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.


Creating a Classroom Constitution

A detailed plan for establishing classroom rules by working with students to write a classroom constitution

I think most teachers would agree that it is incredibly important to establish class rules early on the first day of school. Instead of just posting my classroom rules, I always worked with my students to create a classroom constitution.


Writing Prompts to Start the School Year

Free narrative writing prompts based on children's books to start off your school year.

I love teaching writing. But few of my students ever came to me loving to write. I knew that I had to ease them into the idea of process writing and spending more than ten minutes on one piece of writing.

Vegas, Baby!

I'm linking up with A Burst of First to tell about my trip to Vegas.

When Teachers Pay Teachers announced their first ever conference, I hesitated for a long time about going. Vegas isn't cheap, y'all, and in the scheme of things, I am a baby blogger and seller. But I bit the bullet and decided to go.

I knew that a few of the bloggers I had met at local meetups would be there, and so would many of the folks I've "talked" with on-line. I was excited to possibly meet those bloggers I've followed and admired for many years.

Can I just say that I am so happy I took the leap and went? It was so inspiring to hear Paul Edelman, the founder of TpT tell the story of how the company came to be. I cried when Deanna Jump shared her journey. I learned so much in the sessions I attended and came home with a HUGE to do list. I talked to many of the bloggers I have loved for years and they were gracious and kind. I made new friends and came home full of excitement to share my ideas with all of you.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon and checked in. The Venetian Hotel is beautiful! This is the ceiling in the lobby.

The first event I attended was the Teacher Blogger Meetup. There was somewhere around 550 people in that room  overwhelming! I was able to speak to some of the people I "knew" already and met a few new ones, too! 

The next day I walked over the Mirage to pick up my ticket for the Cirque du Soleil LOVE show Thursday night. While there, I celebrated my geekiness by playing a Star Trek slot machine. I boldly went where most people go and donated a few dollars.

I returned to the Venetian in time to have lunch with this lovely bunch of women. I met Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers last summer in San Antonio. It was great to see her again and meet some new to me people.

That evening a bunch of us met up and went to the show. It was wonderful. If you like the Beatles at all, I highly recommend it!

 The next day was the conference itself. I attended sessions on copyright, blogging, marketing, and product creation. Every presenter was fabulous and I was amazed at their willingness to share what worked to make them so successful. In this day and age of fierce competition, it is so nice to be affiliated with people who are generous and kind.

I want to say a special thank you to Kimberly Geswein of KG Fonts. I got to have lunch with her and her husband (among others) the day of the conference. She gave away a license to use all of her fonts, and I was the winner! Talk about hitting the jackpot!

After the conference was a happy hour. I visited the photo booth with my new friend Kristen from Chalk and Apples. I had a lot of fun being goofy!

By then, I was pooped. But there was still one more event - a meet up sponsored by Ramona Recommends. I'm afraid I wasn't good company. Sorry friends. No photos from that.

I have some great blog posts in the works and I'm determined to keep up a consistent blogging schedule. Talk to you soon!

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