessment(s), Curriculum, Demo Lesson, ELA Common Core Standards, Instruction, Lesson-planning, TLC Website Resources, Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Every once in a while, I come across a Website that has so many resources on it that I am flabbergasted and not even sure how to describe it. PBS Learning Media is such a Website. No matter what grade or subject you teach, you will find resources of use. Here is the pitch:

PBS Learning Media provides “access to 100k+ standards-aligned digital resources, productivity tools that can help you integrate content into your instruction, and professional development opportunities that will strengthen your teaching skills.”

Check it out!

Posted in Curriculum, DBQ Approach, ELA Common Core Standards, PARCC, Professional Development, Research, Research Writing, Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Incorporate Grammar into Your Curriculum

As we approach summer—or what I like to call “curriculum writing season”—we have an opportunity to reflect and improve upon the work we’ve done this year. Writing or revising curriculum enables us to strengthen instruction. To that end, I’d like to share a new resource that aims to solve a very common problem.

The problem is this: We need to teach grammar more effectively. Grammar instruction to date has suffered as a result of several key factors. For one, many teachers did not receive effective grammar instruction themselves, so they are uncomfortable with teaching it. It seems outdated and old-fashioned, like riding a horse and buggy to go visit someone in the next town because you don’t have a car or a phone. When elders talk about how they used to “diagram sentences,” it sounds dry, dull, and quaint. No one wants to go back to those olden times.

Uncertain of the rules and how to present them in an organized and purposeful way, some teachers barely touch on grammar or skip it altogether. Others rely heavily on textbooks that present rules in isolation with repeated drilling as the primary mode of instruction. While students might be able to complete the drills, they often fail to apply the rules in their own writing. This reinforces the impression that teaching grammar seems pointless. Also problematic is that many materials available to support grammar instruction are not helpful—or worse, they actually undermine students’ understanding of grammar, syntax, and writing.

How we frame grammar instruction matters. If you view it as “fixing incorrect sentences,” you teach it that way. If you view it as “building strong, compelling sentences,” you take a different approach. My latest book, Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action, explains a new way to teach grammar—systematically and purposefully—in order to strengthen student writing. It offers detailed guidance on every single K-12 language standard, including which grammar standards to teach when and how to use grammatical forms to capture ideas. This new approach will enable students to write more efficiently and effectively.

Recently, a group of teachers I was consulting with downloaded the eBook version onto their laptops (using the free Kindle app) as they drafted units so that they could instantly incorporate the guidance for key standards.

Here are two examples of that guidance, one from 4th grade and one from 8th:

L 4.1.E: Form and use prepositional phrases.

TEACHING THIS: [This repeats L K.1.E and L 1.1.I.]

·      Prepositions should be taught in kindergarten and 1st grade, but they can continue to be tricky, especially for ESL/ELL students who struggle with idioms (e.g., “Is the ball IN the air, or ON the air?”).[1] Prepositional phrases are simply prepositions followed by a noun (on the chair) or a noun equivalent (by working hard). In case you need to review this standard, here’s that guidance:

·      You will need a soft object such as a squoosh ball or a small pillow—something that won’t hurt anyone. Place the object in various locations and emphasize the phrases that capture its location: “The ball is ON the desk. The ball is IN the closet. I brought this ball TO school today FOR you.” Invite students to generate their own sentences emphasizing the prepositional phrases.

·      As always, reinforce oral language with visual support such as an anchor chart listing the prepositions you want them to use or a PowerPoint presentation that quizzes them.


·      First, read aloud sentences and invite students to identify the prepositional phrases (e.g., “to him”). You can engage the entire class in practice by doing this with a rapid-fire turn-and-talk approach. Don’t forget to model this: “I’ll say the sentence once, then Partner A will turn to Partner B and restate only the prepositional phrase to Partner B. For example, if I said, ‘I gave the book to Joe,’ Partner A would turn to Partner B and say, ‘TO JOE.’ Let’s see a model pair try this….” Select a pair to demonstrate, then launch a whole-class attempt. Then cold-call and clarify if anyone was confused. Run a few rounds, then switch the partner roles.

·      Students should move from identifying the phrases to imitating your sentences using prepositions, then writing their own.

·      Cloze reading (text with blanks where, in this case, the prepositions belong) is another useful way to check for understanding.

L 8.1.B: Form and use verbs in the active and passive voice.


·      This is a fun one! As most experts will tell you, it’s preferable to use the active voice in order to show who/what is doing the action.[2] For example, “The teenagers spoke up about the need for gun control” sounds more coherent and less clumsy than, “The need for gun control was spoken up about by the teenagers.” That said, sometimes it is more appropriate to use the passive, such as when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action or to minimize the importance of the actor, as follows:

o   “The students and teachers were forced to seek shelter when the gunman opened fire” emphasizes the victims.

o   “Lemons and oranges are grown in warm climates” minimizes the importance of the actor (We don’t need to know the names of the farmers).

·      Also, some academic/scientific writing requires the use of the passive voice (because we don’t need to know who collected the data, or we already know, and a lab report is not a memoir).

·      Show students two sentences: one in the active voice, the other rewritten awkwardly in the passive (as in the first example above). Ask them which is preferable, and why.

