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Studying punctuation with students is rewarding and helpful in many ways. Punctuation knowledge gives students opportunities for choice and voice in their writing. We have all sorts of things we can use to make our meaning clear when we are speaking: stress, intonation, rhythm, and pauses. When we write, however, we can’t use most of these devices (except print variation such as italics to emphasize a word) , and the work that they do in speech must be almost entirely handled by punctuation.
When a writer is not thoughtful about the punctuation (s)he uses, the reader may misinterpret the intended meaning or become confused and disinterested in the piece of writing. The effort a writer puts into punctuation for a piece of writing will be deeply appreciated by the reader. Here is a look at two marks of punctuation worth studying. Use mentor sentences with your students and ask them to make a theory about why the author chose to use them.
The Dash – Authors put in a dash where they want us to pause before an extra piece of information. The dash lets us know something important is coming. It is a get-ready-for-something-important mark.
Ants are not bugs – they’re insects.
Luckily, there are still miracles in the world – sometimes in the shape of a little cat.
As summer slips into fall, Grandma and Sammy share a rich golden harvest – and their sweet, sweet memory.
Get the bag of flour – the unopened one – from the pantry.
You will have to find a notebook – red, green, or black.
Some examples of semicolon use:
You don’t need to be rich; you just need someone to care about you.
Sticks and stones can break my bones, but that heals; it’s hard to heal a broken heart.
They wouldn’t ride with me; they just rode behind me and whispered things I couldn’t hear.
Authors have choice:
If I ever get chased by a dog again, I will calmly walk away.
If I ever get chased by a dog again (and I hope that never happens), I will calmly walk away.
If I ever get chased by a dog again I will . . . walk away!
There is only one thing to do if you are chased by a dog: walk away, slow
Important Points to Remember When Teaching Punctuation
Teach only one point per lesson and track your initial lessons and revisits.
Model from your writing, a student’s writing (with his permission), or a piece of literature. Try to use all three if possible.
Allow students time to process the information.
Post the information in the room so students can refer to it.
Post the information in a loose-leaf binder for grammar and mechanics focus lessons.
Give students time to try out the idea before they head off to their own drafts.
Encourage students to praise and polish punctuation use in peer conferences.
Encourage students to create in-class videos, want ads, skits, podcasts, recipes, persona poems, and You Tube videos (if they are old enough) involving punctuation points.
Ask students to help you create a rubric for punctuation use – how students use punctuation correctly and how they grow in sophistication and creativity.
Comma: A Persona Poem
I have so many jobs to do:
I bracket, too.
Sometimes a gapping comma
Used when words are omitted,
These are so many jobs I do.
Please! Not any time you pause,
You’ve ben misled.
It must be said!
I separate number and year
When you write dates
And come before while
When followed by a complete thought.
The FANBOYS love me,
I’m their friend.
I come before them
With Period or Exclamation Point
At the compound sentence’s end.
I’m very useful in writing
As you can plainly see,
So try not to forget
Or overuse me.
Sources for Important Punctuation Points to Remember:
Grammar Matters by Lynne R. Dorfman & Diane Dougherty (2015) & credit to
A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation by Janet Angelillo (Scholastic, 2002)