To start our day, I present students with 3 sentences featuring dashes and ask them what they notice.
"They all have a hyphen." Close, but not quite. Does anyone know what that line actually is?
<silence> It's a dash. Hyphens connect some 2-part words or indicate a word broken by a line change. Dashes work differently--what do they seem to be doing here?
"Well, they are separating ideas." Yes, what else?
"One side is more interesting." Yes! I used these dashes to help emphasize that!
From there, we move into our actual sentence play.
I pass out the sentence play and pull the same document up on the screen for notes. We record the basic purpose we have already discussed, and I add grammatical rules on how to use dashes correctly. Then, we take a look at a professional example via "The Declaration of Independence." We discuss why Jefferson used a dash where he did (he wanted to emphasize that the struggles were OURS), lending credibility to the dash as a grammatical tool. If well-respected writers use them, so can students!
Now, examples. As usual, I ask students for topics to use, keeping them involved in the process and therefore engaged. I coach them through the first class example and ask them for more input on the second--so far so good. We move into partner practice. As I circulate, I see that many students are not following my grammatical rules, instead throwing dashes into sentences at random ("Santa--got stuck in the chimney!"). I stop to help these students fix their sentences. Most often, this requires prompting students for further thought. I point out they need to add a clause to their sentence. Why did the event happen here? Is the reason worth emphasizing? If yes, then use dashes ("Santa--chubby from way too many cookies--got stuck in the chimney!").
When all students have completed their practice sentences, we come back together whole class to share. Each student shares, keeping everyone involved and amused. I hear several more errors in placement like the Santa example, students who I did not get to during work time. I make verbal corrections for the benefit of the class, but I make a note in my planner that we'll need more practice--I want everyone to use a dash correctly before we start any summative assessment.