Teach Students Proper Comma Usage in a Fun and Musical Way.

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When I was young and in school, many kids—of which I was admittedly one—mistook the Culture Club’s hit song “Karma Chameleon” for “Comma Chameleon.” We sung it accordingly (“comma comma comma comma comma chameleon…”). Of course, “karma” was a term we had yet to grasp, but “comma” we knew. In fact, we ultimately learned that the comma is quite a chameleon of a punctuation mark after all.

This may be demonstrated for students with the following list of usage rules and corresponding examples.

Comma Usage Rules Set to Music

Commas are used:

1. Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses:

“I’m a man without conviction, and I’m a man who doesn’t know."

2. After an introductory word group (commonly, clauses and phrases functioning as adverbs):

“When we cling, our love is strong."

3. Between all items in a series:

“Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams: red, gold, and green."

4. To set off transitional and parenthetical expressions, absolute phrases, and contrasted elements:

“You’re my lover, not my rival."

[Note: “lover” may be changed to “brother” when working with younger children. Use your discretion.]

5. To set off nouns of direct address:

“Karma Chameleon, you come and go."

6. To set off nonrestrictive elements:

The Culture Club had a lot of hit songs, ten of which made the U.S. Top 40.

7. Between coordinate adjectives not joined by and:

Many felt Boy George was a bold, fashionable, charismatic frontman.

8. With expressions such as he said to set off direct quotations:

Of his music, Boy George has said, “I knew style and content went hand in hand.”

Although your students may well fail to recall the Culture Club and this song, you may certainly use lyrics they’ll recognize to teach them about commas. Personally though, I like to take the opportunity to expose them to new works of music at the same time.

Musical Comma Usage Exercise

  1. Have a CD cued up to play a song you deem appropriate for this exercise. The less “abstract” the lyrics, the better in this instance.

  2. Upon students’ arrival, small sticky notes the approximate size of two postage stamps with commas drawn on them should be waiting on their desks.

  3. Play the song and discuss its theme with students.

  4. Then, playing it back in parts, break down the songs’ lyrics (choose the verse and/or the chorus) and, with participation from the class, write an excerpt on the board without any punctuation included.

  5. Have students come up to the board and place their sticky notes where the commas belong.

  1. Once the excerpts are fully punctuated, discuss and make corrections accordingly, using the comma rules above to explain.