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Punctuation Exultation!

Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Kimberly and and her mentor, Laurie Stenehjem, share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

I finally know what it feels like to engage all my students in one activity, all at the same time. It took seven months to reach this point, but I reached it nonetheless.

The commercials went over well. After some skepticism on my students' part, they took my idea to sell punctuation marks and ran with it. They created some clever commercials too! My favorites include the "Comma 'n Inn," where a good night's rest allows satisfied customers to run for the presidency and play for the WNBA, and "Punctuation Grocery," where customers buy an apostrophe and get an s> free.

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Our school's technology partner, Eric, also took the idea and ran with it. He collected the bloopers and outtakes, added special effects and his great sense of humor, and made an impressive montage of student goof-ups. He also took some still shots of the students editing their commercials on iBooks and set them to music at the end of the tape. I couldn't help but notice that the kids working the keyboard in most of the photos were the students who struggle in everyday classroom activities. Seeing them getting the opportunity to lead their groups in a hands-on activity was really nice!

The students enjoyed seeing all the commercials; they were buzzing with excitement as they sat and watched -- and as they left my classroom. I even invited the principal and associate principal to join us for the premiere of our video. After all our hard work, relaxing and watching the culminating video was a great way to end the week.

I can't help but feel a little guilty though; I gave into my students' love for short sound bytes and flashy entertainment. Students can readily quote any commercial on TV these days, but many can't recall what a helping verb is. They resist picking up a novel and reading, but they can't wait to get their hands on a computer keyboard. I have to wonder if I did them an educational disservice by allowing them to make these commercials -- until I see the photos of my students with learning disabilities, smiling and operating a computer program. Those students earned an A on an English project for the first time in a long time. Maybe along the way, they accidentally picked up on what a comma does in a sentence as well?

My main objective in doing this project was to help students learn how to use certain punctuation marks in their writing. We'll see if I met that objective after the spring break when we write persuasive essays.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Kimberly Johnson
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