Third grade students’ sense of humor, their growing knowledge of punctuation, and developing awareness of nuance make them the perfect audience for Lynne Truss’ witty book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!
You may recall the #1 New York Times bestselling book that Truss also authored, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
I started out the lesson with sharing both the hoax and actual magazine cover that went viral a few years ago, picturing Rachael Ray. The hoax version, sans commas, seems to declare that she engages in cannibalism and eats dogs. Talk about an immediate attention-getter!
Then I asked two students to each read one of the following statements, being careful to pause for the commas. Everyone listened intently to detect the subtle distinction. The power of the comma is exquisitely demonstrated, as poor canines once again become food, if commas are not properly used.
With only two sentences on each two-page spread, the book relies on it’s simplicity and highly amusing illustrations to make it clear just how important commas can be when conveying meaning in writing. Students eagerly volunteered to stand up and read some of the pages to the class. The page spread that had the biggest reaction in every class? A combination filling station and store illustration: “Eat here and get gas,” vs. “Eat here, and get gas.”
I passed out laminated bookmarks that I cut out of black construction paper, shaped like giant commas, and suggested that students take special notice of all the commas in the books they are reading. I also included a link on the back to a comma game students can play later, and test their commas skills. (Note: Requires Flash, and does not work on iPads.)
One 3rd grade boy came up to me right afterwards, and rattled off a series of sentences he made up on the spot that would be catastrophic without the comma, such as, “We’re eating Grandma!” vs. “We’re eating, Grandma!” He cracked himself up!
A 4th grade student was so entertained by it last year, that she has asked me several times to re-read it to her class again this year. I believe I will.