Perhaps you can relate…
Punctuation is a powerful tool for communicating — to colleagues or families in emails, to loved ones in texts, and to readers of our work. Yet, punctuation doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. It lives on editing checklists and is given quick reminders for as we move around the room to confer.
When writers are not yet using punctuation, or are using punctuation incorrectly, or are not incorporating much variety in punctuation, we can provide more explicit and engaging instruction. As a start for doing so, we can study a mentor text, name the purpose for punctuation, and provide a variety of tools for writers to practice with.
Reading as Writers: A Mentor Text for Punctuation
Yo! Yes?, by Chris Raschka is a book children enjoy reading again and again. It also makes an excellent text for studying punctuation. When reading this book as a mentor text, we can stop and prompt partners to turn and talk the about different kinds of punctuation they notice in a part of the book, or think about why Raschka made certain punctuation choices. We can also stop to choral read lines of text to practice making voices match the way that Raschka intended.
Naming the Purpose of Punctuation
Of course there are rules about punctuation…rules that I still need to reference as an adult writer! But the follow the rules approach to teaching punctuation — or anything, for that matter — doesn’t always feel so great (to kids or us). Besides, we know some of the best authors break the rules sometimes!
Rather than framing punctuation as something we have to do when a sentence ends, we can empower children to make decisions as writers — decisions about how they want each sentence to be read. We can teach children how to read a sentence different ways, helping them to notice how use of different punctuation effects the meaning. This back and forth between readership and authorship allows children to transfer understanding of punctuation in texts across the day.
Engaging and Supporting Writers with Choice of Tools
To practice making intentional choices about punctuation, we can provide children with opportunities for shared writing, visuals to reference, and hands-on practice.
By writing a demonstration text that is missing punctuation, we set children up for a shared writing experience in a minilesson. Try to compose text that includes a question, exciting moment, and suspense, so that children have opportunities to include each kind of punctuation. We can model how to experiment with different punctuation marks after each sentence, pausing to add different kinds of punctuation with small post-it notes (or by using a punctuation stick, which is referenced below), and reading it back together. Children can help decide which punctuation mark they like best, as readers, for each sentence.
Visuals to Reference:
To aid with understanding and memory of punctuation marks and how they change the way sentences are read, we can create a chart for children to reference in their folders or alongside other writing charts. This chart can be created ahead of time and used to support a lesson on punctuation, or it can be created together through guided inquiry during readaloud of a mentor text.
As an additional reminder to add punctuation, and a tool for experimenting with different punctuation marks, we can teach children how to use punctuation sticks.
Punctuation sticks can be made by using wide craft sticks. A period can be printed on the top of one side, with an exclamation mark on the side of the craft stick when it is flipped over. On the opposing sides of the popsicle stick can be the question mark and ellipsis.
We can model how to use the punctuation stick in a lesson with a demonstration text that is missing punctuation or in interactive writing. Children can each have a punctuation stick and hold up the kind of punctuation they think works best for each sentence. Punctuation sticks can live in the writing center or be attached to writing folders with velcro.
By offering time to explore as readers, to make choices as writers, and to practice with hands-on tools, we bring fresh excitement and purpose to the use of punctuation.
For More(!) on Punctuation…
Something Do-Able to Try: The Editing Minute, By Beth Moore
When Conventions Aren’t Sticking — Some Tips and Tricks, by Melanie Meehan
Using Inquiry to Lift Language Conventions, by Lanny Ball
Powerful Punctuation! By Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski
Practical Punctuation, By Dan Feigelson