Comma Rules for the Classroom: Lesson Plan on Using Commas Correctly

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Comma Rules

Write the following rules on the board. Instruct students to copy them in their notebook:

  • Use commas to separate items in a series.
    • I want peace on Earth, quality family time, and no credit card debt for Christmas.
  • Use commas after introductory words or mild interjections.
    • Yes, I am unrealistic.
  • Use commas to set off words of direct address.
    • Bob, why don’t you help me.
  • Use commas to set off one or more words that interrupt the flow of a sentence.
    • Lebron James, as you can see in this video here, dominates all his opponents.
  • Use commas to set off nonessential items: clauses, participial phrases, appositives.
  • Insert a comma between two independent clauses that are joined with a coordinating conjunction.
    • My dog chased three rabbits out of the woods, but they all got away.
  • Use commas to separate subordinate clauses at the beginning of sentences.
    • Before eating three candy bars, I should have thought of the consequences.

Sentence Strips

  • The coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (all on the same strip)
  • The following individual words and punctuation:13 commas, 1 but, 2 and, 8 periods.
  • Write parts of model sentences on the strips. Use my examples if you prefer:
    • The dolphins leap out of the water for New Years
    • The sharks prevented this year’s celebration
    • After hundreds of miles of swimming
    • the dolphins felt scared
    • Flipper
    • the head of the school
    • prayed to the Mighty Dolphin in the sky to avenge their misfortune
    • Flipper promised the Mighty Dolphin he would change his ways
    • stop beating up sardines
    • send minnows to starving dolphins off the coast of Somalia.


  • Discuss when to use a comma. Focus on the four uses that cause the most trouble: joining two independent clauses; separating introductory material in a sentence; separating unnecessary information in a sentence; and separating items in a series.
  • Hand out premade sentence strips with either magnets or two-sided tape attached.
  • Instruct a student with an independent clause to post his or her sentence on the board.
  • Instruct a student who has a related sentence to post that on the board, leaving a space.
  • Ask what is necessary to join the two independent clauses.
  • Instruct the lucky student to post the comma and conjunction.
  • Continue with the remaining sentence parts until the sentence is complete: The dolphins leap out of the water for New Years, but the sharks prevented this year’s celebration. After hundreds of miles of swimming, the dolphins felt scared. Flipper, the head of the school, prayed to the Mighty Dolphin in the sky to avenge their misfortune. Flipper promised the mighty dolphin he would change his ways, stop beating up sardines, and send minnows to starving dolphins off the coast of Somalia.
  • This lesson becomes more effective when it is immediately followed by revision of a prior assignment.

This lesson was inspired by Flipper the Dolphin and Mini Lessons for Revision by Susan Geye, 1997, Absey & Co. Spring, TX.

Looking for a standards based syllabus for high school language arts? Click the link and find all the resources–lesson plans, unit plans, handouts, powerpoints–you need for an entire semester at

This post is part of the series: Mechanics

Use a little creativity and watch your students' writing mechanics improve.

  1. Lesson Plan: How to Use Commas Correctly
  2. Lesson Plan: Using Semicolons
  3. Lesson Plan: Quotation Marks and Punctuation
  4. Lesson Plan: When to Use a Hyphen
  5. The Tragedy of MIsused Apostrophes
  6. Teach Your Class How to Use Parentheses (It’s Really Easy)