Teaching Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage

Teaching Resources
Writing Guidelines
Writing Exercises
Writing Courses

Mechanics Quizzes:
Quiz 1
Quiz 2

This web page discusses how to teach grammar, punctuation, and usage to students in a laboratory or design course. Following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage is important for students when writing professional documents. Failure to do so can cause a student to lose credibility with the audience even though the technical content of the document may be sound. A dilemma exists for instructors in regard to teaching grammar, punctuation, and usage. On the one hand, students should know those rules when entering a laboratory or design course (and many of the students, in fact, do know the rules). Moreover, class time has to be spent on other issues that the students have not had the opportunity to learn. On the other hand, many students do not know the rules and risk hurting their professional reputations. The question becomes then, How can an instructor ensure that the students know the rules without devoting valuable class time to the subject?

In a large design course at Virginia Tech (Microprocessor Design, which has more than 200 students per semester), we have come upon a way to have the students review the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage without spending class time on the topic. The way that we do so is through a take-home quiz in which the students must identify common mistakes made in grammar, punctuation, and usage. For this take-home quiz, the students are encouraged to use the Writing Exercises for Engineers and Scientists, which contain almost all of the answers in one form or another. To find the answers to the quiz, though, the students have to work through the web-site's exercises. By forcing the students to work these exercises, we make the students aware of the common errors of grammar, punctuation, and usage. Note that students who already know the rules will work through the exercises quickly, while those who do not will be forced to spend more time on the topic.

To streamline the grading for our graduate teaching assistants and senior undergraduate graders, we provide them with an answer key, which is available through an e-mail to Michael Alley. Graders should note that there usually exists more than one way to correct a mechanical error. For that reason, the graders have to make critical decisions in regard to whether a student's solution is correct. Given that, we have the graders work through the quiz before grading it. We feel, though, that our graduate teaching assistants and senior undergraduate graders benefit from this experience. For large classes, we allow the students to work in pairs, a move that cuts the grading time in half.

Last updated 3/04
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