Every couple of semesters I get an idea in my head of some new way to “make grammar stick.”
This term, the word “stick” is more literal than ever. I’m having them use paper strips and glue sticks, like a cut-and-paste version of Mad Libs, to get a firmer grasp on semicolons, colons, em dashes — all of it.
Tuesday night was the trial round. I passed out two strips to each student: one blue strip and one red. And when I asked if anybody’d ever played or even heard of the game He Said; She Said, I got blank looks.
What? Did nobody else play M.A.S.H. and T.R.U.E. L.O.V.E. and He Said; She Said and all those other crazy paper games in middle school? That was like our number one entertainment at slumber parties. Okay, except Yoshi games on the Super NES (I just dated myself, I know).
Anyhow, He Said; She Said, as we used to play it, goes like this:
Everyone has a sheet of paper and a pen/pencil. The idea is to write the line of the story indicated, fold over the paper so no one can see what you wrote, and then pass the papers clockwise so that a different person contributes each line as follows:
1. A boy’s name
2. A girl’s name
3. Where they met
4. What he said
5. What she said
6. What happened in the end
Take turns reading the stories by filling in the blanks like Mad Libs: “Once upon a time ___1___ met _____2___ at ______3________. He said, ‘_____4_____.’ She said, ‘_____5_____.’ And in the end _________6________.”
In my mini-grammar-lesson version, I only used lines 4 and 5 and opened it up to not just “said” but anything they wanted him and her to do. It could be that “he hot-air ballooned to work” and “she pretended to be a horse.”
Then I had them swap all around so that they had a red strip and a blue strip that didn’t originally go together. These they glued in their notebooks and drew a semicolon (;) in between. I had them share some funny ones, and we got things like, “She nagged at him about never listening; he dove into the lake.” Pretty good, as Mad Libs go!
But the point was that I needed them to realize that (a) semicolons are used in places where you want to make some kind of comparison and (b) each side has to be able to stand alone. Only time will tell if that sunk in.
For colons, I’m hoping it worked even better. This time, they had to write a sentence — a complete sentence, one that you could plunk a period onto — that suggested a list to follow. Then, on a different-colored strip, they created a list. Same as before, they swapped around and got funny stuff like, “There are several things you need when you go camping: a manicure, a high-speed internet connection, a course catalog, etc.”
And this time I think the strips really stuck. In the past, I’ve noticed students’ tendency to use words like “including” right before the colon, no matter how much I rail against it. But when the sentence was literally broken into two strips, they saw that it had to stand alone because they dealt with each piece separately.
Tonight I’m going to use paper strips and glue sticks to try and adhere em dashes and parentheses to their brains. If it continues to work and show results (though I should note that this is in conjunction with the assignments they do on Real Grammar, not an alternative to those), I’ll post the mini-lessons in my Teaching section for other teachers to try out as well.
And even if you’re not a teacher, try the He Said; She Said group game with your roommates or your kids or something. If you get a funny story, please share it!
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