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Demonstrate the power of punctuation

september 21, 2010

Demonstrate the power of punctuation

Once several weeks of school are behind you, you’ve got a pretty good gauge of your students’ convention skills. And how is their use of punctuation? Accurate and purposeful…or neglected and absent? It’s not uncommon for students to look at punctuation as nothing more than annoying little marks a teacher makes them use. Many writers see little to no value in punctuation. And that, to be honest, is the problem with us teaching punctuation as simply a series of rules to follow. The key is to get students to understand that punctuation is for the reader, not the writer.

Punctuation aids the reader in understanding the writer’s intended message. Sometimes the use of punctuation (like end marks) makes it easier to read and comprehend writer ideas. But some marks can completely change the intended meaning. Depending on where they are placed or if they are used at all, commas, apostrophes, and other marks affect a sentence’s message.

Initiate yearlong punctuation study

To initiate a yearlong focus on punctuation, try some of these activities:

  • Celebrate National Punctuation Day.

    Each year, National Punctuation Day is held on September 24th. Check out the official website for specifics.

  • Speak punctuation.

    Here’s a fabulous idea from Jane Strayer at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (Valparaiso, IN). Before students write punctuation marks, see if they can speak punctuation marks. Bring punctuation into your everyday speech. Jane announced that there will be times when she wants students to say the punctuation marks they are using in conversation.

    For example, when greeting students at the beginning of the day/class, she may inquire about their weekend. Rather than saying, “I went to my uncle’s house and helped plant trees, bushes, and flowers,” the student would say, “I went to my uncle’s (apostrophe s) house and helped plant trees (comma) bushes (comma) and flowers (period).”

    It seems a little awkward at first, but it doesn’t take long for students to get the hang of it. Of course, don’t “speak punctuation” all the time; do it in short spurts. Jane found one benefit of this activity was that the students were thinking about their punctuation marks when talking, which translates into them thinking about their punctuation marks in first-draft writing, too.

Sample Bio-Poem - Punctuation Mark: Comma
  • Create punctuation poetry.

    A group of seventh graders in Christy Neuenschwander’s Salamonie Middle School classroom (Warren, IN) created a bio-poem on the semi-colon. Check this out and then consider writing Bio-Poems for other marks.

    • The mark…Semicolon
      • Traits that describe the mark…Looks like a period on top of a comma
      • The mark is related to…Punctuation marks
      • The mark loves…Related ideas
      • The mark feels…Lonely and unused because nobody understands it
      • The mark needs…Two complete sentences
      • The mark fears…The word “and”
      • The mark gives or causes…Sentence variety in your writing
      • The mark would like to see…Some action in 7th grade
      • The mark is a resident of…Sentences and grammar books
      • An example sentence using the mark…I love ice cream; vanilla is my favorite.
    • If the Bio-Poem seems too abstract and advanced, how about a simple haiku? The extra challenge is to use punctuation creatively within the haiku.
  • Edit in color.

    Review key punctuation marks and their purposes. Then assign one editing pen color per mark (e.g., blue = commas, green = apostrophes, red = periods, etc.). Have students reread previous writings and edit one mark at a time. If the punctuation mark is used correctly, have them trace over it with the corresponding pen color. If they forgot the punctuation mark, have them add it in with the corresponding colored pen. If they used a mark and shouldn’t have, they should mark it to be removed or deleted using the corresponding pen color.

    NOTE: This is a great activity to differentiate. Struggling writers can focus on only ends mark, while stronger writers can edit for numerous within-the-sentence punctuation that is more sophisticated.

Initiate a yearlong punctuation study

In addition to trying some of the reading and/or writing activities above, check out the official National Punctuation Day website for more ideas to celebrate this national holiday and/or great resources for teaching punctuation within the classroom.

Use National Punctuation Day to kick-off a yearlong focus on punctuation. Assign students a single punctuation mark to become an expert on. (This could be done in pairs.) Have them spend time first just seeing their punctuation marks within real text. They can conduct a scavenger hunt through your class texts, picture books, and various print media (e.g., newspapers, pamphlets, brochures, magazines, greeting cards, etc.).

Have partners create a resource of sample sentences that use their one assigned mark in different instances. Have them explore the different purposes and applications of the same mark. Becoming experts on one punctuation mark, they can then help you lead convention mini-lessons throughout the year on that mark. NOTE: There is a fabulous picture book series by Capstone Publishing that would be a great companion to a lesson series like this.

Use magnetic punctuation

The inspiration for this lesson came from a Punctuation Magnet Set purchased by Barb Needler (Sweetser Elementary, Sweetser, IN). She utilized the oversized magnets to have students fill in missing punctuation and fix other editing errors when writing sentences on the board.

Magnetic Punctuation - Help students use punctuation marks

Then Barb thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a set of these for each student?” So she used the school’s die-cutting machine to make some of the marks and hand drew the others. In the end, each child received a baggy full of their own punctuation marks to use when practicing conventions.

To get a better view, click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Magnetic Punctuation Marks - Student Example
Magnetic Punctuation Marks - Student Example

Teacher comments:

A teacher from Anchorage Kentucky Schools shared, “Another book to use for National Punctuation Day that I just got is Punctuation Celebration, by Elso Knight Bruno. It’s great for all ages I would think, but I will use it for 3rd grade.”

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