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Teach Your Class How to Use Parentheses (It's Really Easy)

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/20/2012

Parentheses are one of those punctuation marks that you think your students know how to use as they are pretty straightforward to you and I, however if you're looking for a lesson plan using these little brackets then you obviously know better (don't you?).

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    An Unfortunate Occurrence Regarding the Proper Use of Parentheses

    I ended plagiarism in my classes. I felt good. Then I read my students' unplagiarized journals and realized they did not know how to use parentheses correctly (the proper use of parentheses having never been taught them). I resolved to punish myself for my neglect. I marched over to the band room and paid some kid three dollars to bang my head with cymbals (he told me later he would have done it for free). The sound knocked me out. When I awoke, I saw two parentheses having an argument about correctly punctuating with parentheses (odd, don't you think?). They then whacked me on the head with a Tuba and I fell back asleep.

    When I awoke, a lesson plan on the proper use of parentheses guide rested on my desk. Unfortunately, the principal fired me for damaging band equipment and I never got to use it.

    But you can.

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    The Rules

    Punctuating with parentheses can be confusing. These following rules should help:

    • End marks (periods, question marks, exclamation points) go inside of the parentheses only if the parenthetical information is a complete sentence: For example, Please read my outdoor activity guide to the Dominican Republic (I've included the link for you.). OR Please read my outdoor activity guide to the Dominican Republic. (I've included the link for you.)
    • If the parenthetical information ends the sentence, the end mark goes after the parentheses: Please read my outdoor activity guide to the Dominican Republic (linked above).
    • If the parenthetical information is contained within the sentence, no additional punctuation is necessary: My outdoor activity guide (linked above) is very entertaining.
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    When to Use Parentheses

    Use parentheses in the following situations:

    • to set off nonessential explanatory information that is loosely related to the sentence: If you're struggling to achieve your fitness goals, you're doing something wrong (like eating a pizza, 6 candy bars, and a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper for lunch every day).
    • to enclose numbers or letters in a list that is part of a sentence: Three essentials for organization include (1) notebook checks, (2) planners, and (3) sobriety.
    • to identify the source of quoted information: Julius Caesar claimed "Cowards die many times before their death. / But the valiant taste of death but once." (II, iii. 81-82).

    Note to Teacher: Remember that using parentheses is a stylistic choice. Quite often, parenthetical informational is more effective set off by commas or with dashes, or simply not used at all.

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    Procedures

    • Discuss the above information with students.
    • Construct 16 left parentheses and 16 right parentheses by drawing them on small slices of paper and attaching a magnet to the back.
    • Create a paragraph on the board that's missing parentheses.
    • Have students, one by one, place the parentheses in the appropriate spots.
    • Use my paragraph if you wish: Lenny said, "I want rabbits, George!" Steinbeck 13. If I were George I'm glad I'm not I would have told Lenny to forget about the rabbits maybe that's why George shot him in the head. If I were Lenny he was big you know I would not have put up with George George was really small. I have a problem with five other characters. I can't stand 1 Romeo give me a break with your incessant whining; 2 Wickham you can fool the ladies, but you can't fool me; 3 Sauron you can get your mean-looking eye away from me; 4 Winnie the Pooh enough with the honey; and 5 Peter Pan you can fly on out the door and leave me the heck alone.