Subscribe to The Horn Book

Punctuation: the junction between reading and writing

At a recent training on fluency, I found myself discussing strategies about how to help the “racing reader” — the reader who, when asked to read aloud, whips through the text on a page as fast as possible. One of the key strategies that I discussed with the tutors that I coach was building awareness of the purpose of punctuation with all young readers. This suggestion sparked a conversation about how punctuation, and grammar more broadly, gets taught in schools.

Far too often, punctuation instruction is delivered through grammar worksheets or exercises that ask students to choose the correct ending punctuation for a sentence, to put commas in appropriate places, or to correct incorrect punctuation usage in a given passage. When discussing punctuation in the context of fluency, we often teach readers to raise their voices when they encounter a question mark, but less frequently discuss why the author chose to use a question mark there in the first place. Rarely are students clued into the real reason they should give a hoot about punctuation: those symbols on the page are a road map given by a writer to help a reader understand how to read their words.

Luckily, a number of books exist that can be used with writers of all ages to highlight the essential role that punctuation plays in written communication and to foster this deeper understanding of punctuation.

eats shoots leavesEats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss
This highly entertaining book shows how miscommunication can abound when commas don’t send the right signals to readers. As she writes in the introduction: “You might want to eat a huge hot dog, but a huge, hot dog would run away pretty quickly if you tried to take a bite out of him.” Truss also has two other titles The Girl’s Like Spaghetti (apostrophes) and Twenty-Odd Ducks (mixed punctuation) that employ the same humorous approach to punctuation.

PunctuationPunctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
What will happen when punctuation decides to take a break? As the punctuation marks go on strike because they feel underappreciated, Pulver’s book illustrates the challenges in communicating clearly when punctuation isn’t an option. The book lends itself to a number of follow-up activities where students could attempt to communicate a message without the use of punctuation.

Yo YesYo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
While not specifically focused on punctuation, Yo! Yes? explores the ways in which meaning can be conveyed or altered through the inflections in our voices that punctuation signals us to make and could serve as a great jumping off point for discussions about why authors choose a specific punctuation symbol at a certain time.

By using children’s literature as an entry point into grammar lessons, students can develop a richer understanding of the why behind punctuation, an understanding they can then use to hone their own skills as writers and fluent readers.

Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Share
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*