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.
To initiate a yearlong focus on punctuation, try some of these activities:
Reading Punctuation Marks
Beyond just memorizing the rules and uses of a punctuation mark, discuss punctuation within your reading classrooms, too. Remember, if punctuation is for the reader, then we should discuss how the punctuation affects the reader’s interpretation of a passage. Punctuation tells the reader where to pause, breathe, raise his voice, change his voice, etc. Those little marks are powerful. They aren’t to be ignored. Create a chart that indicates what happens to your reading voice when you come upon different punctuation marks. Practice this concept in your classroom by reading aloud in unison (choral reading). NOTE: Reading punctuation, rather than ignoring it, improves reading fluency and thus comprehension, too.
Author Lynne Truss produced three great picture books that prove the power of punctuation:
- Eats, Shoots, and Leaves demonstrates the power of the comma
- The Girl’s Like Spaghetti demonstrates the power of the apostrophe.
- 20 Odd Ducks reveals the application of 20 different punctuation marks
Using the same sentence on the left and right of each page of her texts, Lynne Truss simply moves the location of the punctuation mark, thus changing the meaning of the sentence, and in turn changing the illustration above each sentence. This again demonstrates to students that the marks are for the reader’s benefit.
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.