7 tips for teaching punctuation

By Dylan Davies

21 Nov 2022

Students sat around a table learning.

The UK National Curriculum states that “explicit knowledge of grammar is […] very important, as it gives us more conscious control and choice in our language”.

When explicitly teaching literacy skills, teachers aim to equip learners with the words, skills and tools they need to thrive not just throughout their academic careers but throughout their whole lives.

Literacy is the language of learning. It allows us to understand, write, read and communicate with one another. The foundation of this communication is built upon grammar - by ensuring that foundation is sturdy, you set learners up to thrive in other areas of literacy.

But how can you make sure your grammar curriculum is effective?

1. Don’t say that punctuation is “when you take a breath”!

Describing punctuation as “spaces where you take a breath” was once one of the most common explanations for punctuation such as full stops and commas, but is it setting your learners up for success?

While it may seem like a simple, age-appropriate explanation, it leads to learners placing commas and full stops where they would normally take a breath in a sentence, not where it is grammatically correct.

In actual fact, there are strict rules about where we can “take a breath”, and it’s helpful to introduce punctuation with these rules first. That way, when the grammar you teach becomes more complex over time, it will build on the baseline of accurate information without changing the definition.

2. Provide grammar CPD to other teachers

Grammar matters in every subject across the curriculum. As stated above, literacy is the language of learning - this means all learning.

To ensure learners get the most from every lesson, especially lessons that involve reading or responding to texts, hold CPD sessions to make certain every teacher understands how to teach grammar in their classroom. This leads to a more consistent approach to grammar instruction across the curriculum.

3. Don’t assume it will happen by chance

It’s true - for some learners, understanding punctuation will happen by chance. This is more likely with learners who read a lot at home and who practise their writing in their own time.

However, relying on individual motivation doesn’t give every learner equal chance to succeed. To prepare every learner for success, grammar should be taught explicitly, just like vocabulary and reading comprehension.

4. Use video teaching

Unless you’re a real grammar fan, grammar isn’t usually the most fun thing to learn. When considering teaching grammar, it can sometimes feel like writing sentences over and over, or standing at the front of class lecturing, but it doesn’t have to feel this way. Not only can this been draining for you as a teacher, but it also isn't often the best way of instilling that knowledge in your learners.

For great grammar retention and mastery, teaching methods should be captivating. That's why video lessons are a great tool for teaching grammar. Not only are they engaging, but learners can watch grammar being modelled through the power of animation, deepening their understanding.

As well as this, video teaching tools like Bedrock’s grammar curriculum include interactive activities for learners to complete, helping them not just identify grammar but use it and question it, moving towards mastery.

Bedrock logo in a blue frame.

Grammar instruction made effortless

Improve learners' literacy through unique prose, engaging video lessons and comprehensive activities.

5. Not every student will learn at the same pace

The UK National Curriculum highlights its expectations for which grammar learners will know at each school year. While this is a good framework to aim for, it doesn’t guarantee that just because a learner is in a certain school year, they understand the grammar of the years before.

Explicit grammar teaching and low-stakes assessment, like Bedrock's holistic assessment, are great indicators of how confident each individual learner feels about certain aspects of grammar.

As well as this, recapping activities allow struggling learners to relearn and master grammar techniques. If there are any aspects of grammar in lower years that they lack confidence in, recapping activities help to support those fundamental blocks and boost literacy improvement.

6. Use reading to reinforce grammar

Understanding grammar goes further than identifying it. Learners should understand the effect grammar skills have on a text and be able to use them in their own writing.

One way to reinforce this is by reading a text as a class. Through oral discussion, speak with your class about how grammar is used in the text.

  • How do the simple, single-clause sentences affect the pace?
  • What does the exclamation mark do to the speech?

Taking this a step further, ask learners to change the grammar within a text to change its effect.

  • If this exclamation mark were a full stop, how would the text change?
  • What would you change about the text to slow the pace down?

7. Remember to experiment!

Getting grammar right is important, but you don’t want to stunt your learners’ creativity. Encourage learners to play and experiment with grammar in their writing, especially in creative writing responses.

For example, when teaching nouns and verbs, give learners a variety of different ambitious words to experiment with in their own writing. As learners swap out verbs and nouns to change the meaning of the story, their knowledge of sentence structure is reinforced.

Another example could be going around the class, getting learners to say one word each of a story:

He... went... to... the... shop... and... he... bought... a... coat... full stop.

Learners who can use their understanding of sentence structure to continue the clause can then browse their knowledge of connectives to continue the sentence, or end the sentence with a piece of punctuation. Activities like these give learners the freedom to play with grammar.

Make the most of these strategies with Bedrock’s core curriculum. Alongside a rich vocabulary curriculum, Bedrock’s grammar curriculum uses video teaching, interactive activities, recapping tasks, games and free-writing prompts to help learners master grammar.

The UK's #1 literacy solution

Bedrock's intelligent literacy curriculum saves teachers time while boosting learners' progress.