Level 6. 1 Studies in Punctuation
| This is a collection of additional exercises
on punctuation. For basic material on punctuation, see:
|KISS Level 1.7 This section includes
the basic instructional material and exercises.
|KISS Level 3.1.1 - Compound Main Clauses
Because many students have problems with sentence fragments, comma-splices,
and run-ons, and with the logic involved in their punctuation, this is
probably the most important section for students.
Basic exercises on punctuation are also included among exercises on
adjectives, adverbs, S/V/C patterns, and several other constructions. For
punctuation directly related to quoting and research papers, see KISS Level
I once read that someone wrote a book that
gives 39 rules for the use of commas. Does anyone seriously believe that
professional writers obey these 39 rules? Does anyone seriously believe
that students would find such rules informative? Beyond some very basics
(such as the ending punctuation of sentences), punctuation is an art. Rules?
-- No. Norms? -- Yes. But what these norms are can only be learned by observing
how writers use the marks of punctuation.
And the norms are not simple. Trying to organize
materials for such observation is worse than trying to herd cats! New ones
keep creeping out of the pages. Under what organizational category does
each example belong? All I can say is that I'm trying my best. This book
is therefore organized into the following categories:
General Punctuation Exercises
These are the famous (or infamous)
KISS originals--sentences or short passages from which the punctuation
and capitalization have been stripped, and students are asked to "fix"
them. After they have done so, the most important learning takes place
as the students discuss how and why they punctuated the selections.
Punctuation for Meaning and Style
Some of these exercises, taken from longer texts, include
an "Original Text" page that you can use as a regular identification exercise
after doing the punctuation exercise, or, if you wish, you can use these
first and have the students not only analyze the passage, but also to prepare
to discuss the punctuation and capitalization.
This section is sub-divided into the four
basic KISS Levels so that students working at KISS Levels 1 and 2 will
not become too confused by advanced constructions.
This is a new KISS category. It will
focus on a limited number of exercises that show how punctuation adds meaning
The Logic and Punctuation of Main Clauses
KISS presents this question
in Level 3.1, but no matter the grade level at which students do Level
3.1, their sentences (and the sentences that they read) will become longer
and more complex. I suggest that each year after students have done Level
3.1, they should do one of these exercises. (See also: "Research Projects
on Punctuation," below.)
Other Uses of Semicolons
For the use of semicolons, colons, and dashes
in writing comparison/contrast or general-to-specific see KISS
Level 6.6 - Syntax and Writing.
Whereas the preceding section focuses
specifically on main clauses, this section explores how semicolons are
used in other ways.
Other Uses of Colons and Dashes
Currently empty, this section will
focus as its title suggests.
Also currently empty, this section
will expand the distinction that begins in Level 3.2 on restrictive and
non-restrictive clauses. The distinction, by the way, is followed up in
Level 5.4 on appositives.
Editing for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
Many state Departments of Education
put samples of assessed student's writing on their web pages. These make
excellent exercises for editing for punctuation, spelling , and grammar
exercises. This section includes some that are used by KISS. For many more
of these, see "Writing Samples
from State Standards" at the bottom of the KISS "Printable Books" page.
Bending and Breaking the Rules
As noted above, punctuation is an
art. This section includes exercises that illustrate how well-known writers
bend or break the rules that are in the typical textbooks.
Research Projects on Punctuation
Students should not be asked simply
to believe whatever teachers say about punctuation. This section explains
research projects that students can do to help them decide for themselves.
A green background in the right column
indicates that the exercise is in the printable
Punctuation Exercises - KISS Level 1
Punctuation Exercises - KISS Level 2
Punctuation Exercises - KISS P/A Level 3.1
(preferably with quotation marks)
Punctuation Exercises - KISS P/A Level 3.2
(preferably with quotation marks)
Punctuation Exercises - KISS Level 4
Logic and Punctuation of Main Clauses
(with Subordinate Clauses)
Cat That Walked by Himself" in Rudyard Kipling's Just
This story may raise some eyebrows, but this selection
makes an interesting punctuation exercise because Kipling used semicolons
plus conjunctions to separate main clauses. (This is typical of many older
works, but is no longer in style.)
for Meaning and Style
Single Quotes; Words as Words; Brackets; Three
Quotations within quotations
Quotations within quotations are indicated by single quotation marks
In the following sentences from Agatha Christie's Postern of Fate,
Tuppence is indicating the emptiness of "his" speech by quoting examples
of the interjections that fill it.
