Punctuation Study–First Grade Version

If you’ve been around here for a while, you have read about the punctuation studies I have done in 4th and 5th grades.   And if you’ve read much this year on this blog, then you know that one of my goals (or hopes at least!) for this year was to bring some of the things I did in 5th grade with me and try them in a first grade version.  So far, these kiddos are ROCKING it, and really impressing me with how quickly they catch on and then run with things I show them.  The punctuation study was another protocol that I brought with me and another one that they took and ran with!  Let me tell you more. 🙂

As with other classes, we started with a conversation about how punctuation carries MEANING, and is not just a bunch of rules that you follow (as a reader or writer) because someone tells you to.  This was pretty easy for them to start thinking about because they could tell you what the meaning of a period, question mark and exclamation marks are already.  Then, as with other years, their job was to find as many other punctuation marks as they could and figure out what they mean.  So with a partner and a pile of books, kiddos went to work investigating the work of other authors.  They filled in a chart together where they recorded the mark, an example and their thoughts about what it means for a writer to use it (and a reader to read it!).

After a day or two of gathering info and doing some thinking, we started recording our findings together on a class chart:


Our chart started like this when it was empty, similar to the sheets they filled out with their partners.

Now, what happened after that was super cool.  No really–check out what the first part of our chart looked like when they started putting their smart first grade punctuation thinking on it:

I was a little surprised that they didn't start with periods.  Instead, they started to tell me about what they knew about exclamation points.

I was a little surprised that they didn’t start with periods. Instead, they started to tell me about what they knew about exclamation points.  But then look, instead of just finding one way to use an exclamation point (like 5th graders usually do), these super smart writers found 5 WAYS to use one. AMAZING!

We kept going, adding quotation marks, an ellipsis (which is always a fun one to learn the name for!) and parentheses (I mean come on–are these really first graders??).


Eventually we did get to talking about periods, but even with that one they were able to find 3 different meanings, including how sometimes people use them exaggerate how a. maz. ing. something is! 🙂  Then they blew my mind again and added a hashtag (do you sense a theme here?).  Now I don’t know if it’s just because we’d been talking about Twitter lately, or what the reason was, but my “big” kids never put a hashtag on their charts.  First graders love it when you tell them that, too, by the way. 🙂

CAM01487We had a little big of paper left (although I have a whole new blank one waiting for us to fill up!) and so we started talking about “that little mark that is a line.”  Now, what I knew (but they didn’t yet) is that they could have been either talking about a hyphen or a dash, and that those are actually not little marks at all.  So we did some more work to dig into the meaning.  We started with a hyphen (although at that point they still didn’t have a name for what the mark was).

Since we had just gotten our iPads, instead of writing down our examples, we got to work collecting some examples simply using the camera app.  Their directions were to look JUST for that little mark and to take a picture of any examples they find.  Then we would reflect those pictures on our ActivBoard to discuss together what they are used for.   What we quickly found were many examples of how hyphens are word-connectors.  They can be used to put two usually unrelated words together to make new words that describe other things (like full-fledged, top-rate and ex-princesses) or to break up a word when you don’t have enough space to finish the word on the line you’re writing.  They also found this part being used in a dedication page, as well as when I was making a list of our hyphenated words (and I did this without even knowing it–they were definitely paying attention!).   We aren’t even done yet, but our chart is filled up and now looks like this (SUPER sorry for the hard-to-read, end-of-the-day photo):
CAM01602The best part of this study is that our minds are now always thinking about (and noticing) who writers are using punctuation.  We even found it on our friends’ clothes!!

CAM01547  CAM01491

And just as I sat down to write this blog post, I got an email from Charlie’s mom about how he had found a hyphen in the book he was reading.


Can you spot the hyphen? Do you see the dash, too? 🙂

Apparently he stopped in his tracks, made her take a picture and said, “I’m supposed to send this to my teacher!”  I. Love. This.  I mean, what more could I ask for?   Great job, Rm. 202 kiddos!   I’m impressed. 🙂

UPDATE!!:  We added more today…they are tickled that they have so many ways to use a comma, AND that they put a caret (which is yet another thing that 5th graders haven’t mentioned before but 1st graders did!)


Are You Smarter Than a 2nd Grader?

I know, you expected to see a different grade up there.  But in this case, it’s the 2nd grade that my 5th graders can learn from.


I’ve been meaning to share this picture for a couple of months now, because it’s such a great reminder of how to use punctuation correctly.


This poster hangs outside Mrs. Driscoll’s second grade class. I know Mrs. Dix has a similar one that’s called “No More Weird Capitals!”

We walk by this everyday on our way back from our specials and lunch, and I keep thinking we need one in our classroom, too.  I know that kiddos learn these things early on, but have such a hard time remembering to show that in their writing!!

