How to Teach Fun Lessons on Punctuation

A woman is tutoring a young girl.
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With some thoughtful, interactive lessons students see the value of punctuation as a code to convey clear written communication. The key is not to teach punctuation in isolation but as part of fun activities that involve compelling, and sometimes humorous, content.

1 Comma Catastrophes

Emphasize the importance of the comma by putting examples on the board that illustrate how missing punctuation can cause a sentence to be misunderstood. For example, "Let's eat Grandpa" and "Let's eat, Grandpa!" mean two different things. Ask students to explain the misunderstanding. Another example in which a lack of commas leads to cannibalism is an altered Tails magazine cover that recently went viral on the Internet: "Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog." The actual Tails magazine cover correctly read: "Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog." The Photoshopped cover is a fun way to teach the importance of separating items in a series with commas. In fact, the Internet is full of fun punctuation flubs.

2 Interactive Punctuation Games

You can develop your own version of Scholastic website's Noisy Punctuation Game. Line up students and have them use gestures, movements or sounds to signal different punctuation marks as a story is read aloud. For example, one child may stomp a foot whenever there is a period; another might raise one arm and punch the air with the other fist to indicate an exclamation mark. Let children take on the different roles of each punctuation mark, or encourage an entire class to participate in pantomiming the punctuation. You could encourage the students to develop their own actions for each mark and reread the selection several times so students become very aware of the role of each punctuation mark. As a follow-up activity, children can write their own short stories to be photocopied into a class set. Students can then "direct" their classmates to perform the punctuation marks as they read their stories aloud.

3 Cartoon Quotation Marks

Locate a simple three- or four-panel cartoon with speech balloons. Omit the words in the balloons and photocopy the blank comics for students to write in their own ideas for dialogue. Teach the use of quotation marks and the rules for punctuating within quotation marks. Let children fill in what each character is saying, but ask them to use proper quotation marks to emphasize the rule that quotation marks are used to frame the exact words being spoken. Following this activity, you could have children rewrite the comic strip into a short descriptive narrative so that they gain practice with the associated rules, such as indenting and starting a new line when the speaker changes.

4 Punctuation in Various Media

Collect and share books with children that employ fanciful and unconventional methods of punctuation. Bring in examples of punctuation in advertising and art work. You can also encourage students to find punctuation in magazines or online and to start a bulletin board collection of punctuation marks. For older students, a display of punctuation marks published and used incorrectly, such as misplaced apostrophes in posters or homemade signs, can spark conversations about what went wrong and how it should be fixed. When children are put in the role of policing the rules, they gain enthusiasm for searching for rule breakers.

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.