Archive for the ‘Punctuation & Mechanics’ Category

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Are you a "comma queen"?

posted: 3.5.15 by Andrea Lunsford

When I say I am a teacher of writing to a new acquaintance, I often get the response no doubt familiar to you: “Oops; better watch my language.” This stereotype of the English teacher as a nit-picker extraordinaire is widespread and seems to be deeply ingrained in the national psyche as “Miss Fidditch.” This character’s name seems to have been coined by linguist Henry Lee Smith in the early 1950s—though H. L. Mencken had earlier referred to “old maid schoolteachers who would rather parse than eat.” So the stereotype is surely an old one. [read more]

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Grammar & Style, Punctuation & Mechanics
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WAW as the WikiLeaks of Writing Pedagogies

posted: 12.16.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

In my comp classes, students read John Dawkins’s 1995 CCC article “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool.” Dawkins argues, contrary to every handbook you’ve ever read, even the good ones, that punctuation is based more on “tendencies” than rules (533). He also argues—in case that’s not sufficiently revolutionary—that “it is a mistake to assume that the sentence is the basic element in prose; it is also confusing, for it is the wrong basis for analyzing written language” (535). Dawkins prefers the independent clause for that, and works from the principle that “sentences . . . are but one way of punctuating independent clauses” (535).

I’ve come to summarize the crux of Dawkins’s article as, “Punctuation is optional.”

Having gotten students’ attention with semihyperbolic double entendre (I say it so that they can’t), we then examine how Dawkins’s work deliberately undermines the consensus established by People Who Make Rules, showing (arguably accurately) an important disjunct between how the “rule makers” want us to believe writing works, and how writing actually does work.

It’s hard to miss similar shifts happening beyond our classrooms, such as the WikiLeaks phenomenon. Wikileaks’s founding purpose was to publicize private information in order to undermine illegitimate authority—in much the same way that work like Dawkins’s does. And as WAW teachers, we do something similar to both of those examples: ensure that students have access to ideas that are often inconvenient to the authorities (classroom, campus, business, and cultural) who would prefer them silenced. [read more]

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Categories: Punctuation & Mechanics
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Err-O-Meter

posted: 4.28.08 by Barclay Barrios

In my classes, some kinds of errors are more serious than others.  Errors that impede meaning (such as sentence fragments) are for more detrimental than the occasional missing apostrophe.  To help your students understand different degrees of error have them work collaboratively to create a “Err-O-Meter” that measures the seriousness of different kinds of errors.  If you have them create these scales in small groups you can also have a discussion about why groups chose different errors as more or less serious.  Use this exercise to then create a guide to the most serious errors, having students include tips for checking for the error and listing the section of the handbook that addresses it.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Punctuation & Mechanics
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Grammar Hobbies

posted: 4.23.08 by Barclay Barrios

Ask students to translate principles of grammar into the idioms of their favorite hobbies.  For example, a verb is like a quarterback, propelling meaning.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Punctuation & Mechanics
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Grammar Math

posted: 4.9.08 by Barclay Barrios

Sometimes the best way to see something is to look at it in a whole other way.  Have your students review the material in the handbook on sentence construction and then have them create mathematical formulae for sentences.  For example,  subject + verb = simple sentence or subject – verb = fragment.  Ask them to provide a sample sentence for each formula from their current drafts or from the essay under discussion.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Learning Styles, Punctuation & Mechanics, Revising
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The Hyphen Today

posted: 12.10.07 by Barclay Barrios

Used to be used to divide words at the end of sentences, but word processors take care of that for us now. So how is the hyphen used today? Have students review the material in the handbook on this punctuation mark and then have them bring in examples from outside the classroom that demonstrate correct or incorrect uses of the hyphen. As part of this discussion, ask students to consider the dash as well. What’s the difference between the two? When might they use either in their writing?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Punctuation & Mechanics
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Colorful Quotation Marks

posted: 12.3.07 by Barclay Barrios

Students often forget to use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations. Have students search for quotation marks using their word processor. Ask them to find the first one and change the font color for that quotation mark to green; then have them find the next one and change it to red. As students repeat this process, alternating green and red, they build a visual record of where quotations start and end. They can then review their drafts to make sure they didn’t unintentionally end a quotation by failing to use a single quotation mark.

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Categories: Integrating sources, Proofreading/Editing, Punctuation & Mechanics
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Designing Punctuation

posted: 4.9.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review material on punctuation in the handbook. Then, in class, have them work in groups to design new symbols for the standard punctuation marks as well as symbols to represent new and invented punctuation marks: How do punctuation marks function? What punctuation is missing from our language?

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Categories: Collaboration, Punctuation & Mechanics
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Citing Error

posted: 3.21.07 by Barclay Barrios

Before a draft is due, ask students to proofread their essays for grammatical errors. If they find any, they should copy them to a new sheet, correct the errors, and then provide MLA citations for the pages of the handbook that support those corrections.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Proofreading/Editing, Punctuation & Mechanics, Revising
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Landmark Punctuation

posted: 3.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the material on punctuation in the handbook. In small groups, ask them to explain how different punctuation marks function by linking them to local landmarks. For example, at Florida Atlantic University, I95 midday is like a comma, in the morning is like a semicolon, but with an accident it’s like a period.

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Categories: Grammar & Style, Learning Styles, Punctuation & Mechanics
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