Teaching grammar basics: using full stops and capital letters

By Oliver Shrouder

21 Nov 2022

Teaching grammar in the classroom

Full stops

The full stop appears at the end of every sentence, except those which end with exclamation marks or question marks. It tells you when a sentence has ended, whether the sentence is short for effect, or lengthy with multiple clauses and conjunctions. The full stop also shows the reader that a thought is complete and they are moving onto the next one. Full stops have been used throughout this blog to separate independent thoughts from one another and make them as easy as possible to understand.

There are only a few cases in which a full stop should not be used: you should not use a full stop in a title or a heading, and you should not use a full stop in a list made up of sentence fragments.

  • To make a cake, the chef needed to:
    • Go to the shop
    • Buy his ingredients
    • Remember to get chocolate icing

Capital letters

The most common use for a capital letter in a sentence is at the start of a sentence, indicating that a new sentence has begun. In a string of sentences, this comes after the full stop.

  • Sadie went to the shop. Alvin waited outside.
  • Fuchsias are usually pink. Holly’s, however, were bright green!
  • Putting furniture in front of doorways is a fire hazard. This means that if a fire happened, people couldn’t escape safely.

Even with the help of spaces and full stops, it can be difficult to tell where ideas begin and end without more obvious indicators - that’s why using capital letters is so important.

For over 1000 years, there was no such thing as a lowercase letter! Instead, writers in English and Latin wrote only in capital letters. In the 1400s AD, writers began to theorise ways to increase the readability of texts and came up with the uppercase and lowercase system. From this, we developed the use of capital letters at the start of each sentence.

Another example of how capital letters are used is to indicate proper nouns. A proper noun is a noun that represents a place, person, or time. We explore the rules behind using proper nouns, as well as proper adjectives, in our blog on types of nouns.

Capital letters after a full stop

Capital letters are used alongside full stops to indicate that one sentence has concluded and a new sentence is beginning. This makes it much easier to read texts and understand their ideas. Not only does teaching this improve the legibility of your learners’ writing, but it can help improve their reading comprehension as they are able to differentiate between complete ideas in a text.

  • Alexander went to the shop. At home, Lucy was asleep.
  • Rain always puts me in a bad mood. It’s a shame I left my umbrella at home.
  • Only small dogs chase rabbits. Big dogs chase cats!

Much like full stops, exclamation marks and question marks are also followed by a capital letter. This is because, like a full stop, these punctuation marks finish sentences.

  • When are you leaving? It’s going to rain soon.
  • Did you remember your lunch this morning? You must be hungry.
  • Duck! There’s a frisbee coming our way.

However, there are some punctuation marks that conclude sentences where a capital letter is not used afterwards, such as semicolons and colons.

  • Even when it’s snowing, you can get sunburned; you should put on some suncream.
  • The recipe said the cake needed two drops of vanilla extract, but Louise doubted it; she tipped the whole bottle into the bowl.
  • Francis realised how he was going to win the egg and spoon race: he was going to glue the egg to the spoon!

In these sentences, two independent sentences are linked together by a colon or a semicolon. The second sentence, as it is linked to and not separate from the first sentence, does not need a capital letter. This is because readers need the information from the former sentence to fully understand the latter.

Other than exclamation and question marks, the only punctuation mark that precedes a capital letter (sometimes) is a quotation mark. When direct speech is embedded into a sentence, a capital letter is used to indicate that speech is beginning and tells the reader that the thought within the speech marks is different from the rest of the sentence.

  • Ezra said, “Drinking tea makes me sleepy.”
  • The dog was barking. Mum said, “Someone chuck him a bone.”
  • Yvonne whispered to her brother, “You’re not going to tell Dad, are you?”

Capital letters for proper nouns

Proper nouns are nouns that represent areas of importance, such as places, people, names, and times. For example:

  • Wednesday
  • Emily
  • February
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Mr Winters
  • River Thames
  • Thailand

An easy way to introduce this concept to a learner is to relate it back to their own name, which many learners will have learned or currently be learning to write. A popular concept for introducing proper nouns is that they represent importance – you are important, so therefore your name begins with a capital letter.

  • Richard took his hamster, Wiggles, to St. Mary’s Park.
  • Kier was excited to watch the new Marvel movie in Southend Cinema.
  • On Wednesday, Fatima bought the new Stephen King book, It.

