Monday, March 28, 2016

Dash away all!

One student needs to be told--repeatedly, on every paper--that dashes are like Tabasco sauce: a little bit goes a long way. Another asks--out loud, in front of everyone--"What's a dash?" (And she's not kidding.)

And then there are the punctuation avoiders, students who pile word on word and phrase on phrase without a shadow of a hint of a comma and who approach the semicolon as if it were about to bite them and who have to be reminded that a question should end in a question mark and who even sometimes forget to put an end stop at the end of the sentence as if it could go on eternally and infinitely and neverendingly and lots of other synonyms students like to find in the handy thesaurus they keep always open on the laptop screen to allow easy access to words that are often right but frequently only almost right and sometimes dead wrong and when will this sentence ever end and what was I talking about anyway?!

Ah yes: punctuation! It's a beautiful thing. I'm not going to mourn its imminent demise as long as I see commas deployed elegantly in the occasional paper, but it's really difficult to teach proper use of the dash to students who've never seen one--and don't even get me started on the colon. Once (this is true) I detected a case of plagiarism after a student used a colon correctly, such a rare occurrence that it put me on my guard. When I encourage a student to use a semicolon to connect complete sentences, half of the time I get either a colon connecting sentences or a semicolon connecting dependent clauses. (And if you know why that's funny, you are a certified grammar nerd.)

Hyphens (not dashes!) do one kind of job,
virgules (or slashes) another.
Ellipses replace the deleted words.

(Students ask--to my face--"Why bother?")


Anonymous said...

😱,😱. 😪📚‼️ 👎👎💣;😈😈. 😑🤔--😡😰.

Bev said...

Same to you!

Contingent Cassandra said...

Mine also have trouble with punctuation, but the growing phenomenon that most irks me is the lack of paragraphing. Some will write paragraphs that go on for pages. When I point out that subheadings (which are usually appropriate to the genre in which they're writing -- a review of the literature) are generally meant to group *multiple* paragraphs, a little light bulb goes on. But apparently, unlike me, they haven't got any sort of internal warning system that looks at a whole page without a single sign of a paragraph break and says "something's missing here."

Their return keys do work, since they're able to produce bulleted lists and such.

And then the instructional designers who support online classes tell us we need to write instructions "for the web," with lots of bulleted lists, which of course (besides resulting in even longer assignments -- and mine are long enough already) would be a lost opportunity to model paragraphing.

penn said...

One of my professors had this killer assignment in every single English class he taught (and I took a few of his). It was called "10 sentences," and it covered several different ways to write a sentence. We had to write ten sentences about various things we'd read during the term. Then, he'd mark up the paper, and we would have to do corrections. This was, for me, one of the most difficult assignments I'd ever done; I had to rewrite the paper over and over. I learned what a main clause was!

I can't remember all of the sentences forms, but he had most of the major ones.

1. Main clause
2. Main clause, (and/yet/but/or) MC.
3. MC; MC.
4. Subordinate clause, MC.

Wish I could remember all of them. The prof is Doyle Walls at Pacific University, and perhaps he would be willing to share. I learned so much from him. My proudest moment was when I received one of my school newspaper articles back in the intercampus mail. He circled several parts and said "I see sentences!" For my part, I was just glad my editor had let me work in a semi-colon.

Bev said...

This is a great idea! I do a similar sentence-variety exercise in first-year writing classes and a more intensive version in upper-level writing classes, but it might be helpful to reinforce this lesson in a wider range of classes.