Student Writing English Teachers 2022-10-02 00:00

9 Engaging Ways to Teach Punctuation


Chances are, teaching punctuation isn’t the highlight of your week. It feels difficult and boring. There are lots of rules to teach and mistakes to correct.

Despite your clear teaching, students struggle to apply the rules to their own work, getting too hooked up in the content to worry about little things like capital letters and commas. After all, they understand what they’ve written.

Students need basic punctuation. It’s an essential part of becoming a writer. Without it, they struggle to express ideas and be understood. It can even cost crucial marks in exams. So how can you make teaching punctuation a fun learning experience? We’ve got nine great ideas to use in your classroom.

  1. 1: Make It Meaningful
  2. 2: Have Fun
  3. 3: Make Mistakes
  4. 4: Peer Editing
  5. 5: Use Flipped Learning
  6. 6: Use Active Learning
  7. 7: Create Effective Classroom Displays
  8. 8: Personify Punctuation Marks
  9. 9: Don’t Overwhelm Students: Use Spaced Learning
  10. In Summary

1: Make It Meaningful

Students enjoy work with a purpose and outcome rather than endless practising. Have fun and be creative. They can make displays, create presentations, or even design the writing policy to go home to parents.

Asking them to explain a rule means they have to understand it themselves. Give them a younger student to teach. Encourage them to add examples to show how to use punctuation.

2: Have Fun

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Students enjoy learning when it’s fun. Using games and activities is an engaging way to teach them the rules they need.

You don’t need to create new games yourself. Check out Pinterest or follow popular hashtags on social media to discover great ideas. There’s endless inspiration online. Make a bank of resources for each punctuation mark and encourage other teachers to collaborate with you.

3: Make Mistakes

Students love correcting teachers! Add in punctuation mistakes and see who spots them. Make finding errors a game.

Have you seen the funny meme about the importance of an Oxford comma? Add in mistakes for comedy effect to change the meaning of your sentences. Show your students the hilarious consequences of poor punctuation.

4: Peer Editing

Correcting punctuation is part of the essential proofreading and editing process. Students can swap writing, use a modelled example text, or even look at a former student’s work. Create a class marking code for punctuation errors that staff and students will stick to.

Make editing different from writing to give it interest and variety. Use coloured highlighters and pens. Get students writing on post-it notes, or even video record their feedback. Older students will enjoy using a checker like ProWritingAid to help them learn more about punctuation errors.

comma splice suggestion in prowritingaid

Students will see a suggestion message with the correct punctuation, as well as an orange "i" icon that they can click to reveal more detailed information.

5: Use Flipped Learning

Your students will love taking control of your classroom to teach the rest of the class. They can work in groups or individually to make presentations. Give them the essential content they need to include and let them unleash their creativity!

Use flipped learning by setting students research to do at home. They come to class ready to teach everyone what they’ve found out. It’s a great homework project and you can share them on your school website and social media accounts.

Children reading coloured books

6: Use Active Learning

Get your class up and actively engaged. Embrace drama and role play and use hand signals for punctuation marks. Students could karate chop an overlong sentence to insert a full stop or jump up to show where a comma should separate a clause.

Think of activities that get them moving around the room and handling equipment to keep them active and having fun. Try hiding the punctuation and asking students to draw which mark is missing. They could write them on mini-whiteboards as a great "show me" activity.

7: Create Effective Classroom Displays

Use your classroom walls to create resources to teach punctuation. Instead of printing something out, ask your students to help make them. Just remember to proofread before you put them on the walls.

Avoid overcrowding your room with lots of displays. It just becomes background wallpaper that your students will ignore. Make displays short term, interactive, and keep them relevant to the current learning.

Remember, there’s plenty of room outside of your classroom too. Hang posters and signs around the school corridors and even laminate posters to stick on the back of toilet doors. It’s great to take learning outside of standard lesson time.

8: Personify Punctuation Marks

Make punctuation memorable by turning them into a series of characters rather than an abstract concept. Superheroes make great punctuation! Students can decide which one needs sending in to "rescue" a sentence.

Create profiles for punctuation characters and draw what they look like. A colon could become fussy Inspector Colon, who demands that everything be lined up into a list. Semi-colon could be a best friend who likes holding hands. Just make sure the punctuation mark is clearly visible.

9: Don’t Overwhelm Students: Use Spaced Learning

Whilst there are only a small amount of punctuation marks to teach, learning how to use them is complex and intrinsically linked to teaching grammar.

Systematically introduce each mark alongside the related grammar rules. Check your curriculum expectations to see what you should teach to different year groups. Remember they’ll need plenty of spaced practice to secure them. Embed punctuation into lessons rather than only teaching it discretely.

There’s lots of terminology to get to grips with. Practise saying words with lots of repetition over time. Make punctuation vocabulary visual and add them to your displays. Encourage your class to "speak like a student" and use correct vocabulary. They’ll soon remember unfamiliar words if they’re praised and rewarded for doing so.

When your learners use the wrong word, rephrase it back to them so they can hear the vocabulary in context.

For example:

  • Sally: It needs a double-dot because it’s a shopping list.
  • Teacher: Great idea, Sally. You’re right, it needs a colon because it’s a list.

In Summary

Punctuation is a tough part of learning to write in English. There are many rules to follow.

Inaccuracies make work harder to read and understand. Getting it right takes systematic planning over time and embedding within lessons.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be dull. Being creative helps you make learning fun. Your students will remember more over time and look forward to your lessons. It’s a win for everyone.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.