Thursday, February 12, 2015

Now You Can Find Reading Worksheets By Grade Level has been online since 2010. I originally developed this site with a focus on reading skills. This made it easy for people to find things like "figurative language worksheets." Then my site started growing. I began reaching more people than I ever imagined. Suddenly, people began asking me things like, "What grade level are these worksheets for?" While that seems like a fair question, I was not equipped to answer it. I generally responded by telling people that I used them with my 7th and 8th grade students, but they could edit the files and use them with any grade level. That's not a very good solution for time-strapped teachers teetering on the edge.
So I started working on the grade level thing. The first thing that came to my mind was the Lexile measurement or score. Perhaps it was because people were asking me, "What Lexile level is this text?" Or maybe because we used these Lexile measurements in CPS. As a teacher, you can find the Lexile levels of your texts using their site. But I want to use these measurements as an internet publisher. And to publish these scores legally, I need to an agreement with the Lexile people. I contacted them to see how I could get these measurements on my texts. They requested a fee of $18 per worksheet. I think that price is fair. If I were running a company with venture capital, I would have taken them up on it. I am not, however. So, being cash strapped, I started looking for an open-source alternative. Low and behold: This awesome guy Dave Child put together a free program using public readability algorithms, like the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
Using Dave's program, I was able to get pretty reliable readability scores for my texts for free. In all honesty, Dave's program is better than a Lexile score, because anyone can understand it. If I say a text is written at a 7th grade reading level, teachers and parents can make sense of this. If I say that this text has a Lexile score of 2,236 or whatever, who could make sense of that? Only an experienced teacher, or someone who is good with charts and graphs and happens to have the Lexile score matrix with them, but I digress.
After learning the readability scores of my own texts, I had some hilarious reflections. "Oh, that's why my 7th grade students hated this activity. It was written at an 11th grade reading level. My bad." Clearly, it is essential to know the readability levels of the texts that you are giving to students. Now that I knew the readability scores of my texts, it was a natural step to organize them by this score. So, I spent the first four months of this year, scanning all of the texts that I could and putting the results into a database. Using the power of relational databases, I can now display my worksheets by grade level. As I create new worksheets and activities, I can just drop them in the database and BOOM! The pages get better.
So here they are:

In the near future, I will create pages where you can browse worksheets by Common Core State Standards. In the more distant future, I would like to add my language arts and writing resources into similar databases. Please let me know if this is a good use of my time or if I should be developing some other aspect of the site. I appreciate your comments and insights.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Can I Help a Struggling Reader / Writer Who Only Writes Single Word Responses?

Today, a visitor to my website asked me the following question:
Hello Mr. Morton:

Your website is wonderful, however, I'm looking for materials to teach my 5th grader at home the CORE fundamentals of reading. He has a hard time putting his thoughts on paper. Therefore, he gives one word answers when the question is looking for details. Do you have any information that can assist me in this area?
Thanks a bunch
I responded in the following way.

It's hard for me to give you good advice
without being more familiar with your child's
specific needs and all of the factors that might
be affecting his behavior, so take what I'm saying
with a grain of salt.

I will try to give you some insight from my distant position, however.

1. Students generally write one word answers because they are hurrying to complete the assignment. They don't care about their grades or the value of the activity. They only know that they get in trouble if they don't complete the assignments. So they learn pretty quickly that if they slop some stuff on the paper as fast as they can, and then they can get back to gaming or browsing the internet or chatting with friends or whatever.   

I don't know if it's possible to drill in appreciation for learning. I don't think it is.

You can, however, increase the requirements of the activity. You do this by being more specific and clear with your expectations.

Here are some simple ways to do that.

1. No matter what he is reading, have him provide a summary. A summary cannot be one word. It should capture all main points of the text. Catching him on this will require that you read the text too, but you seem like an involved parent, so that shouldn't be too hard.  If he can effectively summarize a text, he had comprehended it. Then he can discuss it with you. 

This prevents him from just cherry picking the answers. Many students use this shortcut to prevent themselves from doing reading. They learned that they don't have to read the texts, they can just skim for the answers. Often times they will get a 70% or so of these answers correct, so it is a method that works for the student who is solely working to avoid punishment. 

That method actually sucks though. They don't learn anything and it is a bad habit. 

By having him to summarize every text, and making him revise his summaries if they are lacking, you are requiring him to develop a closer relationship to the text. Maybe you can try some of these activities to get him started.

2. One of the big pushes in the Common Core is for students to support their answers with text. Truly, this has always been an important skill for upper level English courses, but the Core has slid this skill down the ladder so that younger students learn to do it. I think that this is fantastic. Using text to support your arguments is one of the most important things that you can learn in an English, reading, or language arts class. So how do you do it? 

After he had provided a summary of the text, ask him to answer the following question: "What can readers learn from this text?" Require that he states his position clearly in the first sentence. Then have him find a quote from the text that supports his argument. Then have him explain what this quote shows. This will help him get on the road to writing better responses. 

