conventions · Our Favorite Things Blog Series · writing workshop

Ways to Teach Conventions: Our Favorite Things

During yoga class, my instructor Michelle guided the group into a pose. She had several cues as we moved into half moon and she’d give a cue, repeat a cue, give a different cue, repeat a cue, give another, repeat… and I realized that I needed those repeated cues! As I tried to implement something different, my foot would unflex until I consciously heard her remind me to flex. Maybe someday my foot will just know to stay flexed without the conscious effort (and then maybe I’ll go for MORE flex), but until then, I need the reminders for my best practice. 

Just as I need them in yoga practice, students benefit from revisiting, reviewing, and reminding when it comes to conventions. Writing involves the integration of so many skills and cognitive processing that it’s understandable. Here are some ideas that I hope you can use in your instruction right as the year starts– and then any time thereafter. 

  1. Take the time to remind students of what they’ve learned in previous years. 

This is a great way to introduce the concept of inquiry for students and to practice an inquiry lesson with the question: What do you know about conventions when it comes to capitalization and punctuation? The chart below is one I’ve used with individual students, and you could also use it as a whole class chart, inviting students to contribute to the various categories. 

  1. Create a progression of charts.

It’s powerful to remind students of when they may have first been introduced to various skills. You can customize chart progressions by talking to your colleagues, and you can also look through your curriculum if you work in a system that has a scope and sequence for language skills. 

The charts below are ones that I created by sitting in front of the Common Core Language Standards and trying to name out the skills by grade level in order to make the overall chart of expectations less overwhelming for both teachers and students. When I think of conventions as a relay race where someone completes their lap and passes the baton, it’s much less daunting. Maybe first-graders won’t master capital letters for names and dates, but if it’s not brand new information for them, then second graders don’t have quite so much to learn. 

  1. Isolate skills as necessary.

Whenever I talk about this idea, I use a sports analogy, but you can use whatever analogy that works for you. When I coached soccer, I had the players practice dribbling with tops of garbage cans; they had to dribble the ball around the tops, keeping the ball close enough to be able to turn. Three steps was their goal in between taps, but the more authentic goal was to be able to dribble successfully during a game, swerving around other players the way they’d maneuvered the garbage can tops. Many of the players were much better dribblers in the controlled situation than on game day. That being said, the better they got at the tops, the better they generally were in the game. 

If a writing piece is the equivalent to a soccer game, then the goal is to have convention skills show up in that authentic writing. Convention stations have become my equivalent for athletically-oriented drills. I can design “stations” that specifically address and give extra practice for whatever skill I want to see showing up more in authentic writing. 

The station below is one I’ve used for students working on capitalization, and the digital version of it is here. 

Some other stations I’ve set up successfully are digitally linked below:

Apostrophe Center

End Punctuation Center

Tense Center

Comma Center

Remember: the most effective centers are ones that you make in response to the students in your classroom, so consider these centers as prototypes for ones that you design based on the learning you are seeing in the day to day work. 

TIP: Whenever you are setting up centers, try to avoid having students correct work that is done with mistakes. It’s better for them to see the work done right and then notice and name the skill and rationale. This way their developing brains focus on how the right way looks instead of the fact that it’s confusing. 

Other Quick Practices for Building Convention Awareness:

  1. Get silly with the power of talk and speak in sentences during times of the day when it works. You can play the audio for an example of me doing it. Kids think it’s pretty funny, but it’s also powerful for them to hear conventions and it helps some kids to visualize it. 
  2. Spend a couple of days doing what I call “obsessing” during writing workshop, and interrupt students every few minutes to ask if the sentence they just wrote has all of the capitals and conventions they know. Start your reminder with the same few words so those few words become students’ cue to check their previous sentence. 
  3. Make sure conventions are showing up in ALL the writing students are doing. “Is there a reason you left the period off of your sentence?” is one of my favorite questions when students are working on something outside of writing workshop. 

Michelle’s voice is in my thoughts as I practice poses on my own without her in the room reminding me of all that my body should be remembering. And the truth is that my body has internalized many of the cues. This unconscious element of practice is a powerful way for me to think about my hopes for students when it comes to the use of conventions; names just get capitalized, and periods just happen at the ends of sentences. This shift from conscious competence to unconscious competence is a great goal when it comes to students and conventions. 

Giveaway Information: 

Many thanks to Heinemann Publishers who is donating a copy of ONE of the Classroom Essentials .

For a chance to win this copy of one of these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Saturday, August 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Amy Ellerman will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Sunday, August 8th.

Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Amy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) You must have a U.S.A. mailing address—Sorry, no FPOs—to win a print copy of the book of your choosing. If you have an international mailing address, then you will receive an electronic copy.

If you are the winner of the book, Amy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS—FAVORITE THINGS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

23 thoughts on “Ways to Teach Conventions: Our Favorite Things

  1. I loved how the students can speak their conventions; speaking conventions aloud is fun and engaging in visualizing punctuation. Thank you for sharing; I will be using this technique in my future classroom!!


  2. I can’t wait to incorporate these ideas at school this year. I think the idea of talking and naming the punctuation as you speak will be engaging and could also be used in some way with voice to text transcription on devices.


  3. I love your connection to yoga, learning a new skill, and needing repeated reminders. I have found many times I try things in yoga that remind me of what students are going through as they are learning a new process. As we keep learning, we are better able to relate to the feelings our students go through as they learn. Thank you for the reminder to notice and name what they see that is correct vs. showing it incorrectly and editing it. Great post!


  4. We’ve done “talk like a pirate day”, so why not “talk like a computer day”? I think my students will get a kick out of talking with punctuation, so I look forward to trying it out with them, as well as incorporating more quick centers for conventions. Thanks for the ideas and helpful tips.


  5. The center practice sheets are short and effective ways to practice the skill. I appreciate your notes about having students see it the correct way in their practice. I like that the sheets have the student explain why the convention was used, and then gives them the opportunity to practice it by creating their own.


  6. I like the idea of reminding students of what they’ve learned in previous years. I also liked emphasizing what has been done correctly, rather than finding errors in writing samples.


  7. The sports analogies are super helpful! I will be planning for ways to practice and build conventions awareness to help build those skills!


  8. These are great strategies for teaching conventions! I love the idea of talking conventions and I could see this being powerful during shared writing experiences too, connecting the visual with the auditory cues. I love that you start with reminding students of what they already know about conventions, develop learning progression charts for each skill, and mention the importance of using correct mentor sentences and asking students to notice and name the skill and rationale. Thank you!

    *Also the link for the tense center takes me to the end punctuation center.


  9. This has so many wonderful practical suggestions for an area that I struggle to help teachers with. I especially appreciate the model of how we can expect our elementary students to move closer to mastery over time. Thank you so much for this!


  10. I teach 2nd graders, and as stated in the post, I am often reminding, reviewing, and revisiting conventions with them. They can tell me what they need/what’s missing, but the fact that that it’s missing shows me it’s not automatic for them as they write. These isolation station ideas will definitely be in use in Room 209 this year. Thank you!


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