Punctuation Mini-Lesson As Students Draft Essays

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SWBAT understand the functions of punctuation by learning seldomly used marks and examining the way a master, Tim O’Brien, uses punctuation.

Big Idea

What better time to teach punctuation marks than when students are about to embark on a large writing assignment?


Students have started drafting an essay in which they are to respond to an article written by Tom Carhart, a Vietnam War Veteran who expressed strong opposition when the current Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall design was selected among hundreds of design proposals. In their essay, students are to either support or challenge Carhart’s argument, explain their position and support it with evidence. In past lessons we have worked on several aspects of a writing task like this one and I have provided multiple resources to help them through the process. For this essay, I also want to help them gain better control of language. Today, I give them a mini lesson on punctuation. Tomorrow, I will give them a mini lesson on syntax. 

Checking In

8 minutes

I open class by stating, “We are beginning with a confession.” This immediately grabs their attention, as intended. I ask them, “What is the last chapter you finished?” Students have been reading the last few chapters of The Things They Carried mainly for homework. I whip around the room and ask each student one at a time. I mark their response on my grade book although their current response will have no implication on their grade. Of course, I don’t tell them this. I do this to maintain the expectation that they should be keeping up with the reading. This has been a relatively easy novel for my students and they are handling it. 

Mini Lesson On Punctuation

8 minutes

I use this chart to briefly review the variety of punctuation marks I want students to use and, in this video, I explain how I introduce students to these punctuation marks. Students are going to immediately apply this information in the following activity and I hope they also apply it in their writing later this period and in future assignments.



20 minutes

To apply what I just introduced them to in the mini lesson, I distribute this copy of a section in O'Brien's novel, which is missing punctuation marks. Students immediately recognize that it comes from The Things They Carried so I let them know they are not allowed to have their book open for this activity. The activity is for students to punctuate this excerpt the way they believe makes the best sense. This will be compared to O’Brien’s actual punctuation later this period. I ask students to pair up and punctuate. This activity leads to the type of discussion I would love to see when students edit their written work, such as this exchange between two students. It takes a while for students to punctuate the entire thing. I stop them after about 10 minutes. They need more time to finish this, but it is not necessary. What they did today gets the point across. 

I ask students to share the first sentence. This is one version shared. One happy note is that they actually used the colon and not just periods and commas.  Some students share their first sentence and it is poorly punctuated in that it either creates a fragment or a run on. I don’t point that out because the rest of the students are able to recognize this and point it out. Again, this activity gives us an opportunity to talk about punctuation and how it communicates what the author wants to communicate. 

I tell students to think of punctuation as they move on to drafting the rest of their essay. I encourage them to use other punctuation marks besides periods and commas, and to be aware of how punctuation marks can help you convey your ideas.

Writing In Silence

10 minutes

I give students the last part of class to continue drafting their essay.