Punctuation and Capitalization: Impact of Memory, Language and Attention

Writing has a multitude of mechanical rules. For example, there are rules for when to use periods, question marks or exclamation marks and rules for when to use commas, semi-colons or colons. For many students, it can be difficult to remember and apply all of these rules-especially while they are writing. It is much easier to emphasize a word or pause at just the right time while we are speaking in order to make the listener understand we are making a statement, asking a question, or emphasizing a point. It is much harder to do this while writing and can take a lot of instruction, practice, and feedback in order to do it well.

Here are some strategies to develop and strengthen students' punctuation and capitalization skills.

Helpful Hints – Punctuation

  • Have students perform tasks that involve using a certain punctuation so that they may successfully use it. Let the students perform tasks that require them to correct misuses of punctuation.  
  • Post a list of the punctuation rules on the wall of the classroom. Some students may prefer to make their own list of these rules to keep at their desk to refer to while they are writing or revising their work.  
  • Let the students practice using punctuation whether in writing or using computer software. Play games that enable the students to use punctuation correctly.  
  • Copy pages from students' favorite books, magazines, or newspapers. Circle or highlight the punctuation used on the page. Have students discuss why the author used each type of punctuation.  
  • Provide students with a list or paragraph of completed sentences. Have students fill in which type of punctuations could be used. Sentences from books, magazines, or even comic strips can be used.  
  • When giving instructions or modeling the different punctuation rules, have students practice one new rule at a time. As students develop mastery of that rule, have students use multiple punctuation marks during one lesson.  
  • Show students how punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence. Model an example by writing one sentence on the board three times-once with a question mark, once with an explanation point, once with a period. Discuss how it changes the meaning of the sentence. For example, "You took my new book‘" "You took my new book!" and "You took my new book." Have students read the sentences aloud to demonstrate how the punctuation can even influence what word is emphasized and how the right punctuation can help the reader know what the writer is trying to say.

Helpful Hints – Capitalization

  • Make sure child knows how to write all capital letters. Let students perform tasks that will allow them to identify why letters are capitalized and that will enable them to use capital letters successfully. Let students correct any misuses of capitalization. Provide several opportunities for students to practice whether in writing or using computer software.  
  • Have students practice using capital and lowercase letters correctly and work on letter formation. Students might enjoy practicing with different writing implements (i.e., ballpoint pens, felt tip pens, markers, unusual pencils, mechanical pencils, etc.).  
  • Let the students perform tasks that require them to correct misuses of capitalization. For example, copy pages from students' favorite books, magazines, or newspapers. Circle or highlight the capitalization used on the page. Have students discuss what capitalization rules the author followed.  
  • Provide students with a list or paragraph of completed sentences with no capital letters. Have students correct which letters should be capitalized. Sentences from books, magazines, or even comic strips can be used.