Employing math-based concepts to reinforce grammar skills and help students analyze complex sentences.

by Sophia Faridi

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


One of the strategies that works well in my classroom is the use of “punctuation formulas”–a method for taking a math-based concept and applying it to the acquisition of grammar and writing skills. Instead of trying to understand abstract grammatical concepts, students can easily apply solid foundational formulas like they would in math.

There are seven formulas, a very basic example of one of them is: Sentence-Semicolon-Sentence.

This simple formula can be applied to two sentences that are closely related and demonstrates that they can be connected with a semicolon.

My process in the classroom:

–First I teach each formula one at a time as part of a larger lesson. I don’t teach all the formulas in a block, but spread out in relation to other things that we are learning.

–Next, we practice each formula together and the students do many different activities. I have formal and informal assessments throughout the process.

–Then each formula culminates in a writing assessment where I expect to see compound and complex sentence structures punctuated correctly.

Years after students have taken my class, they come back to tell me they remember the formulas and still use them to elevate the level of their writing.


What I did well (in sharing this practice with other teachers)?

I presented a wide variety of options to introduce the formulas to students in fun and interactive ways. I stand by the punctuation formulas, and I think I demonstrate the practicality of their application to writing in all content areas. I think I am clear in previewing the material and use a pace that does not overwhelm the audience. I think giving teachers a chance to work through the activities themselves is a great way of introducing them to the engaging nature of using these activities with students. I also think my presentation serves a duel purpose. Not only are the punctuation formulas a wonderful concept to improve student writing, but my lesson also introduces teachers to several technology based assessments that use games to enhance learning. These are online programs and tools that I use regularly and can attest to their success with students that many teachers may have not previously been exposed to.

What I would do more of, better, differently (in sharing this practice again)?

In my presentation there is a bit too much teacher talk, particularly in the beginning of the lesson. This is likely due to the fact that since there was such a large variety of levels and content area teachers in our audience, I felt as if I had to spend a good amount of time “teaching” the content to my fellow teachers in order for them to understand the lesson in its fullest. I would like to begin the lesson with something more interactive that will activate engagement right from the start. I would also like to dedicate more time to the activities. I also think from a presentation stand point I seem to warm up toward the end of the lesson. I would like to speak more fluently and be more direct in my style when introducing the formulas. Some of my initial explanations seems a bit confusing.

In what ways do I still want to learn and grow in using this practice in my classroom?

I would LOVE to hear how other teachers have used similar concepts to develop assessments. There is such a vast variety of what can be done with the formulas since they are essentially just grammar rules. I have presented a variety of ways to assess in a formative way to drive instruction, but I am still in the process of developing formative assessments that I truly think measure a student’s understanding of compound and complex sentences. Of course the ultimate goal is for students to use these sentence structures in their writing, so I want to improve the way I assess the use of these formulas within their writing. I would also like to develop better ways of differentiating and extending learning for high and low achievers and special needs students.


About Sophia Faridi

Sophia Faridi currently teaches 11th and 12th grade English and Journalism at J. Sterling Morton East High School in Cicero, Illinois. She earned a...

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