Spotlighting Punctuation- Helping Young Writers To Better Understand Its Purpose

Investigating end punctuation and recording examples using
sentence strips
Teachers often lament that many children do not remember to “put in” the punctuation when they write. Sometimes we see punctuation accuracy as the difference between “good” writing and, well, “bad” writing. And, as teachers, we wrestle with ways to improve precision in punctuation use. We know the importance of using written conventions accurately, but our students often don’t understand our concern. 

Perhaps we need to change the way we teach punctuation by leaning toward inquiry and conveying meaning. For example, we might show children how punctuation works, rather than giving them punctuation rules. We might teach children to value punctuation marks as much as letters and words for conveying meaning. We might invite children to see that punctuation is not something writers add on to writing, but is something writers use to help them compose and to help their readers understand what they want to say.

Partner reading and discussing punctuation use.

Here are some ways teachers might help their students become aware of punctuation that is precise and powerful:

From the beginning of the year, be sure to read aloud to students with attention to punctuation. Occasionally take time to point out interesting punctuation in a read aloud text. Let it become part of the conversation in your room about books, reading, and writing.

Plan an investigation on written conventions.  
This is a chunk of time when you will be focusing on conventions in reading and writing. Your purpose is to teach children that readers read the punctuation to make meaning, so writers write with punctuation to convey meaning.

Give students opportunities to notice punctuation as they read and to rehearse and discuss what the punctuation does to a reader’s voice.

Ask students to undertake an inquiry into specific forms of punctuation.  
What do they discover about how writers use commas? What do dashes mean and what do readers do with their voices when they see them?  
How is meaning shaped by the punctuation a writer chooses to use?

Allow students to “try out” punctuation in their notebooks, the way musicians practice on their instruments. This is a place for rehearsal, and for working toward achieving a voice. How can they use punctuation to make their writing clearer?

Open up the full range of punctuation for students, including dashes, ellipsis, and semi-colons. Let them experiment.  Let them enjoy writing interesting and complex sentences.

Ask students to play with interesting punctuation as much as you would want them to play with interesting words.

Teach students to study  mentor authors as one way to learn about punctuation.

Teacher asks students what they have noticed about the use of particular punctuation
by mentor authors.


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