How can you add fun to “boring” classroom lessons on grammar and punctuation? I have shocking news: not everything I teach keeps my students on the edge of their seats, chomping at the bit to learn more. The brilliance of a teacher emerges during those times when the content isn’t thrilling, yet you are still able to engage the students.
Tricks for creating fun grammar and punctuation lessons
Let’s talk punctuation. Few of us squirm in our seats for more lessons on the correct placement of a period or comma. However, there are simple tricks you can do to liven up these important (and not-so-thrilling) lessons.
When I begin teaching the basics of writing, the sentence is the foundation. Several years ago while teaching the importance of the correct placement of the period and the comma, I remembered the sentence I’d heard:
The panda eats shoots and leaves.
It occurred to me that if I write this sentence on a piece of paper and show it on the document camera, I might just have a hook.
Here’s what I did:
Before getting too far into the lesson, I asked the class what they knew about pandas. I wrote down what they told me:
cute, fluffy, black and white, red, eat bamboo, live in China, etc.
I honed in on the bamboo a bit and added that yes, it’s the bamboo shoots and the bamboo leaves that pandas enjoy.
I had to explain about bamboo shoots. I mentioned that students may have had them as part of a Chinese food dish.
Help students remember by creating a memorable hook
Next, I found a green pen and told my sixth graders that I had a “magic pen” that could turn a harmless panda into a vicious killer in less than a second.
HERE’S WHERE I HOOKED THEM!
I asked them to time me. I played it up, walked the pen around to each student and gave them a chance to look at it.
Then, taking a deep breath and telling them to be ready for it, I inserted a green comma with my “magic pen” and I screamed like a maniac, ducking down behind my cart, begging students to protect me.
Most of them had no idea what had just happened. A few giggled and understood.
The panda eats, shoots and leaves.
I had to explain that this one comma changed the nouns to verbs. I had them write the sentence down in their notebooks. Then I pulled out a small panda I actually had (a Beanie Baby). I put it on top of my projector and introduced it as Killer Panda.
Simple objects can help make grammar and punctuation lessons fun
A student in my class that year said that she’d create a mask for it and came in the next day with a felt mask with velcro tips. The panda has worn that mask for years now, continually teaching students the importance of punctuation.
I knew I had them hooked. Now, when we have an absent student come the next day after the lesson (or a classroom visitor), the kids beg to do the Killer Panda lesson again. There are times that they teach it and times when they ask me to do it. Regardless, we had a memorable teaching moment. I used it to my advantage.
Assign fun grammar and punctuation lessons for homework
Guess what homework was that night? To do the same trick on their families. Also, I challenged them to come up with other sentences that could change meaning with one incorrect or correct placement in punctuation.
Now when I ask students to check their writing for punctuation and spelling errors, we call it Killer Panda Protection, and they write KPP at the bottom of their papers. This tells me that they’ve made the effort to proofread their written work.
Create a silly theme to help students recall grammar and punctuation lessons
This then manifested into other sentences that completely change meaning when there’s an error in punctuation. Here are a few:
- Let’s paint Grandma! (instead of Let’s paint, Grandma.)
- For lunch I’m having crackers, cheese, tuna fish soda, and an apple. (It’s the tuna fish soda that turns the stomachs!)
- Meet my parents, Jamar and Lisa. (Who are the parents? Jamar and Lisa? or are Jamar and Lisa being introduced to the parents?
You’ll find a great selection of silly sentences here in a unit I call Punctuation Matters.
I love using this at the beginning of the year, but it’s also perfect after a break or during those tough teaching weeks when you just need something highly engaging and low prep.
Find another blog post here that goes into more detail about other silly things I do to liven up punctuation and grammar lessons. It’s the ridiculous that makes the lessons stick, and kids always beg for more.
More great tips to liven up your classroom lessons…
- Create chants or songs to help students memorize lists and rules (I modified a cheer from our school and use it to help memorize Greek and Latin root words.)
- Bring in silly objects that relate to the topic
- Find the funny in the content you teach
- Dress up as a character from history when you have to deliver new content
- Create characters like the Comma Llama or the Comma Chameleon (like my Killer Panda). Find a stuffed critter to go along with your character.
- Play games to help reinforce concepts. I use Zip-Around cards to help student memorize our root words. We compete with other classes to see who can get the best time. I also play Spoons with root words. The ideas are endless.
- Get students up and moving. I love taping up task cards around the classroom for students to answer.
- Create special tickets to reward students who master a concept. Offer simple prizes like pencils or homework passes. Find seasonal homework passes here for year-round use.
Grammar and punctuation can be fun
My goal is to make those essential skills, like the correct use of grammar and punctuation, fun and engaging. I created color-by-code worksheets that have a seasonal theme. We use them throughout the year as I introduce, practice, or review grammar. The printables are better than the average worksheet and they’re differentiated. Find them here.
Here’s to more great teaching moments!
I’m teaming up with some fantastic bloggers this month. Find their engaging posts below.