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Using Grammar Girl Podcasts to Explore Punctuation Choices

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This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.

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Punctuation is often, literally, the smallest portion of a piece of writing—but it can have incredible impact. Assign Grammar Girl podcasts about punctuation to your students; then, use the activities in this blog post to explore punctuation choices in both professional and student writing.

Podcasts are well-established, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to encourage student engagement and introduce multimodality. 

LaunchPad and Achieve products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. You can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about digital products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative. 

If you are using LaunchPad, refer to the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information on the support page "Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts."

If you are using Achieve, you can find information on assigning Grammar Girl in Achieve on the support page “Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course.” If your English Achieve product is copyright year 2021 or later, you are able to use a folder of suggested Grammar Girl podcasts in your course; please see “Using Suggested Grammar Girl Podcasts in Achieve for English Products” for more information.

 

Using Grammar Girl Podcasts to Explore Punctuation Choices

Pre-Class Work: Ask students to come to class with three items: 1) a recent news article, 2) a recent opinion piece or editorial, 3) a recent essay or piece of writing from this course. These should all be digital versions, as students will be working with the text.

Assign 2-3 podcasts about punctuation for students to listen to before class. You can choose any podcasts you wish, but you may wish to use some of the following:

  • Commas: Oxford, Appositive, Nonrestrictive
  • Punctuating Questions
  • Quotation Marks and Punctuation
  • How to Use Semicolons
  • Dashes, Parentheses, and Commas
  • Parentheses, Brackets, and Braces
  • The Ampersand

Tip: If you’re using Achieve, see “Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course” and “Create an Assessment” for help with making Grammar Girl podcasts available to students.

Tip: If you want the class to work with the same piece of text, consider choosing an article for this activity. Or, use this blog post!

Assignment Part 1: In class, ask students to take their news article or editorial and choose a paragraph that is at least five sentences long. They should copy the paragraph into a file so they can work with the text.

Then, based on what podcasts you have assigned for pre-class work, ask students to do one of the following:

  • Delete all commas in the paragraph.
  • Replace all semicolons with periods and all periods with semicolons.
  • Replace all question marks with exclamation marks.
  • Replace dashes with parentheses and parentheses with dashes.
  • Replace all instances of “and” with an ampersand (&).

Ask students to write a brief reflection answering the following questions:

  • How does this change affect the clarity or my understanding of the passage?
  • How does the tone change—or not change—due to these edits?
  • If I were writing this passage, what punctuation choices would I have made?
  • When might unexpected or nontraditional punctuation like this be appropriate? For what audiences? What type of writing?

Then, ask students to revisit the original passage and make an additional edit based on the podcasts you assigned (and what you have not already requested they try):

  • Delete all commas in the paragraph.
  • Replace all semicolons with periods.
  • Replace all question marks with exclamation marks.
  • Replace dashes with parentheses and parentheses with dashes.
  • Replace all instances of “and” with an ampersand (&).

Again, ask students to write a brief reflection answering the following questions:

  • How does this change affect the clarity or my understanding of the passage?
  • How does the tone change—or not change—due to these edits?
  • If I were writing this passage, what punctuation choices would I have made?
  • When might unexpected or nontraditional punctuation like this be appropriate? For what audiences? What type of writing?

Reconvene as a class and discuss the students’ findings and thoughts.

Tip: If you are using an Achieve English course, consider creating a custom Writing Assignment that students can use to submit their reflections. Refer to the article “Guide to Writing assignments for instructors” for help with Writing Assignments.

Assignment Part 2: Place students in small groups and ask them to share the first paragraph of their essay with their peers. Students should then discuss the following:

  • What punctuation is effective? What is not?
  • Does the punctuation support the tone the writer is aiming for?
  • What edits to punctuation might the writer consider?

If students get stuck, suggest they revisit the podcast transcripts for ideas.

 

Advanced Assignment: Complete the activity using a piece of literature. Consider assigning a short story to the class, or ask students to bring in a novel they’ve recently read. Students should choose two or three paragraphs and should copy the paragraph into a file so they can work with the text.

Then, based on what podcasts you have assigned for pre-class work, ask students to do one of the following:

  • Delete all commas.
  • Delete all periods.
  • Replace all semicolons with periods and all periods with semicolons.
  • Replace all question marks with exclamation marks.
  • Replace dashes with parentheses and parentheses with dashes.
  • Replace all instances of “and” with an ampersand (&).
  • Delete all quotation marks.

Ask students to write a brief reflection answering the following questions:

  • How does this change affect the clarity or my understanding of the passage?
  • How does the tone change—or not change—due to these edits?
  • If I were writing this passage, what punctuation choices would I have made?
  • What literature have I read that uses unexpected or nontraditional punctuation?

 

This semester, be sure to check out our other Grammar Girl assignment ideas. You can access previous posts from the Bedford Bits home page or by visiting “30+ Grammar Girl Assignments for Your Next Class” on the Quick and Dirty Tips website (these assignments are based on some of the blog posts, and six of them include downloadable PDFs!).

 

Have you used Grammar Girl—or any other podcasts—in your classes? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you and learn about how you are using podcasts this semester—or in past semesters!

 

Credit: "Punctuation marks made of puzzle pieces" by Horia Varlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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