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September 18, 2013 Very Proper, Indeed! Common Core ELA With an English Twist By Lindsey Petlak
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    ­Cheerio! Since this post is on the topic of being proper, let’s start with two personal confessions:

    One: I love all things British, especially London. Have I ever been to London? No. Do I dream of it daily? YES! Its historic landmarks, varied accents and dialects, fashion, music, double-decker buses, red telephone booths, and of course, the country’s affiliation with Harry Potter, make Merrie Old England a prime travel fantasy of mine.

    Two: I am an English language arts (ELA)/grammar nerd. You know, the type of kid who actually liked, even LOVED sentence diagramming in school. There’s just something about the mechanics of grammar and language that have always intrigued me!  So it's my mission to help my students enjoy the dreaded topic of grammar as much as I do — and sometimes that is pretty tough.

    Combining these two unrelated interests of mine might seem improbable, but one fateful day, the two collided into what turned out to be one of the most fun, engaging, and effective ELA mini-units I’ve ever created and taught in my entire career. Not only was I able to achieve numerous Common Core State Standards for ELA, but my students forgot they were learning grammar, decided ELA was not just rubbish, and had a jolly good time fit for the Queen herself!

    Very Proper, Indeed!

    Our grammatically correct travel through London all started with a student in my class and his uncanny knack for accents. He had the best English accent you can imagine. As I started a typical lesson on common and proper nouns one day, he blurted out PROPER in a perfect English accent, pinky raised and all! It was an instant teacher lightbulb moment. I countered with my attempt at an acceptable English accent and said, “Very proper, indeed!” The class was hooked with a capital H. I went home that night and worked for hours on putting together an engaging and effective London-themed way to teach the CCSS for ELA for common and proper nouns.  

    First Stop: Travel Agency

    You wouldn’t hop on a plane to England without a smidgen of planning, would you? Our class went to the Common and Proper Travel Agency of England to set the stage and build background knowledge about common and proper nouns before beginning our tour of London. This series of lessons was built upon previously taught and mastered instruction on the basics of nouns. To ensure students had a good foundation for what the differences between common and proper nouns were, we used a few excellent resources to “plan our trip.” Following are some great resources, along with the publisher's descriptions. Use these to help build scaffolding, activate schema, and provide basic common and proper nouns practice for your students.


    Grammar Tales Box Set

    Description: Included is a skill-building teaching guide filled with lessons, reproducibles, and mini-book versions of each story. Each full-color picture book introduces and reinforces an essential skill through a fun-to-read tale: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, capitalization, commas, quotation marks, sentence structure, and proofreading!
    Box set includes: ten 8" x 10" full-color 16-page books, 120-page teaching guide filled with lessons and mini-book versions of each student book 

    Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns

    by Ruth Heller

    Description: Playful, rhyming text cleverly defines concrete, abstract, possessive, and plural nouns and more, while stunning, realistic paintings offer wondrous examples.




    This is London 

    by Miroslav Sasek

    I love the entire series of This is… books by Miroslav Sasek, but London is (of course) my favorite. After building background knowledge through the two aforementioned texts, we scoured the pages to find common and proper nouns. It is the perfect resource for applying these skills in whole group, with partners, or even independently, because within each page references to common nouns are often immediately followed by their proper noun counterpart. For example, on one page you see references to banks (common nouns) and to the Bank of England, as well as The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street (very proper nouns, indeed!). Students may record these findings on a piece of notebook paper divided in half for common/proper nouns, or you may do so on chart paper or an interactive whiteboard as a whole class.


    Additionally, these two No Boring Practice, Please! books by Justin McCory Martin each contain activities that offer a humorous twist on a folk or fairy tale to boost students’ interest:

    Funny Fairy Tale Grammar 

    From subject-verb agreement to run-on sentences, these super-engaging reproducible pages give kids practice with key grammar skills. Plus, they’ll enjoy a variety of formats such as fractured tales, diary entries, poems, letters, and much more. Includes an answer key.

    Funny Fairy Tale Proofreading

    These super-engaging reproducible pages give kids proofreading practice in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Plus, they’ll enjoy a variety of formats, such as fill-in-the-blank stories, proofreading practice, crossword puzzles, and much more. Includes an answer key.


    Download sample pages from Funny Fairy Tale Grammar for FREE!

    Download sample pages from Funny Fairy Tale Proofreading for FREE!


    Let the Tour of London Begin!

    Once we activated schema and built academic vocabulary for common and proper nouns, we were ready to begin our tour of London. I created a series of activities, games, stations, and "craftivities" to help students apply what they had learned in whole and small group mini-lessons using the resources listed above. Extension: students use the words provided in the sorting activity to write either a fictional or informational piece about London.




    Just My Cup of Tea (common/proper noun sort):  students work independently or with a partner to sort related common and proper nouns (clock vs. Big Ben, bridge vs. London Bridge). They sort game pieces onto common/proper noun mats and then record on an answer sheet. This is quick and easy practice/review!

    Tour of London (common/proper noun scavenger hunt): students are invited to tour London in style aboard one of the famous double-decker buses!  Tourists will be divided into two tours and placed on buses for that specific tour: 1) The COMMON London Tour  2) The PROPER London Tour. Once in groups, students follow their tourist scavenger hunt page to find each of the famous London landmarks (Big Ben, London Bridge, etc.) on their sheets. Each landmark can be found labeled with a COMMON name and a PROPER name. Groups may only collect the landmark with the type of name that matches the “bus” they are on (common or proper). Once teams have collected all eight landmarks, they record them on either the common or proper tour bus on their answer sheet. All teams share answers when finished, and students record answers from opposite teams on the correct tour bus on their worksheets. 



    Calling All Nouns (common/proper noun sort): students are given two London telephone booths: one labeled common and one labeled proper nouns. They are also given a sheet of related common and proper nouns (clock vs. Big Ben, bridge vs. London Bridge). They cut out each noun provided and glue them into the correct phone booth.





    Good Work, Ol' Chap!


    Looking Ahead to London 2013

    Last year was the first time I used this “Very Proper, Indeed” unit to teach common and proper nouns. I’m sure I’ll be making changes, additions, and omissions this year. One aspiration I have is to end this mini-unit with a “Very Proper Tea.” Of course, a tea party is fun, but this one will be an academic culminating activity to test students’ knowledge of common and proper nouns. Tell me what you think of these suggestions in the comments section below!

    1. Distribute invitations to tea using as many specific proper nouns possible. Students must write down all proper nouns and provide a non-specific common noun counterpart to enter the tea party. (Written assessment, no answer choices provided)

    2. Food and drinks on the tables will all be labeled with generic common nouns — not proper enough for the Queen!  Each student will receive a tea time sheet with the common nouns listed. They must provide a specific proper noun for each item (i.e. for tea, they would suggest Earl Grey or Chamomile) in order to please the Queen and begin the tea party. (Written assessment, may provide answer choices)

    3. Students would make Royal Noun Scepters and bring them to tea. Every time someone says a proper noun, they would raise their scepters and say, “Very proper, indeed!” (Verbal/participatory assessment)

    4. Writing extensions: extend student learning by applying their new knowledge of common and proper nouns to written activities. Assess writing on not only correct incorporation of common and proper nouns, but additional writing grading criteria that aligns to CCSS:

    • Students may write a formal thank you letter to the Queen for inviting them to tea. 

    • Perhaps, they could pretend they were a newspaper reporter writing a review of the event. 

    • Another option might be researching the traditions of English high tea and writing a report.

    • Students create a London travel scrapbook, with pictures and captions or journal entries.


    Common Core State Standards:

    While these activities were super fun, their primary purpose was to engage students in learning, practicing, and applying CCSS for ELA. Below you will see correlated CCSS for ELA Anchor Standards for these activities.

    Conventions of Standard English

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

    Knowledge of Language

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

    Comprehension and Collaboration

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

    Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    NOTE: If you decide to incorporate the suggested writing extension activities, you will also be integrating the following Common Core Writing Anchor Standards into your instruction and student activities.

    Text Types and Purposes

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

    Production and Distribution of Writing

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

    Research to Build and Present Knowledge

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.




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