Quick tips for grammar: commas in lists

The 2014 National Curriculum asks that children learn to use commas in lists from Y2 onward. This article is a set of tried and tested teacher ideas for introducing and then consolidating the use of commas in lists.

The Standards and Testing Agency’s English grammar, punctuation and spelling test framework sets out that the use of the serial (or Oxford) comma will be penalised in lists of single items. Consequently, when introducing commas in lists you may then want to introduce the idea that ‘ands’ are frightened of commas so will never be seen in a sentence next to one. This won’t stop you and your class from encountering texts where the serial comma is part of the publisher’s house style but it will offer an opportunity to reinforce your own house rule – no commas next to ‘and’ in a list!

Play the ‘Granny went shopping’ game. As a class recite what was bought on Granny’s shopping trip, model writing the list and make sure that the class spot any naughty ‘ands’ and use commas to punctuate their list instead.

Write list poems making sure that items are separated with commas. e.g Inside the magpie’s nest I found…

Create actions, symbols and sound effects for different punctuation marks. Use these when reading a whole-class text or sentence example from the board. You can then repeat this exercise with a piece of unpunctuated text to assist children in recognising where to add the commas and other punctuation marks.

Make lists of equipment in PE lessons and science lessons.

Write a sentence on the board with lots of ‘ands’ used within a list of items or actions. Ask the children to remove the superfluous ‘ands’.

Do a bit of grammar ‘double-counting’ (or killing two birds with one stone). Why not get your children using commas in lists of adjectives to describe nouns. By doing this you will also be covering part of the requirements to create expanded noun phrases.

With older children introduce the use of a colon to introduce a list. e.g. I like the following sports: cricket, rugby, netball and tennis.

Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English Education

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