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Periods. From the Writer’s Point of View

by Elizabeth Hale

Ever since I can remember, teachers have lamented about their students’ use of periods, or rather, the lack thereof, especially teachers beyond the primary grades.  After all, their students have been hearing about using periods for almost half their life! These teachers certainly talked about periods and taught lessons about them, but the reminders of “Don’t forget to end your sentences with periods!” just never seemed to stick.

One reason is that we were all giving the same advice we got in elementary school of why we should use periods: “The reader needs to know when to stop and take a breath.” But this advice is from the reader’s perspective, not the writer’s. And the truth is, unless someone is reading writing out loud, “the reader” doesn’t need to take a breath! When I put myself in the shoes of a fourth or fifth grader, I saw this generations old advice was just not that convincing.

So how do periods benefit the writer?  Once I slowed down the thought process of constructing a sentence—raising my pencil or finger on a keyboard to make a little dot—it came to me:  periods help writers take a pause before writing their next sentence.  This pause is a gift because it can be a vehicle for attending to the writerly advice teachers give all the time, “Don’t forget to add details and description!”  With Memoir, students already have rich details of sound, color, shape, and texture in their minds: it’s just a matter of taking the time to pause and “see” them again in their mind so they can put them in their writing. So rather than just remind students to add details, we can show them the thought process, guided by those periods, of bringing details into writing.

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