In this series of posts, I am using examples which came from a 1:1 clinic for teachers at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy. I’d like to thank these teachers for their time and questions.  It is the perfect way to link strategies for students who have literacy difficulties with classroom practice.  As always, classroom teachers are the s/heroes of the education system; my role is to support you with strategies which don’t make your lives harder. I hope this first one on punctuation is helpful.

Age: Years 10/11
Subject: English
Challenge: How can I improve my students’ punctuation skills?

This is such as difficult one and something I have not found an easy answer.  The more I think about it however leads me to believe it’s about automaticity.  Students can often ‘do’ punctuation if thinking explicitly but when they are concentrating on the content of their writing, unless second nature it is lost.  There have been times when I tell learners to write without worrying about punctuation; this liberates those who struggle but I wonder if I’m doing them a disservice? Maybe it would be better to ask for punctuation enabling those with literacy difficulties such as dyslexia to use the spelling and grammar functions in Word.  By doing this I’m removing barriers yet enabling students with technology.

Another idea is to include a free plug-in called Grammarly.  I am a huge fan and use it for my emails and Word documents.  What’s interesting is the way it displays errors to the side of the document. By being explicit, I think this improves my work and builds on my knowledge.  Small things such as when I write 3pm, Grammarly will tell me to write 3 pm.  They are little things, but it makes me feel far more confident sending emails knowing they are likely to have fewer errors.  I’m learning all the time and grateful when it corrects my ‘me and I’ pronouns.  I do know how to differentiate between them, but I must think carefully, it is not automatic.

Which brings me to an analogy I have found to be useful for teachers: Seatbelts.  I am old enough to remember when it was legal to drive without wearing one.  The general feeling in families was that for long journeys they should be used for children but not for short journeys.  Such was the frustration, the highways department brought out an advert and phrase which most from my generation will recognise.  Clunk Click Every Trip.

While we all remember it and it may have nudged behaviour slightly, the impact was not good enough to prevent fatalities in road traffic accidents. Eventually, it became the law to wear them.  My transition into wearing seatbelts was interesting; I only wore them for long journeys, despite the clunk click marketing strategy and once the law came out, I obeyed it but I’d often forget and complain how uncomfortable seat belts were.  Fast forward twenty years and I don’t drive anywhere without a seatbelt and would never dream of letting my children.  It feels wrong and I feel bare without a seatbelt.

This is how punctuation should work.  My use of paragraphs, commas and full stops is automatic, and it would feel strange not using punctuation.  To continue with my analogy, punctuation should be made  law. In an unusual move by me, Ms Progressive, I may show zero-tolerance towards punctuation infringement.  To enable those learners with literacy difficulties however, technology could be the answer using Grammarly and in-built grammar checks.  My final suggestion might be to use Read Aloud in Word as a proof reading tool.  The more corrections and proof reading a student does, the skills are likely to reach automaticity.

 Other ideas
  • Use different colour pens for punctuation and paragraphing. This slows the student down and makes them think explicitly about when to change colour.
  • From @Sue_Cowley. If a child ‘forgets full stops’, form the sentences in their head first before writing them down. My experience is lack of full stops not about not knowing how to use them, but the way the writer is record their thinking lacks structure, so needs metacognition.
  • From @johnthepoet2010. Analyse jokes. Pauses/punctuation is critical in humour.  The penny quickly drops. All about the importance of momentary silences in effective communication.  It works. In music notation too. Importance of silence/spaces in music. Pfloyd obvious example.
  • From @hopkinsmmi. I like the jokes idea. For me the key link ‘to get’ is that between the written and the spoken. Speaking the sentences and hearing the pauses and the stops and why it makes a difference. Punctuation is sense making.
  • Also, from @hopkinsmmi. It’s a bit old but Victor Borge phonetic punctuation may be interesting. (need link –
  • Also, from @johnthepoet2010. Use plenty of oral/drama work. Demonstrate how punctuation can completely change tone and meaning.
  • From @DiLeed. Graphic organisers to establish blocks of meaning. Content/meaning first, always.  Then consideration of connections and pace desired (in relation to whole text).  Use substitution tables for sentence grammar and chunking but always in context of bigger text (e.g. paragraphs).
  • Also, from @DiLeed. Trick is to keep a double view between close ‘problem’ (no full stops) and text construction within which ‘problem’ occurs. Dictoglass good technique and cutting up and reforming. You need to ‘hear’ the sentences too.
  • Also, from @DiLeed. Avoid arbitrary assessment objectives. They can lead to use of punctuation marks as targets ahead of content and meaning.  @danielanthonyos has some lovely power grammar resources on sentences.
  • From @Wordsmiffy. Get them to read their work out loud. The first stage to flushing out and spotting rhythms and to ensure it scans properly. (if a child is still an emergent reader, this could be done using Read Aloud in Word as I mentioned above)
  • From @HeyMissPrice. A highlighter can work post writing and active punctuation where children ‘walk the talk’. I add in different physical movements for a full stop, comma etc. It’s good fun and they soon get the gist that something’s missing when they’re continuously walking without stopping!