So maybe I need to ask my 5th graders that question when they are editing, did you show that you’re smarter than a 2nd grader? 🙂

Dot, Dash, Slash, Comma (And All That Other Stuff, Too…)

We have been on a journey these last few weeks.  It’s a journey many of my students have never been on before.  And it’s related to these piles of books:

Can you see it?  All the punctuation goodness on that table?  No?  Well my kiddos can now.   Let me tell you about it. 🙂

Punctuation is a funny thing.  No?  You never thought of it that way?  Well, it’s one of those things that has gotten a bad wrap for a long time, and without good cause–in my opinion.  Many people (including most kids!) think of punctuation as a bad word.  It’s just a you-have-to-go-back-and-add-it-in-the-right-place-at-the-end-because-your-teacher-told-you-too kind of a thing.  Not a this-really-matters-and-helps-me-as-a-writer kind of thing.  And that’s too bad.  Punctuation is a powerful tool for a writer, and I want my kiddos to know that.  But it’s only a powerful tool if you know how to use it, and most of my kids don’t.  At least not yet.  With this goal, we started 2nd quarter Writer’s Workshop.

After spending a bit of time on what they already knew (or thought they knew) about punctuation, I asked them to tell me if they’d ever thought about what it meant.  Most said no.  Some even groaned a little bit at the beginning of this conversation when I said the word.  It was obvious that they’d never had a positive experience with this topic, and that made me a little sad.    As a means to hook them in, and get them to understand my goal for this study, we visited a section of a book we have read together and all love: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea.  I found a place in the book I knew we could all chew on together; the paragraph right before the big action in the book was a great place to dig in.  I asked them to talk to a partner next to them about why the highlighted sentence was written the way it was, and how it would be different if it had been written without the given punctuation.  We discovered that the punctuation (which was mainly a series of commas) was there to force us as the readers to slow down.  The part just before was fast-paced, crazy and choatic; the commas made us slow down and pay attention to what was happening next.  And what happened next was the climax of the story–without it, the rest of the book wouldn’t have happened.

So remember that pile up there?  After we set the table, and got them feeling a little more love for this idea of punctuation, I put them into study groups.  They had one goal (ok, I guess it was really two): find examples of punctuation in the texts they were given, and figure out what it means when authors use it.  They had a chart to fill out with their partners and a big chunk of time to search.

After the groups had a couple of days to study (yep, you heard right–they worked diligently on this treasure hunt for 2 days!), we gathered to collect our thinking on a big class chart.  They took turned sharing the marks they found and telling the rest of us what they thought it meant. For some this was hard thinking, since they hadn’t done it before.  By the end of the first day we had this:

Ok, that’s not exactly true.  We had all but the hyphen part, but hey–good stuff, right?  They were amazed that they had figured all this out, and that they did it all without me telling them what it was.

The second day we added some thinking about hyphens:

I wish I would have recorded this conversation, because it was so great!  It started with the discovery that a hyphen (-) and a dash (–) are actually two completely different punctuation marks, which mean (and are used in) completely different ways! (Did you know that?) This totally blew some kiddos’ minds and so we had to dig in a little deeper to figure out what each meant.  And hyphens were first.  The first two meanings were hard to explain, but once we started to find examples in the texts we were reading that fit each one, it became more clear.

Since then, we’ve come back every day to add a little more smart thinking.  So far (and we’re only a little past halfway done), we have another whole chart the size of this one, plus we’ve started a third.  The things they are discovering are amazing.  The most amazing–and meaningful–part is that they’re doing it all for themselves.  I’m not pouring the information into their heads, or having them spend time correcting sentences in an isolated exercise for morning work; we’re learning together and really focusing in on what these marks mean.  They’re beginning to care, and they’re beginning to notice these marks more and more–in their reading and now in their own writing!  They are aiming to use them in new ways, and can even tell you how a paragraph is punctuated as I read it aloud to them.  Often I’ll stop after we’ve read something in our chapter book and ask “What do you think that looks like?” and they can tell me exactly what kind of punctuation is there!

Teaching about punctuation is not hard.  But it is time-consuming, and it does require me to know more than I may have first considered about the topic, as well.  But the time that is definitely well spent.  These friends are walking away from each conversation we have with a new understanding of how to they can use punctuation just like word choice, organization, paragraphing, and voice to create a more meaningful experience for the reader.   Pretty cool, right? 🙂

Now the first section hangs on our windows, where it will be there for us to use for the rest of the year!  The goal (and I think they will make it!) is to make their punctuation chart “6 windows” long.  So far we’re at 4 or 5, and still going!  SO MUCH LEARNING!!

What are your feelings about punctuation?  How did you learn about it when you were in school?  How do you teach punctuation in your class?  If you’re a parent, what are you noticing (or hearing) about punctuation with  your student?  Please comment and let us know what you’re thinking! 🙂

Window Dressing

We moved our “We’re Connected with the World Map“, remember? Well, in order to have space to do that, we had to move the class chart we had made during our punctuation study.  Our class had the great idea of using our blinds to hand the chart, so we could see it more easily and refer to it during our conversations on the carpet.  That is, indeed, the whole point of the chart anyway, but where I had decided to hang it did not facilitate that happening.  Again–my kids had a great idea that I wish I had done in the first place!  So now our smart thinking about punctuation hangs above our heads while we work and think together in our meeting space–right where it should be!

Punctuation is not a 4-letter-word!

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.)