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A Strange Dream
I had mastered teaching Greek and Latin Roots. I had created some of the best Romeo and Juliet lesson plans ever. I had taught students how to use commas. I felt good. Then I read their essays and realized they had no idea when to use a semicolon. I failed to teach them semicolon rules. I needed to punish myself, so I strapped a 12-volt battery to my eyelids, connected it to a car and awaited the pain. The shock knocked me out. When I awoke, there stood a giant, bearded semicolon, explaining to me how to explain semicolon rules. He then whacked me on the head with a stapler and knocked me out again.
When I awoke, a "when to use semicolons" lesson plan rested on my desk. Unfortunately, it was the principal's car battery I had connected to my eyelids and he fired me the next morning. I never got to use my lesson plan.
But you can.
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When to Use Semicolons
Use semicolons in the following ways:
separate items in a series if any of the items contains a comma.
- Sharks love to eat shrimp, whales, and surfers; swim in the open ocean; and star in movies depicting blood, gore, and parades down main street.
to separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction if either of the independent clauses contains a comma.
- I got lost outside of Denver last year; I got yelled at by my wife, laughed at by my son, and beat up by the paper boy.
to join two related independent clauses if no conjunction is used.
- Some invest in a 401 (k); others invest in a Roth IRA.
before a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, hence, consequently), or a parenthetical expression, that joins the clauses of a compound sentence.
- No one with common sense would actually cascade; therefore, a more correct description would be canyoning with only a rope used to hang yourself after you plummet thirty feet and lie in pain with a broken back on the canyon floor with no hope of rescue.
- separate items in a series if any of the items contains a comma.
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Prepare large strips of paper with the following:
- 8 semicolons, 6 periods, 8 commas, 2 and, 1 however.
- Write the following model sentences or come up with ones of your own. It's best to use sentences from literary works you've taught or sentences about topics of interest.
- Farm animals are adored by children
- young ones look to them for comfort and love
- Farm animals possess power and influence
- they abuse this trust by breaking fences and tearing up lawns
- Disobedient animals include pigs
- sloppy critters who stink up the yard
- incessant blabbers
- fierce rib breakers
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- Discuss semicolon rules.
- Instruct students to copy the rules in their notebook.
- Hand out the sentence strips.
- Instruct the possessors of two complete sentences to place them on the board side by side.
- Discuss ways to combine sentences.
- Discuss when to use a semicolon and instruct the student with a semicolon to place it in the appropriate spot.
- Remove the two sentences and continue with the other semicolon rules, asking individual students to place their sentence, word, or punctuation in the appropriate spot.
The final result should look like this:
- Farm animals are adored by children; young ones look to them for comfort and love. Farm animals possess power and influence; however, they abuse this trust by breaking fences and tearing up lawns. Disobedient animals include pigs, sloppy critters who stink up the yard; sheep, incessant blabbers; and bulls, fierce rib breakers.
This lesson was inspired by Bessie the Cow and Mini Lessons for Revision by Susan Geye, 1997, Absey & Co. Spring, TX.
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Click here for a complete semester curriculum map for freshman English with lesson plans and links
Lesson Plan: Using Semicolons
Use a little creativity and watch your students' writing mechanics improve.