games for teaching punctuation?

I had a consultation this afternoon with a student who had written a vivid and pretty poignant story of a childhood memory (when her father, who had a habit of not falling through with his promises, finally came through at just the right time). She did a great job on her description. I can still remember her description of the food they ate (her father took her out to dinner).

We met for about 45 minutes — mainly on minor punctuation problems and a few awkward sentences — but the last 15 minutes was the kind of after-consultation chatting that I particularly enjoy. I think she enjoyed it, too, and hopefully we’ll see her more in the center (this was her first time in the center). I already wrote briefly in a previous post about my reactions to some things she said about meth and how it affects our dopamine levels. But I also wanted to make a note to myself something she said about a punctuation game that her instructor had her class play.

I’d asked her if she was enjoying her English 075 class, and she said the instructor made it really fun a lot of the time. One day they’d split into teams and played a game with punctuation patterns. The teams would be assigned to come up with examples of, say, the [dependent clause] [independent clause] pattern, and the first team to come up with a correct example won a point. Then they’d move on to another punctuation pattern, and so forth. Thing is, when I asked her if she thought the game helped her in her own writing, she said, “Well, actually, I’m still not sure what an dependent or independent clause is.”

I explained it the way I usually do: I used the example of imagining someone walking up to you and saying just that one “sentence” and asking yourself if it makes sense by itself or not, and how there’s a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop sensation when the statement is dependent. She seemed to get that. I also told her my little explanation about how commas are the workhorse of punctuation (that that’s why most people assume the comma is capable of separating two independent clauses), but the thing to remember is that separating independent clauses is the one thing the comma can’t do. She really seemed to get that — though, it’s impossible to know if and how well she’ll be able to apply my little spiel to her writing. But maybe the combination of the in-class game and my explanation will do the trick.

Anyway, I’m wondering if another way to do it would be to play the games — pretty much the same way — but to have the students find examples in their own papers. That’s the hard part, obviously — getting the abstract concepts to sink into the fibers of their own papers.

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5 thoughts on “games for teaching punctuation?

  1. Pingback: limerence ain't nothin' compared to meth -- wow « kites in the empyrean

  2. Please keep us apprised as to how you get the students to detect grammar errors in their papers – although I had a great English 101 & 103 instructor, I’d sure like to increase my detection of grammar errors in my blog posts.

  3. Hi, SVC Alumnus.
    Detecting punctuation errors is difficult for students. I don’t use it myself, but I’m pretty sure the grammar checker on Word catches a few errors (though some of its suggestions are flat-out wrong). Other than getting a someone good at punctuation to read your writing, the only thing I can recommend is getting a good style guide or grammar book and just studying the punctuation section, especially the many uses of commas. If you can naildown what commas do (and they do a lot — they’re the workhorse of punctuation), then you’ve got 85% of it, I think.

    Oh, and there are some good — more popular — books out there now on punctuation. “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” is a good one (I forget the author’s name).

  4. Microsoft Word’s grammar correcting features are very confusing, despite also being a great source for humor. I could see why people would be thrown off with some of the less obvious errors it makes. I haven’t used the software in quite a while to cite any specific mess-ups, but you should look into it, there are a lot of little ones that use to slip by me a lot until I read the passage later on.

    By the way, this is Chanel’s brother Kenny. I don’t know if she’s mentioned me at all, but she has a lot of great things to say about you. I just thought I’d comment after reading your page for a little bit.

    I really like the color scheme.

  5. Hi, Kenny! Yes, Chanel’s said good things about you, too. I think she’s impressed with a lot of what you write on your blog.

    Thanks! I like the colors on my blog, too. And I like your blog’s title. Can’t be a title like that. Sometimes, I wish my title were more off the wall, more mind-catching like that.

    And thanks for the reminder about Word’s spell/grammar checker. I’ve been meaning to kind of do a systematic study of it, so I could really know how well it works (or doesn’t). I’ve always guessed it’ll catch only about half the spelling errors (since many errors make real words), but I should check and see.

    So, do you mean, the checker would point out errors to you that you didn’t think were really errors (because it does make some off-the-wall suggestions, I think) but then later on realize that they were errors? That’s interesting. Maybe it does a better job than I thought?

    Anyway, thanks for the comment. I plan on checking out your blog soon (I have done some skimming of it, but that was about it so far). I’m curious about community blogs.

    Thanks again, Kenny.

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