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 It seems outdated and old-fashioned, like riding a horse and buggy to go visit someone in the next town because you don’t have a car or a phone.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.

ASSESSING THIS:

·      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.

TEACHING THIS:

·      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.

ASSESSING THIS:

·      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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Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Grammar, Professional Development, Using Grammar to Improve Writing BOOK, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

https://successacademies.org/edinstitute/

Posted in Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Resources | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

Friends,

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!

Cheers,
ST

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Grammar, Language Standards, Lesson-planning, Resources, Using Grammar to Improve Writing BOOK, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UPDATE: Where to Find USING GRAMMAR TO IMPROVE WRITING

Friends:

Here are three ways to get your copy of Using Grammar to Improve Writing:

  • Amazon eBook HERE. (Only $3.99!!! It’s a steal!!!)
  • Amazon pre-order the paperback HERE. (Still a bargain at $24.99!)
  • BookShop order the paperback HERE. (Ditto)

In a few weeks, the paperback will be more widely available (on Barnes & Noble.com, etc.).

PS—You can help boost the available Amazon inventory of my book by simply clicking on the links above, even if you are not ordering immediately. Showing interest now means there will be more copies in stock when you are ready to order.

PPS—Positive reviews are MUCH appreciated!

Thanks,
SarahT.

Posted in Grammar, Using Grammar to Improve Writing BOOK | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My New Book, USING GRAMMAR TO IMPROVE WRITING, Is NOW AVAILABLE!

Dear friends,

I am thrilled to inform you that my latest book, Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon!!! To order a paperback or eBook, please click HERE. (Please note: The eBook is available today; the print version should be available on Amazon by June 4, I am told.  You can get the print version immediately at BookShop HERE; otherwise, it will be available on Amazon by June 4.)

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. This book explains a new way to teach grammar—systematically and purposefully—in order to strengthen student writing. It offers detailed guidance on 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.

Using Grammar to Improve Writing answers these questions:

  • What should we STOP doing?
  • How can we teach grammar more effectively and integrate it with writing more systematically?
  • How can we help students who are not on grade level?
  • Which other factors affect how well we write?
  • What should we teach, grade by grade, in K-12 ELA?

Though pitched as a grammar instructional manual, this is secretly a book about how to teach students how to write clearly. It should be useful not only to K-12 educators but also to college writing instructors and writers interested in strengthening their practice.

“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

IF YOU LIKE THIS BOOK, please tell your friends and colleagues. Every little Facebook post or Tweet @SarahTantillo helps!

PS—If you haven’t already seen them, please check out my other books: The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction AND Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Actionavailable through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

 

In case you are interested, my consulting services offer:

  • Literacy Coaching (observations and feedback, demo lessons, workshops)
  • Literacy Instruction Needs Analysis Reports
  • Curriculum Development Training and Support
  • Data Analysis and Re-teach Planning
  • Strategic Planning Support

With training on the following topics:

READING AND WRITING: CURRICULUM PLANNING AND INSTRUCTION:
  • The Comprehension Process and 4 Key Critical Reading Skills
  • From Argument vs. Evidence to Effective Writing Instruction
  • Building Robust Vocabulary
  • Close Reading, Parts I and II
  • Using Grammar to Improve Writing
  • PARCC Prep: How to Prepare Students for the Writing Assessments
  • How to Teach with Novels/Narratives
  • Understanding by Design: Developing Effective Unit Plans
  • Designing RPM (Rigorous, Purposeful, Measurable) Objectives
  • Designing Effective Lesson Plans
  • Analyzing the ELA Common Core Standards
  • Scripting the Pitch

 

For more information, please contact me:

Sarah Tantillo, Ed.D., LLC
sarahtantillo@literacycookbook.com

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Grammar, Instruction, Language Standards, Lesson-planning, Paragraph writing, Resources, Using Grammar to Improve Writing BOOK, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reality Check Podcast: My Conversation with Jeanne Allen

Hi, all–

I was recently interviewed by Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Ed Reform, on her podcast, Reality Check.  It was a fascinating conversation!!!  Here’s the link:

https://www.nationalreview.com/podcasts/reality-check-with-jeanne-allen/episode-19-sarah-tantillo/

Cheers,
ST

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A GREAT RESOURCE: The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox

Lately I seem to keep bumping into people who ask about resources for English Language Learners, so I was excited to get a copy of The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students by Larry Ferlazzo and Kate Hull Sypnieski. Ferlazzo is a teacher who writes a popular education blog at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/ and he is known for sharing useful information. Sypnieski is a teacher and consultant focused on ELL instruction. Together, they’ve produced something that is VERY handy—not only for ELL students but also for students in general. As they note, “Good ELL teaching is good teaching for everyone!”

This book is chock-full of graphic organizers, templates, and handouts based on 45 different instructional strategies. By “strategies,” they mean things like independent reading, literary conversations, vocabulary, and sequencing. They describe each strategy, explain what they like about it, provide ample supporting research, note Common Core connections, explain how to teach it (including handouts), address what could go wrong, and provide technology connections.

While it is extremely comprehensive (some might say “encyclopedic”), it is also easily accessible. You can dig in anywhere and start using the tools today.

Check it out here!

Posted in ELL students, English Language Learners, ESL instruction, Resources | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

PARCC ELA Prep Checklist

As a former high school English teacher who loves literature and loves to write, I do not believe in doing test prep 24/7. I believe tests are a genre, the same way that drama is a genre and poetry is a genre, etc.—and we should prepare students for them in the same way that we prepare them to analyze a play or write a poem: figure out the key features of the genre, teach students what is required to do well in working with that genre, then give them sufficient practice so that they can confidently tackle that genre in the future.

