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Lesson Plan

Every Punctuation Mark Matters: A Minilesson on Semicolons

E-mail / Share / Print This Page / Print All Materials (Note: Handouts must be printed separately)


Every Punctuation Mark Matters: A Minilesson on Semicolons

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 50 minutes
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Materials and Technology






  • Grammar Handbook, for reference

  • General classroom writing supplies (board, overheads, or chart paper, notebooks and pens/pencils, and so forth)

  • Internet access

  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail"—this text is frequently anthologized, appearing in many student textbooks and readers. The text is also available online; however, because the text is protected by copyright, the definitive copies of the letter are not printable:

    • PDF version, from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project (not printable)

    • Image of original, from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project (not printable)

    • HTML version, from the Seattle Times (printable)

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  • Students should be assigned to read the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" prior to this class session, so that they are familiar with the text and its contents before they begin this activity. You can make copies of the letter for your students from the Website above, or direct students to the URL for one of the sites to read the text online.

  • Ideally, students should be given time to explore the timeline at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project Website, which documents the highlights of Dr. King's life. Be sure to take time to discuss the ideas from the letter and its historical context.

  • Consult the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" from the Univeristy of Pennsylvania for background information on the letter.

  • Provide paper copies of the text for each student-because students will be looking closely at the text, they should have a copy of the letter that they can mark on (e.g., circle semicolons).

  • Make copies of the handouts of the shorter passages and the longer passage as well as the handout of a passage with no semicolons from Dr. King's letter for students. Alternatively, make overheads of these pages and arrange for an overhead projector.

  • Check your grammar textbook for information on semicolons, noting the pertinent section or page number on the board for students' reference. Alternatively, you can point students to the Purdue OWL Overview of Punctuation.

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