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English - Punctuation is alive

Make each mark a character so that children never forget them

Make each mark a character so that children never forget them

How do you teach punctuation in a clear, memorable and enjoyable way? One way is to turn each punctuation mark into a character. Each has a unique job and personality.

A sentence is like a teacher leading a class. The capital letter is the teacher. The full stop is the last pupil at the back. This pupil shuts the door after the class - as a full stop ends a sentence.

What might happen if the class had no teacher and the door was left open? The class could fall into a swamp and the last pupil might be eaten by a dragon. Whenever pupils forget capital letters or full stops, remind them of these dire consequences.

Commas can be explained as pauses when the class walks along. Demonstrate this by reading a sentence aloud while walking around the classroom; pause on one leg when you reach a comma. Pupils can do this, too, to see how commas helpfully divide up sentences.

Now give the class two sentences. Ask pupils to imagine that one sentence is in the classroom and the other is in the corridor. The door is the punctuation mark between the two. Which punctuation mark shall we use?

A comma must not be chosen. It is not strong enough to keep the two sentences apart. It will be worried and miserable in that role. You could have a full stop. If you want something less final, though, use a semicolon. This punctuation mark is very wise; it likes to see two sides of a story. The semicolon loves the job of holding the door ajar between two sentences.

The colon is fun: it is a little herald, proudly announcing the next part of the sentence. The two dots that form the colon can be remembered as the "Toot! Toot!" of the herald's trumpet. Pupils can draw a red line after the colon, like a red carpet for the royal procession of words to step on to.

The apostrophe is a spy who knows everyone's business. It knows who owns what, as in this sentence: "Sam's dragon is lazy." It knows when a letter is missing: "Dragons aren't stupid."

For plurals, explain that the apostrophe is a coward. It knows that there is more than one dragon in this sentence: "Dragons' vomit is weird." The cowardly apostrophe hides behind the "s" to avoid all those vomiting dragons.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa

What else?

Try CatherinePaver's worksheets using cartoon people and dragons to explain the job of each punctuation mark.

Or decorate your walls with stephrenn's clear and colourful punctuation poster.

tintin_magley's hobbit punctuation activity is packed with intriguing riddles.

In the forums

Is young fiction too boy-centred? A trainee teacher wants to know how you think girls react to books with male protagonists.

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