Graeme Sandell
Lesson: The Joys of Conventions

Purpose: Address some aspects of conventions without putting your students to sleep.

Materials: Strips of paper, copies of passages from novels (original and retyped version missing punctuation), overheads (if desired), music and instruments.

Part 1 – Reflection Time

•Take a few minutes to write a reflection about conventions. Why are they important to writing? How do you feel about them? Do you have a conventions pet peeve? Explain.

Part 2 – Subject, Predicate, Capital Letter, Periods, Commas, Phrases, and more

•Take a few minutes to read passages without their punctuation. Discuss the effect of missing punctuation. We’ll get back to these passages later.

•Discuss that each complete sentence has a subject and a predicate. Explain the aspects of a subject and aspects of a predicate. Depending on student ability, may decide to discuss simple and complex subjects and predicates. Provide examples of subjects and predicates in sentences.

•Split the class. Half write subjects and the other half predicates. Push students to really write some bizarre, complex subjects and predicates. For example:

A purple and green greased up armadillo (subject)
polished her behind with the old man’s hanky (predicate)

Write one on a strip of paper.

•Now ask students to take their notepads and their phrases and circulate around the classroom, pairing up with a subject or predicate in order to make a complete sentence. Write down the different sentences you are able to make when you add a classmate’s subject/predicate to your predicate/subject.

•Students share some of the dandy creations while you write them on the board. DO NOT ADD IN THE PUNCTUATION!

•Now have a volunteer provide the necessary punctuation. This opens the conversation to some of the editing/correction marks possible for capital letters and periods.

•Unfortunately, all we have seen is that one person in the class already knows his/her capital letters and periods, so what about the rest of you who didn’t volunteer? Well, lets get everyone involved by creating sentence line ups.

•Select one of the sentences (or more) and discuss how we could act out the punctuation. Or you could just say that where capital letters are needed, we flex our muscles. For a period, it’s the end of the sentence, so we stamp our feet to signal the end.

•Take volunteers for the capital letter at the beginning, the subject, the predicate, and the period. Have them run through the sentences a few times to get some practice.

•Now it’s time to move to the next level—add a “because phrase.” Pass out slips of paper for students to write a “because phrase.” Collect all the phrases and shuffle them.

•Pass them back out to students. Now they are ready to play with their because phrases. Students select one of their sentences with a subject and predicate and see how many ways they can add in the because phrase.

• Share new sentences and observe where the because phrases are placed. Discuss that the phrase can be plopped on to the end with the help of a comma, stuck on the front with the help of a comma, or injected in the middle with the help of two commas.

• Time for more sentence line ups with the because phrase added in. Discuss the action for a comma. Because a commas indicates a pause, a yawn is a catchy action. Practice sentence line ups with the capital letter, subject, predicate, because phrase, commas, and period. Try out the because phrase in several locations.

•Mix up the activity for more kinesthetic conventions learning. Now students are using capital letters, period, commas, complete sentences, and far more complex sentences. And you have a funny way of talking about it if they are not using these conventions. Yippy-skippy.

Part 3 – Remember the Passages Without Punctuation?

• You might want to start out with a discussion of editing marks for this. It lends itself to that discussion.

• Re-read some of the examples without punctuation. Partner up and go to work on providing the punctuation you think the passage needs—the punctuation the author might have intended.

• This is a great thing to do if you have the passages on overheads. You may need several overheads, but it provides students a chance to show their corrections to the rest of the class while doing the next activity.

• Now that partners have made their corrections, it’s time to share. Students should read and act out the punctuation and capital letters. This may require some creative acting out if their exists punctuation we haven’t acted out already. Partners can create a plan for reading and acting that suits the two of them, though you might suggest some options.

•Now that everyone has had a chance to share, provide the originals. Students can reflect on how close they came to making all the corrections to the original piece. Read the originals to discuss leads and story beginnings crafted by authors if you like.

Part 4—Sometimes the Best Way to Look at Something is All Wrong

• Leaving out punctuation and writing things all messed up can be a way of highlighting what is really needed to be clear as a writer. Examine some funny headlines. Get your kicks. Then, individually or as pairs write a sentences trying to describe what in the world the authors might have been trying to say. Share your findings.

• The next step, as you can imagine, is to create your own amusing headlines. You can have students share them and try to decide the correct punctuation necessary to fix the headline. Or just leave them as they are and enjoy.

Part 5 – Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong.

•After considering the components of conventions, punctuation in particular, you might want to let students break into groups and create some catchy songs. It’s fun for them and they might remember a thing or two.

•Provide some music for them to listen to, encourage them to think up new words for old kid songs, and suggest writing a catchy pop song. This is open ended. Keep it that way.

Part 6 – And Finally…

•Take a moment to reflect on conventions. Can you find your own conventions pet peeve? Is there something you can be an expert at picking out? Brainstorm some possible pet peeves about conventions. Students can sign up as experts in their own areas of irritation.