Monday, April 28, 2008

A Practical Way to Learn Grammar & Punctuation

Here's a nice lesson from Lisa Mazzie Hatlen at Marquette--thanks, Lisa!!


About a month ago, in response to a post on the Legal Writing listserv, I shared an assignment that I give my first year legal writing students as a way to get them thinking about grammar and punctuation. For the assignment, about two or three weeks before we are scheduled to discuss grammar and punctuation in class, I show a PowerPoint presentation that includes examples of signs that have some grammar, punctuation, or spelling error. I tell students that they must find their own "public" example of a grammar or punctuation error. To complete the assignment, they must tell me where they found their example, what's wrong with it, and how they would fix it. No student has ever told me that he or she has had trouble with this assignment, and the examples students turn in are interesting and creative. Students have turned in brochures, newsletters, menus, copies of pages from their textbooks, pictures of signs and billboards, print-outs from web sites, and more.

Many people emailed me to ask that I share some of the examples. I put together a PowerPoint that details this assignment and shows some of the examples I've received. The PowerPoint is posted here: When we get to the grammar and punctuation class, I'll show their examples on the document camera and we'll talk about the error and how to fix it. It's meant to be a fun way to heighten students' awareness of the use of language and how its misuse can create unintended meaning and convey unintended messages about the writer herself. As Bill Walsh says, "Language evolves, but at each instant in that evolution there will be ways of writing that will strike educated readers as ignorant. . . . [so,] if you, too, are in the business of writing, . . . you have to answer one big question: Do you want to look stupid?" in Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English (2004) (emphasis in original).


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