English - Kung fu commas

4th November 2011 at 00:00
How creative visualisation can put punctuation in its place

Massed ranks of ninja warriors stand before me. Through narrowed eyes they watch my every move. Focused and unflinching, they prepare to do battle. In the stillness, you could hear a grain of rice germinate.

This is not a class for the faint hearted. Fortunately, I am not a faint- hearted teacher. So let battle commence.

I stretch out my arms and raise one knee to assume the stance of the predatory flamingo. With the precision timing of a well-oiled killing machine, every seven-year-old ninja adopts the exact same pose. With more than a hint of an oriental accent, I begin to speak. "Capital T. The fierce dragon . Aaii yah!" I aim a curved karate chop to fresh air. "Comma! Dressed in his scaly armour . Aaii yah!" I aim a second, viciously curved karate chop to fresh air. "Comma! Breathes his fiery breath upon the people . Aaii huh!" I deliver a shatteringly solid punch to an imaginary midriff. "Full stop."

The little ninjas mirror my every action and cry my every cry. Then, in true martial arts fashion, we place our hands together prayer style and bow in mutual respect. "Right, who wants to lead us in punctuating the next sentence?" I ask.

To deliver English lessons that pack a punch, why not try kung fu punctuation? It's so easy to get children - especially those reluctant boys who have no idea how dire the consequences of one misplaced comma in a description of the eating habits of the giant panda might be - to understand the purpose of punctuation, and to begin to use it effectively.

Indeed, the system of marks and squiggles that writers use to organise and structure what they have to say has never been more child friendly than when it comes in the form of a deadly martial art complete with killer moves and explosive grunts.

Put simply, it works by linking each punctuation mark to a related karate- style move. For example, in my class we use the predatory flamingo stance to indicate a capital letter; the furious dragon (a low punch) to indicate a full stop; and the tiger's claw (a waist-high curved karate chop) to indicate a comma. Giving each move a kung fu-style name is optional but certainly makes for a fun literacy lesson.

When all the punctuation marks, as they are hierarchically arranged in our VCOP punctuation pyramid, have been assigned moves in accordance with their shape, it's time to learn to use them. Getting children to put the correct punctuation in the correct place is the challenging bit, so at this point it's useful to remind them that, in Chinese, the term kung fu can refer to any skill learnt through hard work and dedication.

Once the basics have been mastered, it's time to wage war against the dark forces of written ambiguity and disorganisation. So write that first unmarked sentence on the board and . Aaii yah! Let's start punctuating.

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield



Try kung fu punctuation for yourself with worktop04's PowerPoint - it will help you get started.

See how your pupils are mastering their writing skills with sub-levelled writing targets for children, shared by Caroline.a.moore

In the forums

Capital letters and full stops - teachers share their thoughts on the best ways to explain them.

See www.tes.co.ukresources008 for all this week's resources.


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