Grammar and punctuation always seem to get a bad rap in school by students. Those lessons tend to be less than interesting, comprised mainly of drill learning. If your school is anything like mine, we tend to have few resources for teaching these skills, and the kids believe they already know everything there is to know about the almighty period and question mark. What else could there possibly be to learn?
A couple of years ago I was introduced to National Punctuation Day. September 24 is the national day of recognition for these commonly used, but often ignored conventions. With cute songs, fun literature, and a Talents Unlimited project, we take one week and make these seemingly dull sentence necessities into the stars of the school.
To start, each grade level is assigned a punctuation mark to focus on. The lower grades take periods while older classes are assigned colons and apostrophes. Each class gets a set of die-cut punctuation marks to create a “My punctuation mark became . . . ” Talents display. Throughout the school, students learn "The Punctuation Rap," written by the National Punctuation Day duo, Jeff and Norma Rubin. Each day the song is played over the intercom for everyone to practice, and grammar activities center on the punctuation assigned to that grade. On the official day, a video of classes rapping is shown throughout the school and all the Talents illustrations grace the hallways.
Books dealing with punctuation are a great way to bring concepts to life and spice up a lackluster grammar lesson. Here are a few of my favorites with some ideas for using them in your classroom whether you are celebrating National Punctuation Day next week or just want to add a little variety to language arts.
Lynn Rowe Reed is really one of my favorite authors. This book has jet-setting punctuation marks gallivanting around the world and sending postcards back to the class. My kids always have a great time, even in the upper grades, figuring out which punctuation mark is responsible for each postcard. I thought I was brilliant when I had the idea for kids to write their own punctuation postcards, but apparently I wasn’t the only one. This online lesson plan details the process.
No punctuation discussion is complete without Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which is a hilarious look at exactly why punctuation is so very important. I’ve used this book with the 3rd-grade class that the reading level suggests, but the concepts lend themselves to a much older crowd as well. Once your kids laugh their way through the book, have them play the online Comma IQ game or try writing their own comedic cartoons with incorrect punctuation. If you enjoy the original, try Truss's latest books, The Girl’s Like Spaghetti and Twenty-Odd Ducks.
Alfie is my hero. My students couldn’t remember the name for an apostrophe until we read about Alfie being mistaken for a comma. I’m a sucker for artwork, and each illustration has hidden punctuation. This is a great jumping off point for an art project, but it also shows how punctuation can be used in many ways. Students can create posters highlighting their punctuation mark’s particular talent.
Let the celebration begin! What a great title for a National Punctuation Day gala event. These poems are great for younger ages to listen to and choral read. Step it up a notch for the upper grades by having them write their own poems about punctuation. Taking a more musical route, have students rewrite lyrics to popular songs (they are all just poems, right?) using punctuation-themed wording.
OK, eventually you will have to break down and do some paper and pencil practice. The only way we become better writers is to write, after all! I am always looking for ways to supplement the turn-of-the-century grammar books relegated to the bottom of the refunding list. Behold! A book with hilarious fractured fairy tales to improve students' proofreading of punctuation, grammar, spelling, and capitalization. You could even give your day a fairy tale theme with poems, posters, and talents illustrations all featuring Grimm’s best.
What kinds of punctuation activities do you use throughout the year? What grammar stylings are you bringing to the classroom? My kids and I struggle through grammar most of the year, and I’d love to hear how you are adding interest. National Punctuation Day has gotten us off on the right foot. I hope we can carry that excitement through the year!