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Punctuation Through Poetry

Justice quote

While I am quite certain my 7th graders have been introduced to and worked with punctuation marks of all kinds, they don’t seem to have mastered them. This fact started me on a quest for grammar activities which would help my students take ownership of their punctuation choices, while stoking the fires of interest and creativity. What better way than through poetry?

Justice – “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” I definitely want my students to use punctuation for the the purpose it was meant for, and I found a fabulous book of poems that creatively introduces readers to punctuation marks and how they can bring words to life. This is one of my favorites.

Semicolon
Betty Franco

We’re called semicolons.
Our job is to link.
On the pages we’re quite friendly;
We look like a wink.

We help different clauses
that need to unite
by linking them up
to deliver more bite.

We’re like couplers for train cars
lined up on a track;
we keep sentences chugging,
cutting all the slack.

First, we read the poem and notice the punctuation marks and what their purpose is in the writing. After linking this discussion to the work we have already done around the topic, students write their own poems using this as a mentor text. They enjoy writing the poems, and they get practice with the semicolon without feeling like they are being forced…a win – win.

Mercy – “compassion or forgiveness.” Although punctuation is very important to a writer and is essential to conveying a writer’s purpose and meaning, it isn’t set in stone when it comes to poetry.

I love to have my students write poetry so that they have an opportunity to use punctuation in non-conventional ways to express meaning. That is where the mercy comes in. Students have a difficult time “playing” with punctuation and trying things besides the “safe” option when writing poems. They often question their use or non-use of punctuation in poems and want my “blessing” that they are doing it “right.”

It is my hope that my students leave me as writers who know how to follow the “rules” as well as when it is appropriate to break them. Do you have some favorite ways you use poetry in your classroom? Please share in the comments below.

Rita DiCarne teaches 7th grade ELA at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Montgomery County and is a PAWLP Writing Fellow. You can read her personal blog at ritadicarne.com.

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