How many of you have encountered children who struggle to place a full stop in their writing? No matter how hard you try to explain where it goes, some children still find it difficult to place it correctly or even place it at all in their writing.
Might it be that our instructions don’t quite make sense to our pupils? Could it be that all this time we’ve been saying the wrong thing? After all, as teachers or parents we know what we know from what we’ve been taught from our teachers. How many of us have actually looked beyond that and even questioned what was said to us as pupils?
This post hopes to bust some myths with regards to punctuation, especially the full stop or as Americans say, the period. I was intrigued by Phil Beadle’s book ‘How to Teach Literacy’, it’s a wonderful book for those of you with a somewhat ‘British’ sense of humour, who want to continue their professional development. He makes great points using spicy examples that might be regarded as quite inappropriate by some, but makes it all the more fun to read as adults.
Phil, uses the incredible analogy of writing being just like music. The two fundamental elements of making music as opposed to just words and speech are rhythm and melody, where the rhythm in writing is created by the punctuation and sentence length used.
He goes on to talk about the full stop being a piece of musical notation where the reader will pause when reading what is written. In this analogy one can easily see why the Americans refer to it as a period, for a period is a defined length in time and when used in writing it informs the reader to pause for a short period of time. I had never really thought of it as a piece of musical notation before but I see now how it makes complete sense.
How many of you have taught: “Put the full stop where the sentence ends,” or “Put a full stop where you want to take a breath.” I’ll be the first to own up!
You see, Beadle’s point is that this is quite unclear for children to understand. How are they supposed to know where the correct point for taking a breath is? What if they want to take a breath elsewhere? What if they have just come back from P.E. and they are out of breath? That’s right, confusion kicks in and that is when you as a teacher see a lot of inventive punctuation taking place – you can’t blame them though really.
For a sentence to make sense it must have a verb in it. That is a concrete rule that children can use (once they know what a verb is). They need to put a full stop to show that it ends and a new one starts. This is a clear instruction that pupils of a young age can follow.
On its own however, it’s not enough it needs to be further explained:
The verb (the doing word) generally has a subject (who or which does it):
Daisy (subject) ate (verb).
Often there will be a an object that the verb is being done to:
Daisy (subject) ate (verb) a prawn (object).
He suggests a fun activity with a PowerPoint slide that breaks up simple sentences into the categories: subject, verb phrase and object. Then, recommends you introduce the task with the following script:
“You are going to get the next answer wrong. I repeat: you are going to get the next answer wrong. The answer to the next question is either ‘subject’, ‘verb phrase’ or ‘object’.
This looks like such a great game for children to start to see the relationship between the words that combine to make a sentence for them to place a full stop/period after.
Have you tried this game? Let me know in the comments below how it went.
I will be trying it with my new kiddos this year!
Till next time…