It may take a while. His first responses definitely won't be as good as his last, but that's a good thing. That's what growth is. 

Again, there is no silver bullet to solve this problem, but hopefully some of these techniques help you to push him more effectively.

Best wishes,

I have published this exchange in the hopes that it might help others.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Learn English Grammar by Playing a Video Game

I've noticed that if there is one thing that my students like to do, it's play video games. As far as they are concerned, computers are little more than game boxes. Of course, I'd prefer that they'd do more meaningful activities when given access to laptops, but they tend to despise the coaching programs to which our school subscribes.

Seeing an opportunity to do some good, I taught myself to make video games, and I started fleshing out some concepts. While having students test my work, I realized that students are willing to jump through complex hoops to play games. While most of my students are not interested the distant goals of college prep or even test prep, they are concerned with the immediate goals of succeeding in whatever game that they are playing. Therefore, I built with this notion in mind: provide fun gaming experiences with genuine educational reinforcement. My first game, Orpheus the Lyrical, provides excellent figurative language review, but is much less ambitious than my most recent work:

Super Grammar Ninja: in this game students play through five challenging worlds, learning special moves and acquiring power-ups, and all the while reviewing parts of speech and sentence structure concepts. The game play is somewhere between Mega Man and The Adventures of Link, and the subject matter is ideal for Explore, Plan, and ACT test prep. I could see this game being of tremendous benefit to foreign language learners as well. Anyway, I've dumped my heart and soul into this game for the last nine months or so, and I hope that you or your students will have as much fun playing this game as I did making it. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Holy Onomatopoeia Examples!

Boom! Here is a list of 101 onomatopoeia examples used in complete sentences. Feelings of excitement will whoosh over you. You will be blown away by the booms and bangs. You may just tinkle your britches. Well, at least you'll find a lot of examples of onomatopoeia. Anyway, check out some of these fine examples:
  1. The two-year old crashed into the cabinet.
  2. The cabinet opened with a distinct creak.
  3. Dissatisfied with her work, Beth crinkled up the paper and threw it in the trash.
  4. The swamp frogs croaked in unison.
  5. The teacher heard the distinct crunch of ruffled potato chips.
  6. Jacob could not sleep with the steady drip-drop of water coming from the sink.
  7. The root beer fizzed over the top of the mug.
  8. The flag flapped in wind.
  9. Did you forget to flush the toilet?
  10. Daryl gargled the mouthwash.
  11. The wounded soldier groaned.
Kaboom! If your head is ringing with excitement, check out the full list.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012 United States Election Results Map Activity and Worksheet

Students are often required to read and interpret charts and graphs on standardized tests; therefore, it is important that you offer your students some practice using this skill. In the following activity, students will look at a large table of data. The table consists of the following columns: state names, the number of electoral votes, and the percentage of votes going to either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Along with this table is a map of all fifty states (they'll have to pencil in D.C. themselves). Students are to complete each of the following tasks:

  1. Write the name of each state
  2. Write how many electorates each state currently has
  3. Color each state one color if Romney won and a different color if Obama won
Students might have some problems with those tiny little colonies on the East coast, as most map makers do, but by drawing lines and creatively allotting space, they should be able to complete the activity. Check it out: 2012 Election Results by State Map Worksheet and Activity The activity is also available in RTF format, if you'd like to edit it yourself, on this page: reading comprehension worksheets.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Author's Purpose

Author's purpose is a really simple concept that is often evaluated on state reading tests. Though there are many reasons that people really write in real life: to make money, for therapeutic reason, to impress a man or woman- the standardized tests that I've been privileged to view tend to consistently recognize the following three purposes: entertaining, informing, and persuading. Basically every text can fall into one of these three purposes. Let's have a look at each:

Entertain: pretty much every fictional text falls into this category. Whether it be a story, poem, or play, if it is a product of the imagination, then it was probably written to entertain. Of course, this category could also include texts like television scripts, books full of knock-knock jokes, and comic books.

Inform: texts that provide information about a topic were written to inform. Some examples include encyclopedia entries, newspapers, recipes, instructions, biographies, and the nutrition facts on the back of food products.

Persuade: if the speaker is attempting to influence or convince the reader of some idea, then the text was probably written to persuade. Some examples of persuasive texts include campaign speeches, advertisements, and persuasive essays.

That's author's purpose in a nutshell. Are you ready for some practice? Click the interactive author's purpose activity below:

reading worksheets

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing a Research Paper

Take a big breath. It's going to be okay. Writing a research paper is an experience that can be related to child birth. It takes a lot of time to develop and there are parts that you may find to be extremely painful; however, when it's all said and done, you can create something beautiful. That's what the research process is all about: taking materials that are available to you and creating something new. Remember, writing a research paper is just a long series of tiny steps, and you can take tiny steps. Now let's get started.

