Comma Rules: How to Use Commas

How to Use Commas Correctly


I calculated the amount of time I have spent correcting comma errors: 2,374 hours. That’s 2,374 hours of my life that I’ll never have back. Check out this comma lesson plan for help and guidance that might save your students (and you) some time.


ELA Common Core Standards

Teaching comma use satisfies the following common core standards.  This will impress your administrator, but bore your students.  I recommend simplifying the language when you write the objective(s) on the board.

L.9-10.2  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

W.9-10.5  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)

Comma Usage

Before you teach how to use commas, you need to review the rules for correct comma usage.

1.  Use commas to separate items in a series.

  • I want peace on Earth, quality family time, and no credit card debt for Christmas.

2.  Use commas after introductory words or mild interjections.

  • Yes, I am unrealistic.

3.  Use commas to set off words of direct address.

  • Bob, why don’t you help me.

4.  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.

5.  Use commas to set off nonessential items: clauses, participial phrases, appositives.

  • Barrack Obama, the President of the United States, might have a 4th of July hot dog eating contest at the White House.

6.  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.

7.  Use commas to separate subordinate clauses at the beginning of sentences.

  • Before eating three candy bars, I should have thought of the consequences.

Commas Lesson Plan Procedures

  1. 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.
  2. Hand out premade sentence strips with either magnets or two-sided tape attached.
  3. Instruct a student with an independent clause to post his or her sentence on the board.
  4. Instruct a student who has a related sentence to post that on the board, leaving a space.
  5. Ask what is necessary to join the two independent clauses.
  6. Instruct the lucky student to post the comma and conjunction.
  7. 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.
  8. This lesson becomes more effective when it is immediately followed by revision of a prior assignment.

Sentence Strips for Commas Lesson Plan

  1. The coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (all on the same strip)
  2. The following individual words and punctuation:13 commas, 1 but, 2 and, 8 periods.
  3. 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.

Revision Lesson Plans

Many of the common core standards for language and writing are best taught by revising essays.

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