in writing

"fanboys" or how commas come alive

Well, no one ever claimed that comma rules could be fun when I was first learning them. But, as my students and I figured out today, if you start with the right picture book–anything is possible.
Introducing comma rules to a 7th grade class is always tricky. On one hand, you want them to stretch their writing and try new things. On the other hand, they will invariably stick whatever new thing it is randomly throughout their work for awhile until they get the hang of it. With this in mind, I created a two part lesson. Part one was a funny way to remember commas. Part two was this book, which is a funny lesson in what happens when commas go very, very wrong.
The first part of my lesson was the standard “fanboys” of coordinate conjunctions. I teach the memory device “fanboys” (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to introduce the idea of “magic” words that can connect two sentences (with a comma!), and yet not get you the dreaded “RO” of the run-on in editing. The kids love it because we have such a good time making up sentences and discussing their meanings: the boys are ugly, but the girls are sweet— OR, the boys are ugly, so the girls are sweet–(that usually gets a few giggles from the swifter kids)–and then they go merrily off, sticking commas in every which way until they get the hang of it.
To squash the learning curve a bit, I used Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas are Important picture book. It’s great! The kids’ all-time favorite is the spread comparing “Eat here, and get gas” (at a gas station) and “Eat here and get gas” (at a restaurant). What’s not to like about flatulence jokes if you’re in 7th grade? But the best part of this book is it visually demonstrates what happens when commas go wrong.
They walk into a bar, fire a gun, and leave of course!