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I taught students Cornell notes. I felt good about myself. Then I read their essays and hung my head in shame. I should have made them take Cornell notes on the difference between a hyphen and a dash. I needed to punish myself, so I walked to the cafeteria and force fed myself the school goulash. The taste knocked me out. When I awoke, there hovered directly over me a robotic hyphen and dash pumping my stomach with a plunger. They then transported me back to my classroom, whacked me on the head with a metal spatula, and knocked me out again.
When I awoke, a "difference between a hyphen and a dash" lesson plan laid on my desk. Unfortunately, the principal fired me because I ate all the goulash and 13 kids went hungry that day and sued the school. I never got to use my lesson plan.
But you can.
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When to Use a Hyphen
A hyphen is half the size of a dash. On a word processor it is made by hitting the dash stroke once. Use a hyphen in the following places:
- in compound numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine
- in spelled out fractions: one-fifteenth
- in certain compound nouns: father-in-law, great-uncle
- in compound adjectives used before (not after) a noun: often-quoted advice
- in words with the following prefixes ex, self, great, half, and all: ex-president, self-employed
- in proper nouns and adjectives with any prefix: pre-Vietnam War
- in words that contain the suffix elect or style: president-elect
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When to Use a Dash
A dash is twice the size of a hyphen. On a word processor it is made by hitting the dash stroke twice. There is no space between a dash and the word that follows. On a word processor the two hyphens magically transform into a dash automatically. It's amazing. Use a dash for the following reasons:
- an abrupt break in thought: Today--a snowy day--we went cross-country skiing.
- a long explanatory statement that interrupts the main thought of a sentence: His class--an endless diatribe on the strength of the femine gender in Romeo and Juliet and the weakness of Romeo in a male dominated society--put everybody to sleep.
- to set off an introductory list: Austin Carr, Ron Harper, LeBron James, Bingo Smith--these are my favorite players.
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- Instruct students to copy the "When to Use a Hyphen" and "When to Use a Dash" explanation.
- Discuss the difference between a hyphen and a dash.
- Write a paragraph on the board or project one on to the board.
- Give each student a hyphen, easily constructed by drawing a smal line on a chunk of paper with tape or a magnet on the back.
- Instruct students to come up one by one and insert hyphens in the paragraph.
- Be sure to tell them that two hyphens = one dash.
- Make your own paragraph or try mine:
- The Peruvian Iguana the best loved animal of the South American jungle survives by eating the bark of a weeping willow. Oak, Walnut, Beech those are its secondary foods. One year I'm pretty sure it was pre Argentina winning the world cup a Peruvian Iguana ran for president of the jungle and narrowly defeated Pele and Maradonna and became president elect of the greater Peruvian jungle. The election on account of a little known clause preventing Iguanas and other amphibious like creatures from becoming president elect of a South American jungle is still argued about fifty three and one fourth year later.
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Click here for a complete standards based semester curriculum map with lesson plans and links.
Lesson Plan: When to Use a Hyphen
Use a little creativity and watch your students' writing mechanics improve.