By the time students reach Grade three they have been exposed to, continually reminded and alerted to the importance of using ending punctuation at the conclusion of sentences. However, if we look at the writing samples they produce early in the school year, we notice how intermittently they appear in their work. Such punctuation often appears by chance rather than conscious effort.
If we want developing writers to develop consistency in the use of ending punctuation we need to teach them to value its use in their writing. Wouldn’t it great to have young writers using this type of punctuation with thoughtful intent?
How do we achieve this?
Start by initiating a close study of how such ending punctuation can be used to make writing more interesting for the reader. The message needs to be- This particular punctuation actually helps to convey the writer’s voice! Remind them to link their reading of their writing to an emotion - anger, happiness, frustration etc. The message and the ending punctuation form a partnership to assist the reader to select the most appropriate voice.
As Katy Wood Ray reminds us, ‘This is not a study of marks; it’s a study of the interesting decisions writers make about punctuation as they craft their texts.’
The starting point is always the literature in your classroom. That's where we find living, breathing punctuation residing - not some decontextualized grammar exercise totally divorced from the real act of writing. Allow your student to be text detectives!
For younger writers focus this close study of punctuation around picture story books where lots of interesting punctuation decisions have been enacted by the writers. Older writers could look at extracts from favourite novels, memoirs, feature and news articles. Start by gathering a collection of suitable texts where the writers have used punctuation in interesting ways to craft the text.
Set the students the task (maybe with a partner or in a small group) to closely examine the texts and identify the punctuation used. They could use sticky notes to mark their observations. Share their discoveries noting where punctuation was being used. Ask them to relate why it was used in that particular way. As a follow up, have them record the punctuation extract (in their writer’s notebook) and add their own comments about the interesting things they have noticed.
An alternative would be to record examples of the ending punctuation on sentence strips and then classify and display the various collected text examples for further discussion and observation.
In subsequent shared reading lessons use of punctuation could be explored and further reinforced. Students should be assisted to envision using these same punctuation marks in their own writing
The objective of such a study is to deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of such ending punctuation and its important role in the success of their writing. After lots of exploring, talking and envisioning, it is time to chart what they have learned about the potential of these differing punctuation marks.
As students return to their independent writing remind them to be intentional about the punctuation decisions they make in their written work. When it’s time for conferencing and share time ask students to explain or justify their punctuation.
To demonstrate their learning students could choose a topic and a genre for a writing piece and then craft the piece demonstrating their punctuation decisions and talk about the decisions they made. I am confident that such a close study of punctuation will significantly increase the appreciation and application of these important craft elements in the writing students produce.