The Art of the Semi-Colon: Using Grammar to Enrich Writing

This morning, I had the honor of presenting a sectional at the 2009 Wisconsin Council of Teacher of English Convention in Milwaukee, WI.

Please click to view the information from the session:

Learning the Art of the Semi-Colon

My presentation included discussion about two bits of pedagogical theory–(1) teaching grammar in the context of writing and (2) using visual arts in the teaching of writing. For me, finding practical applications of these theories can sometimes be challenging, so I demonstrated a lesson that I use in my persuasive writing unit which integrates both of these theories into actual practice. It’s a really great lesson that middle school AND high school students enjoy and that is exciting to teach. It makes grammar fun! But even better, it produces sophisticated student writing in the end. The participants in my workshop had a chance to try out the activity for themselves, and then to discuss the experience and offer ideas about how this lesson (or those similar to it) can work in the classroom. Some of the cool suggestions generated by this discussion included:

-Using a picture as a starting point for a follow-up lesson, where students view the image and generate an accompanying sentence.

-Displaying posters side by side with formal persuasive essays.

-Tying visual elements into descriptive writing, asking students to describe a photo or illustrate a written description.

-Creating a unit around punctuation, with the unifying idea of a punctuation “map” that could be displayed in the room with “paths to good writing” that would feature various punctuation marks as X-marks-the-spot symbols on the map.

I was so excited to have this chance to present one of my ideas and to hear those of others. My room was pleasantly overflowing with knowledge: there were pre-service educators, other first-year teachers, experienced and veteran teachers, and post-secondary teachers in attendance.ย  It was my absolute pleasure to serve as the leader for a great activity and discussion. Many thanks to all that were there! It was an incredible day for me–I was recognized as the WCTE 2009 Outstanding Student Teacher and gave a successful workshop for my colleagues! It doesn’t get much better than that.

Do you need more ideas about how to utilize grammar in context, visual arts, or BOTH into real life teaching? Check out the last two slides of my Powerpoint for my list, and share your own by leaving a comment and continuing the conversation!

Please share by leaving a comment. ๐Ÿ™‚


4 thoughts on “The Art of the Semi-Colon: Using Grammar to Enrich Writing

  1. Tom Pamperin says:


    I talked to you briefly after your presentation; excellent work! Your approach exemplifies the best backward-design philosophy–you start by knowing exactly what you want students to learn, and your lesson plan was a great example of how to translate specific goals into actual classroom activities–fun ones, no less.

    And now, a question: your presentation featured persuasive writing skills; I’m curious if you have done the same kind of thing with reading. I mean, have you explicitly identified reading skills for your students, then designed activities to reinforce them? If not, how would you do it in, say, a high school literature class? I’d love to see something like that on your blog.

    • Ms. H says:


      Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. I’ll try to answer your question “What would a skills-targeting lesson look like in the high school literature classroom?” by listing some things I’ve done with my senior classes.

      Skill: Academic discussion.
      Activity: Class reads a text together (whether in class or assigned). Then, in small groups, students discuss and respond in writing to 4-5 thought-provoking questions about the text. Whole class then comes together for discussion that is structured by the questions, practicing their ability to listen, relate to, add to, and respectfully agree/disagree with their peers’ input.

      Skill: Inference and perspective-taking
      Activity: Students create a narrative from the point-of-view of a literary character with an unheard voice. (In our case, we did Grendel, Hrothgar, Wiglaf, or Beowulf’s unseen wife from Beowulf. This was nicely modeled by a portion of John Gardner’s Grendel.)

      Skill: Literary analysis
      Activity: This was a sequence of lessons, that centered on identifying literary devices, explaining significance of devices, describing author tone, unearthing connotations, identifying theme, and using textual support. I used a variety of texts for these activities, starting with modern song lyrics and moving to renaissance metaphysical poetry as the students’ skills got more sophisticated. The culminating assessment from this unit was an essay which required students to analyze lyrics from a song of their choice, to analyze a metaphysical poem, and to identify connections between the two… bridging the classical and the contemporary.

      *Whew!* More to come! You can also check things I’ve written under the categories “literature,” “literary theory,” or “pedagogy.” There may be some gems in there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Jack says:

    Really enjoyed your presentation Amy – I have a quick question, though. For the last idea on the second to last slide (I’ll pause to give you a chance to recall it from memory…ok, go), how do you start your students off in finding that particular character’s “hand” or style? I’ve been asking quick attribute questions in my discussions, but I’m pretty sure you’ve got a more interesting way. Thoughts?

    • Ms. H says:

      Jack: This activity (having students make a drawing “by” a character of their choice) does need some preliminary work. It would tie in really nicely especially if you were already teaching some visual language skills, but I think it could slide in independently, too… I think my preferred way of teaching it would be to:

      *Have a brief quick write on the question “What kinds of things can you tell about an artist just by viewing his or her art?” Hopefully responses lead you where you want to go–emotion, age, things he/she is thinking about, state of mind, etc.

      *Model this with some fine art transparencies on the overhead (most textbook kits have these… if you don’t, take three pictures of your favorite paintings to a copying facility and make transparencies). Once they’re up there, ask students what they think the artist was thinking/feeling. Point out how line/color/subject can help us figure that out.

      *Make connections–now you’re doing the same thing, but backwards. Students write down what their character is thinking/feeling and then decide how to portray it in their drawings! Make sure they sign it with the character’s signature, too. Go for authenticity. ๐Ÿ˜€

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