Reasons to Regularly Teach Punctuation in Your Classroom

Ah, punctuation! Whether you love or hate teaching it, there's no denying its importance in the English curriculum. Oscar Wilde once wrote, "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out." Wilde was an individual who clearly understood the significance of punctuation; however, if your classes are anything like mine, they're often a little more wild than Wilde when it comes to using punctuation consistently and correctly.

We all know those students in our classroom who will hand in a piece of work that could be brilliant, if only it were punctuated correctly. In an era of social media and fast communication, punctuation is often viewed as a lost art. Perplexingly, there are even movements (*ahem* who advocate the abolition of certain types of punctuation entirely. With punctuation undervalued and underused outside of school, it's no wonder many of our students struggle when it comes to getting their ideas down on paper.

Whatever your personal stance on the use of the Oxford comma or the necessity of the possessive apostrophe, punctuation remains one of the most important aspects of written English language and a skill that desperately needs to be developed in the classroom.

Accurate punctuation is essential for expressing meaning. Let's face it, there's a big difference between 'I love cooking my family and my dog' and 'I love cooking, my family and my dog' (fingers crossed they meant the latter!)

As well as changing the meaning of a sentence, punctuation also helps to express ideas more clearly to the reader. When speaking aloud, we convey meaning not only through words, but volume, expression, and body language - contextual cues, which are replaced by punctuation in writing.

Want to sound more excitable? Add an exclamation mark. Want to engage your readers? Include question marks. Want to add emphasis? Use an ellipsis.

Understanding that punctuation can change the voice of a piece of writing is the key to students becoming better writers. Teach your students to play around with different types of punctuation in their work and students will hear the effect when it's read aloud.

Differentiate. Differentiate. Differentiate. It's no fun learning about the same topic if you keep doing the same types of activities. Get your students up and moving and remind them why good punctuation is so important. We all know that repetition helps memory, but teaching punctuation does not have to be a monotonous task. Ditch the worksheets and use fun, engaging tasks to reinforce punctuation rules.

Whether you choose to use art, drama, music or interactive group tasks, teaching the same topic in different ways will help to appeal to students' different learning styles and keep learning fun.

As an English teacher, I try to review punctuation on its own at least four times over the course. I do this through the use of interactive notebooks, worksheets, and mini-lessons.

For example, I give each student a copy of my Punctuation Flip Book (pictured below). This resource not only serves as a lesson in itself, as students write down the notes in their book, but also as a point of reference during any time of the year. If students are unsure about what type of punctuation mark to use, they can reference their flip book and look for suggestions. This resource also helps to save you, the teacher, from answering the same questions over and over again!

It's often said that you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Good punctuation is essential not only to students' success in daily writing practice, exams, etc., but also later in life. Whether applying for jobs, scholarships, work experience placements, or simply writing letters of introduction or resumes, students will be judged on their written English throughout their lives. Employers are likely to ignore applications or resumes that contain spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, so don't let a misplaced comma stop your students from achieving future success!

I don't know about you, but when a student uses a punctuation mark correctly (particularly a not-so-common mark), I am immediately impressed! In order to help challenge my students and help them make those great first impressions, we also review advanced punctuation marks (in addition to the basic ones).

What types of punctuation do I consider advanced?
  • Asterisk
  • Ampersand 
  • Colon
  • Curly brackets
  • Ellipsis
  • Round brackets
  • Square brackets
  • Hyphen
  • Semi-colon
  • Virgule
I created an Advanced Punctuation Interactive Notebook Lesson around this topic. You can test your students' knowledge on these punctuation marks and sample it for free HERE with this Advanced Punctuation Quiz.

Perhaps one of the most necessary reasons to review punctuation regularly is due in part to the fact that communication in today's society is fast and simple. Abbreviations and a total lack of punctuation are considered the norm; put a semi-colon in a Whatsapp or Facebook message and people are more likely to think you're winking at them than connecting two ideas!

Punctuation is actively discouraged in instant messages (apparently it's too scripted) and yet it is an important life skill. With the average teenager now spending nearly 5+ hours a day online, it has never been so important to teach basic writing skills in the classroom. Unless of course, U want UR students 2 write like this? Yeah, I think not!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have a great idea for teaching punctuation that's worked well in your classroom? Or a punctuation fail that you would like to share? Comment below!

Check out these ENGAGING punctuation resources:
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