Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Commas and Semi-Colons

Last Friday and this Monday, I taught my By the Great Horn Spoon punctuation activity in Gregory's 4th grade class. We went over the rules of punctuation, many of which were new to the students. They were receptive, attentive and eager to try the exercise. The note-taking was a little difficult for some of the students (and I know this from my experience with Gregory). The activity worked out very well in groups, and I will be posting pictures of their finished work on my blog soon. What I loved, aside from these hard-working students and how they dove into the activity, was how easily I was able to check the rule sheets. I simply pulled off the ones that there were incorrectly placed and taped them at the side. The groups were color-coded, so they immediately knew their group had more work to do. Of course, the underlined strips which included more than one rule were the most difficult.

The exercise made me think more deeply about the order and content of the rules.
The rule about lack of punctuation in reported speech isn't really necessary. I used it in my teaching because I was working with ESL students, but I can see that these students don't insert commas incorrectly; furthermore, trying to make sense of the word "that" and its many uses can be overwhelming. Rules about coordinating conjunctions and items in a series need practice well before rules about adverbials and adjective clauses. It would be much better to introduce these rules slowly throughout the first half of the year. Many students in fourth grade are still struggling with what constitutes a complete sentence, so introducing the semi-colon at this point is great but requires patience and many examples. And switching rules 11 and 12 would be "smoother."

If the rule sheet is part of their writing folder at the start of the year, I think that revising their work becomes easier throughout the year. A teacher can simply mark "rule 8," which requires students to reflect on their own writing and the relationships between their ideas.

The whole exercise really focuses on learning the rules and identifying. Working in practice with error analysis exercises is my next step.

Each of the punctuation packets I make now will be power point files with a list of the rule sheets, the group activity in "strips," and the individual activity presented in bubble format. This should give students ample practice.

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