·      Pitch: Even though both sentences say the same thing, that second example sounds very clumsy. That’s because it’s in the passive voice, as opposed to the active voice we see in the first sentence. Today we’re going to explore when and how to use the active or passive voice so that you can be sure your writing emphasizes what you want to emphasize and is as clear as possible.

·      Show them some more pairs of contrasting sentences to evaluate. Then give them some sentences written in the passive to convert to active, and vice versa.

·      Pitch continues: OK, so now we have the hang of the difference between active and passive voice, and we can see how awkward the passive can be. Now let’s look at some examples of APPROPRIATE use of the passive. Because sometimes the passive is preferable. Let’s see if we can figure out some rules for when it’s better to use the passive.

·      Show students the second set of examples from above (or your own imitations) with a few more that mimic them, and let them try to figure out 1) what is being emphasized or minimized and 2) why the passive is preferable in such a situation. Students should write their own sentences mimicking the appropriate usage of the passive voice.


·      As always, we want students to demonstrate their grasp of these grammatical concepts in their own writing, first in sentences then in paragraphs. Give them lots of practice in imitating sentences that use the forms. Then have them include several of the passive and active verb forms (underlined and labeled to show they know they’re using them) in a paragraph about a text or topic they are studying. Tell them you will score the paragraph based on two things: 1) All sentences must be complete, and 2) They must use the passive and active forms correctly and appropriately.

·      For a quick diagnostic, give students two paragraphs: one in which all of the sentences are written in the passive voice, the other in the active. They should rewrite the paragraphs in the opposite voice. For a follow-up question, they should identify any sentences that would be more appropriately left in the passive and explain why.

 What I hope you noticed about the guidance above is that we do not begin by requiring students to copy down the definitions of grammar terms, which is a common but demotivating approach. Instead, we invite students to wrestle with grammar patterns and, like detectives, figure out how grammatical forms work. Then they can use these forms in their own writing. Like magic. Though pitched as a grammar instructional manual, this is secretly a book about how to teach students how to write clearly. I hope you’ll check it out!

PS–This post, which previously appeared on MiddleWeb in slightly different form, is excerpted from my latest book, Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action, which is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and BookShop. My other books include The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014). For more information, check out my Website, The Literacy Cookbook.

[1] For some helpful resources on teaching idioms, see the TLC “Idiom Power” page at https://www.literacycookbook.com/page.php?id=7.

[2] Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, Rules for Writers (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, 8th edition), 126-127. My examples are derived from the explanations on these pages.

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NEW CURRICULUM RESOURCE: Success Academy’s MS Literacy Curriculum

Success Academy, a high-performing charter school network which won the 2017 Broad Prize, (awarded annually to a charter school operator that demonstrates “outstanding academic outcomes among low-income students and students of color”), has just released its middle school literacy curriculum (the elementary literacy curriculum came out in June 2017).  It’s FREE.

If you’re writing or revising your curriculum, take a look and see what and how they teach:


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10%-OFF COUPON CODE for Using Grammar to Improve Writing!


For the entire month of June, you can get 10% off on print copies of Using Grammar to Improve Writing on BookShop with the coupon code UsingGrammar10 here! (Note: This coupon works for every copy you purchase!)

Also: as a reminder, the eBook is only $3.99 on Amazon!!! (PS: You can download the free Kindle app to read the book even if you don’t have a Kindle.) 

More good news:
Print copies will be more widely available–on Amazon and Barnes & Noble–on June 25.
Pre-order your copies TODAY to make sure they are in stock! (This book is “print on demand,” so pre-ordering ensures you’ll receive the book without delay.)

Goodreads Giveaway:
Enter here starting on June 2 for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Here are some early reviews:

“Don’t let the title scare you. Using Grammar to Improve Writing is a game-changing book focused on a new kind of grammar instruction. ‘Grammar’ is an old word that’s generally scorned. We look back at it and think, Thank goodness we don’t use that anymore. When Sarah Tantillo uses the word, though, she means something very modern: the ability to use forms to capture ideas. This book shines a bright light on how to teach students to craft compelling sentences, effective paragraphs, powerful essays, and profound narratives.”—Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion 2.0, Practice Perfect, and Reading Reconsidered

“FIVE STARS: Sarah Tantillo’s Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action offers refreshing and innovative ways to help students learn grammar painlessly and even with a bit of fun. I appreciated how she uses insights based on second language acquisition to build her programs, and I loved how she transforms the writing process from being one hampered by relentless self-editing to one that is characterized by investigatory processes. Rather than present students with models and rules to memorize, she suggests methods that allow them to discover the right forms through comparison and detection of patterns. I especially liked how her coaching style helps kids easily progress from simple three-word sentences into more complex structures. Her ideas for helping kids catch up to their grade level are sound, and her breakdown of writing and language instruction for teaching by grade levels is fascinating from a linguistic standpoint. And while I’m one of those dinosaurs who actually loves reading grammar books, playing with syntax, and diagramming sentences, I appreciated the fresh and inspirational way in which she looks at grammar and writing. Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action is most highly recommended.”– Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite

Thank you all for your support!


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