Comma Rules and Keynote


We teach 12 comma rules each spring in preparation for our state writing test. In previous years, I have worked off of overheads. My students laughed at me as I repeatedly blinded myself while standing in front of the screen. This year, I decided to save my eyes and put a series of Keynote (PowerPoint) presentations together.

My goal was to make the lessons easier for visual learners to grasp. I used consistant color schemes and movement on the screen to show the students methods that helped them break apart a sentence. The truth is, grammar is very technical. There is no beauty of word choice or personal expression in placing commas. Grammar is the math, the logic, side of writing. This makes teaching grammar–well–boring (no offence to math teachers out there).

Below you will find links to my first effort at making the grammar lessons more engaging than an overhead and my hand. I started making the Keynotes at Rule 4 and worked my way through the lessons before returning to Rules 1-3. It’s interesting to see how the presentations evolve as I became more comfortable with the software.

I ended up exporting the presentations as enhanced Quicktime videos that are clickable. I linked these to my homework blog so students could review the lessons if they were having trouble with the homework.

I can honestly say that it was easier to teach these rules with these presentations. For instance, Rule 4 deals with deciding if a clause in the sentence is important to the meaning of the sentence. The students quickly grasped the idea of “taking the clause out of the sentence” when the clause removed itself on the screen. The visual clues really expedited mastery of the rules.

Rules 1-3
Rule 4
Rules 5-6
Rules 7-8
Rules 9-12

UPDATE:  I have corrected the Rules 7-8 video.  Thanks for the careful eye, John!

30 thoughts on “Comma Rules and Keynote

  1. I like them very much. They are more elegant than my attempts. However, for rule 8, isn’t “during the intermission” a prepositional phrase? I find presentations so much superior to overhead transparencies because they don’t slide off the all too small overhead projector cart and land in a mess on the floor.

  2. John–thanks for the positive feedback. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the students responded to the keynotes.

    If I’m not mistaken, “during” is one of a handful of subordinating conjunctions that can also be used as a preposition.

  3. I must say I’m extremely impressed with not only your thorough explanation of the rules for comma use, but I’m also delighted to see your tasteful, restrained execution (was that proper comma use, or did I need a semi-colon after “rules for comma use”?).
    Coming from a family of grammar gurus, it’s easy to see how many people weren’t properly taught these rules in their educational careers.
    Thanks for sharing with the world.

  4. Jim,
    I don’t think “during the intermission” is a subordinate clause because there is no verb in the group of words. I can’t think of an example of when during would be used in a dependent clause, but that may my own lack of imagination.
    I like your presentation very much because it breaks the rules down into chunks. We only teach 5 rules, but we do them at one time with college ESL students. After looking at your presentations, I am going back and rethinking how I present the comma rules. I found your presentations very useful and like the example sentences.

  5. John, you are absolutely right. The irony in this is that I always telling my students “If it has no verb it’s a prepositional phrase.” Thanks for keeping me honest. I’ll update that presentation today.

    In regards to the organization of the unit, the rules are loosely grouped. 1-3 really have no clear connection. 4 is difficult to internalize, so we teach it alone. 5-8 deal with introductions. 9-12 are grouped to help a student “coast” to the finish (these tend to be easy to master).

    The example sentences were meant to either connect with the literature we were reading at the time or to entertain. As I mentioned in the original post, they seem to get better as I became more comfortable with Keynote. I’d like to go back into the early presentations (Rules 4-8) and add some more entertaining examples and pictures.

    Thanks again for such helpful feedback, John.

  6. The screens for Rule 10 and for Recap Rule 10 (commarless shudder) seem to be a bit off (or should that be of?) with inconsistent application of red.

  7. Jim — Examples at the end of Rules 1-3 (QuickTime) — conjunction in rule #3 example (“so”) should be white, not red.
    Sorry — just call me Picky Proofreader!!

  8. PEOPLE!!! THIS IS THE BEAUTY OF WEB 2.0!!!!! We are “beta testing” these comma presentations. Unfortunately, it isn’t before we release them to the public, but I can see the real benefit of “beta testing” lessons plans and units. Thanks to all for “catching bugs.” More thoughts on this later…

  9. Jim:

    Great presentation! I have shared with my middle school teachers and they have asked if they can print the individual pages. Is there anyway this can be done or have you protected your presentation? Thanks so much for sharing! Gotta love web 2.0!


  10. Kerry,

    It worked when I gave it a try. Let me know what problem you’re having (downloading, or not downloading, playing or stalling out somewhere specific).


  11. Sorry to be such a newbie here, but is there a way to download the presentations, to be able to run them outside of the blog? I love these and would like to share them with my Language Arts teachers, but running them from the blog will not be viable. Thanks!

  12. Selena,

    No problem. Quicktime files can be a pain to download and it’s made worse because we’re using the Anarchy plugin to turn them into flash.

    You can download all of the files here. That should give you a zip file of all the movies. Let me know if you have any issues.


  13. Good evening, Jim,

    Like the previous person, I too would like to download your videos, but I can’t even open
    them! Clicking on the icons only makes them disappear.

    Any assitance in either opening or saving them would be greatly appreciated.



  14. I cannot get the video to play. I have clicked on each. I have double clicked on each…. and it will not start. Any suggestions

  15. Sharon,
    What browser and OS are you using?

    You may be having some issues with flash or with your security settings. Try the link in comment #15 above and just download the movies.


  16. This was awesome. I was trying to think of a way for kids to learn about the rules without having to see overheads and do workbook pages, and this is a great alternative. I also teach commas in use with quotations as “rules.” Do you feel like making any more PowerPoints? Also, is there a way to access these so that I could put them on my SmartBoard and do more with them? I could credit you in the presentation? If not, you may want to spell “separate” with an “a.” I misspelled Barack Obama’s name wrong in a presentation today, so don’t feel too bad about “separate.” 🙂 Thanks for sharing your presentations.

  17. I’m a mom who home schools. My son and I were able to enjoy Rules 4, 5&6 (the second and third video windows), but when I click on the other windows the screens just “flatten” out. Any suggestions?

  18. I would love to view your presentation, but can’t seem to get it working. Is the link still good?

  19. Sorry folks. Looks like Anarchy media player isn’t playing nicely for some reason.

    They’ll come up, it just seems to take a few minutes. I’ll work on getting them up in flash format for better embedding when I’ve got some spare time.

    Sadly, Jim made these and has the source files. He’s retired from the blog so I don’t foresee any typo changes etc. All I’ve got are the mov files.

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