“!#$&!” said the teacher under her breath as she looked at yet another paper without proper punctuation! We’ve taught it. We’ve modeled it. They still aren’t using it. What’s up? There’s no easy answer to this one, but often the students are so focused on their message and WHAT they want to say, that little attention is given to showing HOW it should be read. Punctuation is simply the directions given to a reader for how to read the words. Student writers are often focused only on the words, which is at the heart of making meaning.
Think about how we teach punctuation. Very often it is taught during writing. We want students to use it effectively in their own writing. We assume they are using it during reading, but are they? Listen to your students read and notice if there are pauses or prosody that convey the use of punctuation to dictate HOW the author intended the reading to sound. When students do not phrase, pause, or give voice to dialogue they may be focused on the words with little attention to punctuation. Most will stop at periods, but some do not.
So how can we help students to attend to punctuation and understand its purposeful use? Don’t relegate it solely to the domain of the writing workshop. This is one area where reciprocity can be a powerful approach to teach the purpose and use of a skill. I’ve got a few ideas that may help, and I’d love to hear how you may be teaching it with your students.
Punctuation Scavenger Hunt
Choose a variety of punctuation that you would like your students to use more purposefully (! ,. -: ;““) and create a scavenger hunt template. Students need to find examples of how an author crafted a sentence using the punctuation effectively; citing the book and page number so that it can be verified.
Punctuation Mentor Sentences
After students find examples of purposeful punctuation, create mentor sentence cards, anchor charts, photo albums, etc. that students can reference and that teachers can re- visit. These will heighten awareness of why punctuation is needed and remind students to use them.
Punctuation Mentor Texts
There are many fun books out there that talk about punctuation and conventions that we can share with students to accentuate their importance: Punctuation Celebration, Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes! Punctuation Takes a Vacation Exclamation Mark
There are also mentor texts with interesting and effective punctuation: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Yo! Yes? No, David! Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Do This, Not That
Using mentor sentence examples, create an anchor chart that shares those sentences on the DO THIS side and then strips away the punctuation to share those sentences on the NOT THAT side. You could create a separate chart for commas, dialogue, colons, semi-colons, even periods and capital letters. Whatever you are focusing on, create a chart that reminds students to be purposeful.
Choose several mentor sentences to use for dictation (or find examples from books they are currently reading). Read each sentence aloud with appropriate pausing and prosody so that students learn to listen for the punctuation. Invite them to write the sentence with the proper punctuation. (spelling may, or may not be the focus if you want them to listen for punctuation)
Punctuation Read Aloud
During a shared reading in which students can see the text (document camera, big book, SmartBoard) do a punctuation read aloud. Read the name of the punctuation as well as the words. Ex. “Come here,” said Dad. =”Quotation marks come here comma quotation marks said Dad period.” One teacher I know invites the class to make a sound effect for each of the punctuation used as they do a choral reading. The idea is to draw students’ attention to the equal importance of words and punctuation in a written message.
I hope you’ll continue to teach punctuation during your writing lessons, and maybe by sprinkling more of it into our reading lessons we can see some of that purposeful reciprocity in our own students reading and writing. I’d love to hear how these ideas work for your students, and any ideas you have that work with your readers and writers!
What’s On My Book Radar
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Feodora and her mother live in the isolated woods of Russia during the reign of Tsar Nicolas II. They take in wolves the bourgeois could not tame as pets and “wild” them so they can be free once again. All is well until the Russian army comes calling. Feo must find the wild inside herself to save her beloved wolves and free her captured mother before it is too late. An inspiring story of resistance and revolution that will find you cheering for the wild inside all of us. A Maine Student Book Award nominee and a favorite of many, many students.