In the home stretch of PARCC test preparation, here’s a quick diagnostic tool you can use to determine if your students have a clear grasp of some essential strategies that will help them succeed with this genre.

Below is the “student” version. This PARCC ELA PREP CHECKLIST (a free download) includes both the student copy and a suggested answer key.

NAME_______________________________________DATE______

PARCC ELA PREP CHECKLIST—STUDENT COPY

Directions: For each question, on a scale of 1-10 (1=not confident, 10=very confident), FIRST rate how confident you feel about how to respond. THEN, jot some notes in response. We will discuss each item. AFTER our discussion, rate how confident you feel. See the model.

QUESTION NOTES How confident you feel

BEFORE:

1-10

How confident you feel

AFTER:

1-10

What should you do FIRST when you start a PARCC ELA test? Click forward to the writing prompt, turn the prompt into a question, and write that question on your blank sheet of paper so that you can take notes with that question in mind. 1 10
How do you unpack a Literary Analysis or Research Simulation Task writing prompt and turn it into a question?      
How much time should you spend on 1) reading and taking notes, 2) answering multiple-choice questions, and 3) writing your narrative or essay?      
How/Why can taking notes actually SAVE you time?      
What are some useful test-taking strategies for answering multiple-choice questions?      
What kind of organizer should you create for taking notes on the Literary Analysis Writing Task? What should the notes focus on?      
Why should you put checkmarks next to items in your organizer for the Literary Analysis/Research Simulation Writing Task?      
What is the basic outline structure for a Literary Analysis compare and contrast essay? (2 options)      
What kind of organizer should you create for taking notes on the Research Simulation Writing Task? What should the notes focus on?      
What is the basic outline structure for a Research Simulation compare and contrast essay? (2 options)      
What two things might the Narrative Writing Task ask you to do (after you read the passage)?      
Why is important to pay attention to “DDAT” and “Somebody Wanted But So” when pre-writing for the Narrative Writing Task?

 

     
On the Narrative Writing Task, what kinds of compositional risks should you use?      
The box you’re supposed to type in looks really small. Does that mean you should only write two sentences?      
What should you be sure to do before time expires, and why?      

For more information on PARCC, see the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.

PS: Please feel free to comment (or Email me at sarahtantillo@literacycookbook.com) if you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions!

PPS: Thanks to Anibal Garcia at Queen City Academy CS for inspiring this post, and thanks to Dominy Alderman at HoLa CS for her input.

PPPS: This Blog post originally ran in 2016; I’m reposting it as a reminder.

Posted in Assessment(s), PARCC, Resources, Test Prep, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Argument for “Quote Lasagna”

Although I’ve been a longtime proponent of teaching “quote sandwiches” to help students write effective paragraphs (see HERE and most recently HERE), lately I’ve begun to notice that students who use this approach (context, quote/evidence, explanation) seem to overemphasize the “quote” part, often to the detriment of the explanation. They seem to believe that the evidence is the most important part, possibly because of the name “QUOTE sandwich”—i.e., it’s not “EXPLANATION sandwich.” Either they skimp on the explanation or the explanation does not actually explain how the evidence supports their argument. As a result, their paragraphs feel disjointed.

While conducting writing conferences with students recently, I’ve found that when I ask them to simply explain their ideas, they can do so pretty easily. If I then ask them to explain how the evidence supports their ideas, sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t. Some are clearly struggling with Argument vs. Evidence Step 2.5 (“Given arguments, select the most relevant evidence to support them.”). As long as they find SOMETHING, they think they can drop it in. After all, it’s a QUOTE, and that’s what a quote sandwich needs, right?

So now I’d like to propose a new metaphor: “quote lasagna.” As any lasagna fan knows, the recipe calls for MULTIPLE LAYERS of pasta, sauce, meat, veggies, and various cheeses. While most chefs adhere to that general principle, there is not one correct way to make lasagna. The goal is to create something yummy by blending these ingredients, layer upon layer, in a way that makes sense (I think we can all agree that five layers of noodles without anything else in between would be silly).

How does this idea translate to paragraph writing? Effective paragraphs BLEND evidence and explanation. As long as you provide enough context so that we know what you’re talking about, there is not one right way to sequence what you want to say. Sometimes you need to explain BEFORE you provide details. Students who believe they are only allowed to provide evidence FIRST might struggle to explain not because they’ve picked weak/irrelevant evidence but because they feel constricted by the “rule” that the evidence should be between the context and the explanation.

I think using the metaphor of layers and blended ingredients might free students to start with explanation if they need to. With a slightly less rigid structure, they might write more clearly and coherently.

Let me know what you think.

Posted in Argument, Context, Evidence, Explanation, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Open-ended Response Writing, Paragraph writing, Quote Lasagna, Quote Sandwiches, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Releases 2017 Items!

Apparently PARCC recently released 2017 ELA materials. To be honest, I’m not sure when they did this because I have not received their newsletter in months (in fact, I’m not sure they still send out newsletters). So I found out today by happy accident.

 

I have already updated the following files (which feature all of the released prompts) on my TLC “PARCC Prep” page, and you can find them in the Download Zone*:

  • PARCC Narrative Writing Prompts 2-22-18
  • PARCC Literary Analysis Writing Prompts 2-22-18
  • PARCC Research Simulation Writing Prompts 2-22-18

*If you would like to subscribe to the TLC Website for 50% off, go HERE and enter this code: TLCBOOK50 (Note: ALL CAPS). There are more than 1,200 files full of practical tools available to download, and at 50% off, it’s only $25 for a full year’s access. Plus, it takes less than a minute to sign up.

Thanks again for your support!

Cheers,

SarahT.

Posted in Assessment(s), Literary Analysis Writing, Narrative Writing, PARCC, Research Writing, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment