Revisiting CUPS for Grammar Practice

This post was originally published 2 years ago. I've updated it slightly based on my last year of teaching.

I want to talk to you about DOL. For my non-teaching friends who are reading this blog, it stands for Daily Oral Language. In traditional DOL, the teacher shows students some predetermined sentences that contain errors in grammar and conventions (spelling and punctuation). The students and teacher work to correct the mistakes orally.

Y'all, DOL doesn't work. Maybe the kids can identify some of the errors in those sentences, but they never transfer over that knowledge into their own writing. Correct a sentence from DOL one morning and you will still find students making the same errors over and over in their own work five minutes later.

So what to do? Students do need to be able to write with correct grammar and conventions. How do we teach them to do so without resorting to DOL?

We teach them in the context of their own writing. I use a system I call CUPS. I didn't invent it. I read about the idea about a gazillion years ago and have adapted it to work for me. The other teachers I have worked with who have implemented it also will tell you that it works.

Here's how it goes:

CUPS stands for Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling. Each student has a journal/composition book/spiral titled CUPS. Each morning (in my class), the students come in and write a few sentences on any topic they choose. How many? I required 3. They needed to write good sentences, not just I like my ____. When students approached me to tell me stories about what happened the night before or what they were excited about, I told them to write about it in CUPS. They need to skip lines as they wrote (this allows for editing.)

After they have their sentences written, students check them over for CUPS. This requires the student to evaluate each sentence for capital letters at the beginning and for any proper nouns; subject/verb agreement and other grammar issues (more on that later); correct punctuation at the ends of sentences and in contractions, possessive nouns, etc.; and correct spelling of grade-level appropriate words. (I encourage them to take risks by using interesting words and correct misspellings of those words without counting off.)

After they are sure they have corrected any errors, they meet with a partner. This part of CUPS is incredibly important to teach and reinforce. They must peer-edit. This is not trade-and-correct someone else's work. They must look together at one partner's work, checking for errors. If a student's partner finds an error, the partner must explain what is wrong and help the student correct it. Then the partner writes "Checked by" and signs his/her name at the bottom of the page.

After the partners check one student's work, they repeat with the other student's.

Then each child brings their work to me. I check for any errors and deduct one point for each one. Checking individually takes only a minute and affords me the opportunity to conduct a quick mini-lesson on an error. The child has an opportunity to earn 25 points each day, for a weekly total of 100. (We don't do CUPS on Friday.) It becomes a game to them to try to bring me a 100% correct entry each day.

I promised to tell you a little more about the usage part of CUPS. As I introduce grammar concepts in writing workshop, I require students to use them the following days/weeks in CUPS. For example, after we have learned about compound sentences, I tell them they must include one compound sentence in their CUPS. I also make them draw a star beside the compound sentence - just a way to double check that they included one.

CUPS works because it is editing the child's own writing. The students have a purpose for correcting errors. And the knowledge transfers over to those editing passages we have on our state tests in Texas. And one added bonus is that you will learn so much about your students from what they choose to write.

I am sure that this post is not as crystal-clear to you as it is to me, so please ask any questions you may have and I will gladly answer them.

Update: The last year I taught, I had much less time with students than in previous years. So I adapted the idea of CUPS by assigning the sentences as homework. Here is the letter I sent home explaining it to parents.

And here are the exact directions I gave students to put in the front of their CUPS folders:

  • Each night, write 3 good sentences.
  • You can write about whatever you like, so long as it is appropriate for school.
  • Use a new sheet of paper each night.
  • Put the date on the top of the page.
  • Skip lines – write on every other line.
  • Bring the journal with your completed sentences back to school the next day to edit.


  1. I love the concept of CUPS and am going to give it a go this year. I've been stuck in that DOL phase, too, but agree that there is very little transference into the application of writing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. So if DOL doesn't what about DLR?


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