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A Lesson in
"Comma Sense"

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Subjects

  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts

Grade

  • 6-8
  • 9-12
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Brief Description

This lesson illustrates, in a fun way, how misplaced punctuation can transform the meaning of text.

Objectives

Students

  • punctuate an unpunctuated letter to give it meaning.
  • learn how misplaced and erroneous punctuation can result in giving text a completely different meaning than intended.

Keywords

grammar, comma, punctuation

Materials Needed[shopmaterials]

  • a worksheet with unpunctuated text of a love letter (text provided below)
  • pen or pencil and paper

Lesson Plan

Introduce students to grammar expert and humorist Richard Lederer. Lederer is author of books such as Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation and Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language. Share with students some of the sentences that Lederer shares with readers in his essay Looking at Language: A Little Bit of Comma Sense. Have students punctuate these sentences.

  • a clever dog knows its master
  • i saw a man eating lobster
  • the butler stood in the doorway and called the guests names
  • at summer camp I missed my dog my little brother the odor of my dads pipe and my boyfriend
  • The result can be quite humorous when any one of those sentences is incorrectly punctuated. Surely the correct punctuation of them is

  • A clever dog knows its master. not A clever dog knows it's master.
  • I saw a man eating lobster. not I saw a man-eating lobster.
  • The butler stood in the doorway and called the guests' names. not The butler stood in the doorway and called the guests names.
  • At summer camp I missed my dog, my little brother, the odor of my dad's pipe, and my boyfriend. not At summer camp I missed my dog, my little brother, the odor of my dad's pipe and my boyfriend.

    Lederer presents a few more instances where the correct punctuation makes a world of difference.

  • [a want ad] WANTED: piano to replace daughters lost in fire
  • [a newspaper headine] FATHER TO BE STABBED TO DEATH IN STREET
  • [a book dedication] to my parents the pope and mother teresa

    Surely the intent was

  • WANTED: piano to replace daughter's lost in fire not WANTED: piano to replace daughters lost in fire
  • FATHER-TO-BE STABBED TO DEATH IN STREET not FATHER TO BE STABBED TO DEATH IN STREET
  • To my parents, the Pope, and Mother Teresa not To my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa

    To conclude this lesson, provide students with the following text of a love letter set in all lower-case letters. Simply copy and paste the text below into a word document. Use your word processor's font and type size settings to make the text large enough to fill up a page.

    my dear pat, the dinner we shared the other night -- it was absolutely lovely not in my wildest dreams could i ever imagine anyone as perfect as you are could you -- if only for a moment -- think of our being together forever what a cruel joke to have you come into my life only to leave again it would be heaven denied the possibility of seeing you again makes me giddy with joy i face the time we are apart with great sadness john p.s.: i would like to tell you that i love you i can't stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth

    Challenge students to work on their own or in pairs to punctuate the text of the love letter so that it makes sense. Give students 10 or 15 minutes to complete the task (more if they are rewriting the text). Then correct the text as a class. Let students share their suggested corrections. The end result is that the love letter text probably looks like this:

    My Dear Pat,
    The dinner we shared the other night -- it was absolutely lovely! Not in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine anyone as perfect as you are. Could you -- if only for a moment - think of our being together forever? What a cruel joke to have you come into my life only to leave again; it would be heaven denied. The possibility of seeing you again makes me giddy with joy. I face the time we are apart with great sadness.
    John
    P.S.: I would like to tell you that I love you. I can't stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.

    Just for fun, share with students Lederer's other version of this punctuated love letter (scroll down to the second copy of it). As you can see save for some misplaced punctuation, that love letter might have taken a very nasty turn!

    You might end the lesson by sharing some of Lederer's observations about the English language. Especially fun are his Crazy English Essays.

    Extra Challenge
    Close the lesson with one additional humorous exercise in punctuation. Provide the following statement for students:

    a woman without her man is nothing

    Challenge students to punctuate that sentences in two ways so that it will have two quite different meanings. The results might be

  • "A woman, without her man, is nothing."
  • "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

    Assessment

    Provide students with an unpunctuated paragraph. Challenge them to think critically and grammatically as they make corrections to the paragraph.

    Lesson Plan Source

    EducationWorld.com with resources from http://verbivore.com/

    Submitted By

    Gary Hopkins

    National Standards 

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    See more Lesson Plans of the Day in our Lesson Plan of the Day Archive. (There you can search for lessons by subject too.)

    For additional language arts/reading lesson plans, see these Education World resources:

  • Lesson Planning: Language Arts
  • Language and Literature Subject Center
  • Teacher-Submitted Lesson Plans: Arts & Humanities
  • News for Kids
  • The Reading Room
  • Writing Bug
  • Every-Day Edits
  • Work Sheets from Teacher Created Materials: Language Arts

    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 10/24/2005
    Last updated 04/24/2009



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