1. Select a Topic: Choosing an appropriate topic is absolutely essential. This will be the foundation of the whole research process, so choose carefully. You will want to select a topic that interests you, because reading and writing about the topic will be less painful. Think of the things about which you are genuinely curious, and let your curiosity guide. Remember that you can change or alter your topic as you begin doing research, so don't put too much pressure on the initial choice. Just choose a topic that you like and one which fits the guidelines for your assignment. If you can't think of a topic, check out this list of research paper topics to help you get started. Choose a topic that is not too broad to sufficiently cover and not so narrow that you won't find any research on it.

2. Gather Resources: Reading all of the available material your topic is probably not possible if you have a deadline for your paper, but you should collect as many resources and materials as you can before you begin closely reading. In this way you can assess how much information is available on your topic before you dive in too deeply. Also, determine whether your internet sources are credible. Cut and paste web links into a text document and retrieve or request whatever physical sources you can access. Once you understand how much information is available to you, you can again revise your topic. This time consider what most interests you about your subject in light of your recent research.

3. Select the Works You Will Read: Since reading the works will take a substantial amount of your time, before you read anything briefly pursue each source to see if the author's writing style is at your reading level. If a text is too complex for you, you're probably better off selecting a text that is easier to read. Oftentimes academics deliberately make their writing dense and cryptic, rather than writing in a way that is clear and easy to understand, in an effort to demonstrate their intelligence. But you don't have to play this game. Choose writing that is easy to understand. You will probably get more meaning out of it and, ironically, sometimes the people who use the most words say the fewest things.

4. Read the Texts: This is the part of the research process on which students are most likely to procrastinate. Once you have the information in your head, you'll want to express it, but many students are threatened by nonfiction texts. Don't be scared. You won't have to read everything. Reading a nonfiction text is not like reading a novel. You don't have to read them in a linear fashion, from front to back. Feel free to cherry pick. Only read the information for which you are looking. You can skim and scan; however, if you decide you will quote, paraphrase, or otherwise reference information from a text, make sure that you thoroughly understand it, lest you appear foolish.

5. Take Notes on Your Research: As you are reading your resources, pieces of information will intrigue you. If you are researching a topic in which you are interested, you may find portions of the text exciting. These are the things of which you should make note. If you own the text, highlight or underline good information or otherwise make a memo of the page number and source in your research notes. If you are using electronic sources, just cut and paste interesting information into your word processor for easy quoting later.

6. Write Your Thesis Statement: Your thesis statement is merely a sentence that says what your are going to do in your paper. Usually they begin with "I," such as in the following example: "I will explain the causes for World War I." It is important that you keep your thesis statement in mind throughout the writing process. If you find yourself including information in your paper that does not fit into your thesis statement, you should alter your thesis statement to reflect what your paper is doing. Don't let your thesis contain you. As you write, you may go back and forth between multiple routes in your paper. You may decide to go both ways. It's no matter, because you can always revise your thesis to match your writing.

7. Create Your Rough Draft: The goal of a rough draft is basically to fill paper. Everything may not be perfectly organized. You may make mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and word choice. You may fall off of your thesis, but the key here is that you are producing writing. As you are writing your rough draft, you may go back and reread what you wrote, improving it when possible, but don't get hung up on revision. Put your research notes into an essay, and logically weave them together, removing the bits that don't belong and commenting when insights occur to you. Your goals should be to accurately represent what your sources have said about your subject, as well as putting yourself into the paper.

8. Make Quote Sandwiches: One of the most useful development templates when writing a research paper is what I call the quote sandwich. There's no rule stating how much of your paper should be references to other texts and how much should be original writing, but in my opinion commenting with more than a sentence or two before and after a quote demonstrates that the researcher is controlling the paper, not the research. So here's what you do: first, introduce the argument that your quote will support. Then, introduce your quote word for word. Use quotation marks and if your quote is longer than four lines, use block quotes. Lastly, explain how the quote relates to your argument. Don't assume the quote explains itself, because it doesn't. Even if it seems obvious to you, it's still your job to explicitly explain how the text you've introduced into your paper connects to and furthers your argument.

9. Bring It All Together: Before you ask for the opinions of other people, make sure that your paper is doing what you want it to do. Read through it several times. Fix any grammar, punctuation, and word choice errors that you notice. If you're unsure, consult an expert or research the issue. Make sure that every argument in your essay can be logically connected back to your thesis. If an argument does not connect to your thesis, expand or revise your thesis to include it or omit it entirely. Begin your paper with an interesting statement, idea, or question and attempt to meaningfully conclude your paper. Once you are confident in what you have written, it's time to get feedback.

10. Get Feedback and Polish: Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to see an old problem. Writers may assume that their intended meaning will be understood, when readers may require more information or additional explanations. That's why it's important to get another person's feedback before you submit your paper. If at all possible, you should schedule some time with your teacher or professor so that they can give your feedback on your writing. Since they are the one's who will be evaluating your work, their input would be most valuable.

Writing a research paper is an art, not a science, so no single set of step-by-step directions will apply to all situations. Nonetheless, the process discussed in this post has worked for me many times in the past and may work for you as well. Please leave any comments or experiences that you'd be willing to share below. May your composition process go smoothly and interestingly.

By Mr. Morton