The developmental writing course I teach requires that the second test of the course be on the apostrophe. Yawn. Of course, the first test focused on capitalization--wow! The canned curriculum leads up to a state exam in the end. Big surprise, right?
So, it’s three weeks in, and I’m trying to weave magic with the apostrophe. (My best apostrophe joke? I put the sentence, "The class earned three A's, five B's and twelve C's on the test." Then I rub out the apostrophe on "A's" and say, "See if you take away the apostrophe, it looks like "as." If I say it quickly enough, they mishear me and we can all laugh. That's as good as it gets, folks.) In an effort to spice up the apostrophe's introduction, I asked students to open up their books to the twelve rules of the apostrophe. I linked to a selection of the Top Food Bloggers on the Internet and asked students to peruse the sites in search of six examples of the apostrophe in action. Of their six examples, they needed to find at least four different apostrophe rules. (Our state exam is on the computer, so we teach these courses in a lab. I think this assignment could work for homework or in groups at stations, too.)
It took most students over forty minutes to complete the assignment. They could find examples using the apostrophe from the blogs quickly, but differentiating between a singular noun being made possessive or a singular noun that ends in “s” being made possessive or an indefinite pronoun being made possessive or a contraction—well, that took much longer.
I know that reading enhances writing, but I’m continually surprised at the hefty academic contribution of a reading activity like this one. By the time we went to a practice test on the apostrophe, students could better understand what differences to look for in the sentences. Arguing that the apostrophe couldn’t possibly be that varied seemed out of place since they’d already found it in action. Unlike our textbook, in “real life writing” the apostrophe doesn’t sort itself into sets of ten examples that all use the apostrophe as a contraction. A few students mentioned wanting to revisit the blogs for fun—always a bonus—and no one complained that the reading content didn’t matter. I guess food, written about and photographed beautifully, is a universal.
Next week, I’m going to try introducing subject/verb agreement through some selections from RollingStone.com. Here’s hoping reading from life continues to root these grammar lessons in application and contextual interest…co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher