The Tiger - Notes
The objectives of this exercise are to have
students think about the purposes of punctuation and to motivate them to
learn the "rules." In later grades, students can be asked to give the "formal
rules" for all of their punctuation changes, but we need to remember that
most people punctuate most sentences correctly with little, if any, formal
knowledge of the rules.
What Might We Expect from Fourth Graders?
In the KISS Approach, fourth graders will not have started work on clauses, but they should be very comfortable with the punctuation of sentences. Thus they should generally be able to put periods, question marks, or exclamation points where sentences end, and change the following letter to a capital. [Their explanation will thus probably be that this punctuation marks the end of a sentence.] This text includes only one compound sentence, and it would be very interesting to know how many fourth graders have problems putting a comma after "whiskers" in paragraph four. Note that in the third paragraph, some students will be tempted to include the "with" phrase in the first sentence:
By night, as well as by day, the tiger watches for his prey with a frightful roar. He will seize a man, and carry him off.Ultimately, this does not make sense -- if the tiger roars while he is watching, he will scare away the prey. But one of the problems for many students is that reading itself is often an activity that does not make sense. Thus, an exercise such as this is intended to help students see how punctuation clarifies the meaning of a text.
By fourth grade, students who have been using the KISS Approach should be very comfortable with prepositional phrases. Thus they should have little trouble inserting a comma after such phrases at the beginning of sentences -- and explaining their reason in terms of prepositional phrases. [See , in the text.]
As I write this, nouns used as adverbs (NuA) are an option for January of Fourth Grade. If students have already been working with them, this text provides additional exercise. If they have not, teachers might want to use this exercise to introduce the idea, after first seeing how the students punctuate these constructions in this text, and listening to the students' explanations. In the text below, phrases based on nouns used as adverbs are underlined and in gray. As with prepositional phrases, when NuA phrases begin a sentence, they are usually set off by a comma.
Three of the commas in the original set off subordinate clauses, one of which is semi-reduced. Rushing students into explanations of clauses before they can recognize most S/V/C patterns is a bad idea, but fourth graders are working on S/V/C/ patterns. Thus teachers might want to refer to these clauses as simply "another construction (which you will learn later) that in some ways functions just as prepositional phrases do. These constructions consist of an S/V/C pattern and all the words that chunk to [modify] them." This explanation should help students with the comma after "cat's" (paragraph five), and after "dark" (paragraph nine). The comma after "sport" (in paragraph seven) may require extra thought and explanation in that it means "when *they were* coming home from their day's sport."
Twice in this text, a comma precedes an "and" that joins compound finite verbs. In many cases, the use of a comma is optional, as it is in our first example. Today, most people would probably write, "he will seize a man and carry him off." The comma before this "and" is thus a stylistic option. The second case suggests why some rules of punctuation are so difficult to teach.
She caught her kitten by the neck, and broke the chain which bound it.In this case, the comma after "neck" signals the end of the prepositional phrase. It immediately tells the reader that what is coming next is not another object of the preposition "by," as in "by the neck and throat." It thus tells the reader that what is coming after the "and" is connected to something before the phrase, not in it.
Five commas in the original remain to be discussed. The first is that after "springs" in the second paragraph:
He goes over the ground by making bounds or springs, one after another.This sentence is an excellent example of how even published writing (in a reader intended for educational purposes) can be unclear. [Communicating clearly, in speech or in writing, is not easy, even for professionals.] And fourth graders should be able to discuss intelligently, and thus understand, the problem in this sentence. Fundamentally, it revolves around the conjunction "or." What does it join? The first time I read this sentence, I read "springs" as a verb -- " . . . or *he* springs." "Making . . . springs" simply did not sound right to me. Note that this involves fourth graders in a discussion of how so many words in English can function as either nouns or verbs -- "He bounds or springs over the ground."
Technically, "one" is an appositive to "bounds or springs," and thus establishes that, in the writer's mind, "springs" was processed as a noun. In the KISS Approach, basic appositives can be taught as early as third grade (as long as the third graders also have time to master prepositional phrases). Ultimately, however, I would suggest that what students do with a comma after "springs" can be ignored. More important than the comma here is the flabbiness of the sentence. "One after another" adds nothing to its meaning, since it would be implied in "He bounds or springs over the ground." Thus fourth graders can meaningfully discuss this sentence without formal knowledge of appositives.
Three commas in paragraph eight provide interesting points for discussion. The two that surround "with a collar and chain" are optional:
They took it with them and tied it, with a collar and chain, to the pole of their tent.Including them does help readers distinguish the "how" phrase ("with") from the "where" phrase ("to the pole"), and they also help the reader chunk the "to" phrase back to the verb "tied." But perhaps their most important function is to break the connection between "chain" and "to." If the sequence of the phrases is changed, most writers would probably not use commas -- "They took it with them and tied it to the pole of their tent with a collar and chain."
The function of commas in breaking up commonly combined words, i.e., words which then tend almost automatically to be read as phrases, is not discussed in most grammar textbooks, but it is fairly obvious in the next comma in the eighth paragraph:
It played about, to the delight of all who saw it.We read extremely quickly, and without the comma, many readers will chunk the "to" to "about" since "about to" is a very commonly used phrase. The comma after "about" precludes such chunking and indicates that the "to the delight" phrase chunks to "played."
The last of the undiscussed commas is that after "tent" in the final paragraph. Technically, this involves setting off a gerundive phrase, but fourth graders can discuss it (as with subordinate clauses) as a construction, similar to prepositional phrases, that functions as an adjective (or adverb). I should note here that in discussing constructions that involve subordinate clauses, gerundives, and other "advanced" constructions, I would name them, even with fourth graders. There is a major difference between telling students that "That is a subordinate clause. You'll study them later." and expecting students to be able to identify subordinate clauses.