I am sooo into writing. I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe it at times. Oh, and I get to teach it, too, which is a nice bonus! We recently finished our first writing cycle on the writing process, and so as the 2nd quarter began, I was ready to start something new with my kiddos.
What was it, you ask? A punctuation study, of course!
What? Punctuation? Isn’t that something you dread? Isn’t that just something you have to go back and fix at the end when you’re editing? Isn’t punctuation a bad word?
Absolutely not. And unfortunately, this is something I have to teach my students. Because unfortunately, many well-intentioned people have taught them–as I thought for a long, long time–punctuation (along with grammar and spelling and capitalization) are just things you have to learn about because your teacher tells you you have to put them in your writing. It’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
I want my students to think about punctuation as another tool in their toolbox as a writer. Just like they use word choice, voice, and organization to set the mood and enhance their message, they can use punctuation to further their message, as well.
That’s where the punctuation study comes in.
For the last two weeks, we have been immersed in the world of commas and colons, parentheses and dashes. We’re learning that writers use punctuation for a reason. They think about it while they’re writing, not after they’ve finished writing. By digging into the text of writers we love (Jerry Spinelli, Cythina Rylant, Eve Bunting, Patricia Polacco, Kevin Henkes, Tomie dePaola, to name a few), writers have worked to figure out the “why” behind many of the punctuation marks they use every day. Rather than me just telling them what it’s for and when to use it, they’ve begun to discover on their own why a writer would use it in a certain situation. We’ve had several really “meaty” conversations about the ins and outs of punctuation lately. My favorites have been about what the “dot-dot-dot” is called (it’s called an ‘ellipsis’, by the way); whether or not the long line (–) and the short line (-) are the same thing and if you use them the same way (one is a dash and the other is a hyphen, if you’re wondering); and how you can use commas, parentheses and dashes in similar ways based on the formality of your writing. I had a moment the other day when I literally had butterflies in my stomach as they were talking to each other as real writers. They built on the knowledge of some to create a shared knowledge of how punctuation can shape your words into a more powerful piece of writing. How it matters what you use and don’t use. That you can actually choose. That you’re supposed to think about it….
I wish I had thought to take a picture of the amazing class chart we’ve created to capture all of this smart thinking. I will have to come back and add it soon, as it will BLOW YOUR MIND! The best part is that it is going to be a living, breathing part of our room, as we visit and revisit it throughout the rest of the year. We’ll use it for clarification, for reminders and for inspiration to try something new. We’ll come back many times to add to it, too, as we learn new punctuation marks that maybe we missed this time around. Each student will have a smaller version of it in their Writer’s Notebook, as well, to refer to as a resource in their own writing.
Today we went back to old entries in our writing to rethink the punctuation. The kiddos were helpful to me as they worked on an old entry from my notebook, adding commas and dashes and colons to make the story stronger. Then everyone chose their own old entry to rework. That amazing thinking starts tomorrow!
(Oh, and just for full disclosure, the ideas for this study can from two much smarter people than me: Janet Angelillo in her book A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation and Dan Feigelson’s Practical Punctuation. I’m just the one figuring out how to implement it with my students.)