"Most of his sentences were short,"
said Tuppence, "and consisted of mainly 'well, you know,' or 'you see,
it was like this' or 'yes, and then you know.' Anyway, 'you know' was always
a component part of everything he said." (197-98)
Lost Phoebe," by Theodore Dreiser
(Semicolons in a Series of Appositives)
|This seventy-six-word main clause should help students
see why semicolons are used to separate items in a series when those items
themselves include commas. In this case, we have a series of appositives.
Robert L. Heilbroner's
The Worldly Philosophers
that Separate Parallel Subordinate Clauses:
|Two semicolons separate three "if" subordinate clauses
in one 141-word main clause. It may be that, as I write this I am tired,
or it may be that I am stupid, or it may be that I too have been "trained"
by reading to write longer main clauses, but I cannot figure out how to
decombine this sentence and arrive at essentially the same meaning. It
might be interesting to have your students try.
Uses of Colons and Dashes
Review of Restrictive and Non-restrictive Modifiers
Clauses (and other constructions) that restrict
or limit the meaning of the word that they modify should not be set off
by commas. Clauses (and other constructions) that simply give additional
information are usually set off by commas. Often, whether something is
restrictive or non-restrictive depends on the context:
Restrictive: The man who stole the car got away.
The restrictive version of the preceding would be used if readers already
knew that the car had been stolen. The clause "who stole the car" thus
identifies (restricts the meaning of) "man." For example: "Two men robbed
the bank. The man who stole the car got away." The non-restrictive version
assumes that the identity of "man" is already clear. For example: "A man
and a woman robbed the bank. The man, who stole the car, got away."
Non-Restrictive: The man, who stole the car, got away.
Parentheses ( ) can be used to
set off explanatory or other non-restrictive information:
The door-sill of the cave shines with a row of golden beads
(small lights, to guide the foot) – it is irresistible. (Christopher Morley)
for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
| Reminder: The
primary purpose of KISS is to enable students to analyze and intelligently
discuss the sentence structure and grammar of their own writing and that
of their peers. Each Practice/Application section includes slots for
a series of five exercises based on a prompt and samples from a state
DoE writing assessment document. In two of the exercises, students
are asked to edit the writing sample. The main idea of the editing exercises
is to have students discuss their versions, and thus the spelling, punctuation,
and other grammatical problems in the original. The “Analysis Keys” for
these exercises are “edited” versions, but alternatively, you can use these
edited versions as analysis exercises. You can also use these samples as
total examples of responses to the writing prompts—content, focus, organization,
In the Practice/Application books, two
other exercises invite the students to do a statistical analysis of two
papers from the same set of samples. (These are indexed in KISS
Level 6.5.) In the final exercise in the P/A books, students
are asked to write their own response to the prompt and then to analyze
it. In the on-line version of Level 6.1, the “ToC” links will take you
to a complete set where you can find the prompt and more exercises.
In the printable version, I have included the
unedited version, the edited version, and the analysis keys for only two
exercises. (They take up a lot of space.) But to suggest the usefulness
of these sets from state Departments of Education, I have included transcribed
but unedited samples of five papers written by third graders. They are
all the third grade samples from the 2001 Student Guide for Arizona's
Instrument to Measure Standards. As you read them, consider the problems
that teachers must have when they have to try to teach—in the same classroom?
—students with such a wide range of abilities. And remember that these
samples are of the writing of third graders. If you examine similar samples
from higher grade levels, you will probably agree that the span from the
weakest to strongest becomes much bigger.
Writing of Third Graders
Writing of Fourth Graders
and Breaking the Rules
and Other Questions about Commas
Projects on Punctuation
| There are a number of research projects that
students can do here, especially after they finish Level 3. These include:
the use of commas to set of non-restrictive modifiers, the use of commas
(and/or semicolons) with "and," "or," or "but" to join main clauses, and,
of course, the use of semicolons, colons, and dashes to join main clauses.
The best way to do these is to focus on texts
(or shorter selections from them). The focus of a study can be either on
the punctuation mark itself (How do writers use semicolons?) or on the
punctuation of particular constructions (How do writers set off interjections?).
If possible, students should work individually or in small groups so that
they can share (and compare) their results. Students could also write an
explanation of what they did and their results. Teachers could then save
these for the information of future students. (If you put these on the
internet, let me know and remind me to put links to them here.)
Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions" -- A Study in Semicolons
This is a model for studies that students
can do themselves. A general belief among many teachers is that semicolons
are used to separate main clauses, preferably clauses that in some way
contrast. Twain's essay includes 45 semicolons. The relevant sentences
are collected in the "Data Sheet" and individually analyzed and discussed
in the "Discussion." General conclusions are included in the "Introduction."
You can have students study this model, and then assign groups to make
similar studies of different texts.