“All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

~Joan Didion, “Why I Write”

My grammar approach is to teach effective sentence structure through punctuation. Native speakers have a native understanding of how to put words together; what they need is help punctuating those words in writing for clarity of meaning. Plus, as we explore the possibilities for punctuation, we gain a repertoire of choices, learning how to structure stronger sentences.

The idea is to figure out how language works by playing with it and seeing how others play with it. Why did that writer use a semicolon there? How could a dash change the emphasis of this sentence? How do capital letters, hyphens, italics, etc, affect the meaning of words and sentences?

How the Site Works

In my classes, students are assigned one page to read for each class period. The page begins by giving them a quote and an abstract definition of the punctuation that helps them understand the feel of the usage. Then the students read through the examples and try to figure out for themselves why the author chose that mark for that sentence. A “How It Works” section follows, giving specifics and allowing the students to “check” how well they interpreted the examples.

I give my beginning and intermediate students assignments to analyze the information and then create their own practice examples. They are required to use the punctuation structures in their next papers for further practice.

The key features are that students (a) see published examples, not just sentences made up for the sake of showing the concept, (b) try to figure it out for themselves before having it explained to them, and (c) have a chance to use the concept rather than just identifying the “right” answer on a quiz.

Also, of course, the site functions as a reference for anyone — not just students — who might want to “brush up on their grammar.”



    1. Interesting idea! I hadn’t thought of that. I only use tildes as signatures, when I’m putting a name under a quote or signing my name on the bottom of something. It’s not an official usage; I think I just made it up. 😉



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