Memes, Movies & Memorability

A year ago I had the fun opportunity to write three articles for the English Department at Salt Lake Community College, where I teach. Last month those articles finally went live, and I wanted to share about them here because I’m thrilled with how they turned out. Click the article titles if you’re interested in reading them for yourself.

“Punctuation, Memes & Choice”

punctuation is powerful

As any of my former or current students could attest, I’m a big fan of punctuation. So when I teach it, I try my best to help students catch on to its power. In this article I felt like I succeeded, thanks to a colleague’s suggestion to use memes. The humor they provide enlivens the whole topic. Even better has been hearing responses from students who read this article and say, “Wow! All of that makes sense now!” Read more

He Said; She Said

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!

Leave a comment!

Punctuation Repertoires

Dreamt I was the new word bubble grammar fairy. I was responsible for . , : and ;

This was a recent tweet from my friend Diana, who has a super cool webcomic called Sweet & Sour Grapes. Her tweet made me laugh so much that I warned her I’d end up quoting it some time, and now I have. I can’t quite imagine word bubbles with colons or semicolons in them, but I like the funny image of a fairy who dispenses those marks!


Sometimes I feel like the grammar fairy in charge of ; : — ( ) , etc. Only not for speech bubbles. For student writing.

My own experience learning all the punctuation marks was horribly inefficient. I was still picking up random things in college. I can remember exactly which professor went off on a quick tangent to show us about hyphens, and which professor pointed out to me in grad school that my ellipses needed to be spaced apart. If somebody had fed it to me all at once, efficiently and effectively, I would have eaten it up! I didn’t want to look stupid with my ellipses scrunched.

So when I got hired as a graduate instructor, I was totally dismayed when they told us we were pretty much not allowed to teach grammar. They showed us this quote about how it took away too much time from other instruction, and they gave us handbooks that we were supposed to have the students read and take quizzes on.

Can you guess how effective that was?

Anyhow, ever since then I’ve made it my personal mission to find an effective way to give students a repertoire of ; : — ( ) , ” ” ‘ . . . [ ] -, etc, all in one semester. I’ve had successes and set-backs, but I’ve learned a lot about what makes certain teaching methods effective.

I’ve just added a whole section on my teaching page full of pdf files and other useful links about grammar pedagogy, and tomorrow I’m going to show it to college instructors from Idaho, Utah, and Arizona–well, at least any who stop by my session at the TYCA-West conference. Hopefully someone will find the information useful.

I’d love comments about successes others have had–whether as a teacher or a learner–with mastering these conventions.

And if you could be a punctuation fairy, which mark would you dispense most often? For me, it would have to be an em dash. Gosh, I love those things. And a colon would come in a tight second.