Common mistakes learners make with capital letters

Using capital letters after commas and colons

A potential issue you may encounter when teaching your learners capital letters is misunderstanding how capital letters are used relative to colons and commas. This misconception becomes more common as learners encounter more advanced grammar. In early key stages, it’s unlikely that learners will encounter punctuation like semicolons and colons in the texts they read. This makes it easy for them to remember capital letters at the start of every sentence.

When learners eventually encounter semicolons and colons on a regular basis and are asked to use them in their own writing, it becomes clear whether a learner has remembered that capital letters do not begin a sentence following a colon or a semicolon. Even if this misconception has arisen in secondary education, this would be a good time to refresh learners’ knowledge of the grammar techniques they encountered in primary school.

Mistakes like these emphasise why it’s so important that primary and secondary education work together seamlessly to introduce, reinforce, and encourage mastery of new grammar techniques. When one teacher is providing grammar instruction to a class of 20-30, or more, it can be difficult to tell which learners are confident with which grammar techniques. It may not be until a learner starts using semicolons for the first time that a teacher notices they haven’t quite mastered capital letters.

Bedrock’s grammar curriculum provides differentiated grammar instruction in both foundational and advanced grammar techniques, ensuring that learners have support for their grammar in every key stage. This gives teachers visibility over their learners’ prior knowledge while saving time marking.

Misunderstanding capital letters for proper nouns

In the early stages of learning capital letters for proper nouns, using them correctly can sometimes rely on a learner’s memory rather than mastery of the concept. While some may be used to addressing a bridge, a park or a lake with a proper noun, others may take some time to understand when a bridge is a bridge and when it is a Bridge.

  • My aunt took us all down to that bridge – Russell’s Bridge, I think it’s called.
  • Victor and Patrick swam in Brown Lake, which was not a nice lake to swim in.

As well as this, when proper nouns are preceded by the word “the”, some learners may capitalise this word as part of the full noun. It can take quite a bit of practice to get used to how proper nouns are capitalised.

  • Do ravens live in the Tower of London?
  • I watched the movie The Thing in the Odeon.

Games for teaching capital letters

Correct the mistakes

Worksheets such as these can be a great first step for getting learners interacting with the grammar technique they have learned. After scaffolding to learners how capital letters are used, either along with proper nouns or at the beginning of sentences, hand out worksheets that contain sentences with deliberate capital letter mistakes. Ask learners to work in pairs to correct the mistakes and rewrite the sentence correctly.

To make the worksheets more challenging, add multiple grammar mistakes to the sentences to see whether learners correct them automatically. This can be a great way to test for mastery of previous grammar techniques while strengthening their knowledge of new ones.

We have created worksheets with both simple capital letter mistakes and more complex grammar mistakes for use in your classroom, depending on the needs of your learners.

Shout it out!

When we speak aloud, we cannot hear some grammar techniques such as commas and capital letters, even though we are automatically using them to structure our thoughts. This can make grammar techniques like capital letters and full stops feel intangible and more difficult to remember.

To solve this, encourage your whole class to speak the punctuation you’re using aloud. Depending on the age of your learners, you could have them call out “full stop” or make a specific noise, such as a pop, when a sentence ends. You can also have them repeat the first letter of the next word to give it extra enunciation, representing the capital letter.

This game would work best for younger learners. For secondary age learners who need a refresher on their grammar skills, it may be best to rely on explicit grammar instruction in the classroom or through secondary grammar curricula online.

Speed round

This game can encourage some healthy competition in the classroom. Split your learners into pairs or groups and provide one of them with a list of nouns, which they can pass around the pair or circle as the game continues. When one learner reads out a noun, the other learners declare whether they think it is a proper noun or a regular noun, and whether it needs a capital letter. As learners begin to master the concept, you could introduce some ambiguous options, like names of popular movies or books, to encourage discussion amongst your learners.

We have created a list of noun cards you can use to play this game in your classroom, as well as some blank cards so that you can add your own options and get your learners talking.

Interactive and video teaching

For many learners (and teachers), grammar might not be the most engaging topic to discuss. Games help to make grammar more fun for younger learners, all while reinforcing their knowledge and moving them towards mastery, but for older learners they may come across patronising. A large quantity of readily available content for teaching grammar is geared at younger learners.

While most of the explicit grammar instruction learners receive is delivered at primary school, this focus neglects secondary age learners who have not mastered the techniques they need to thrive. For some learners in secondary school, grammar misconceptions from primary school are taken throughout their academic careers unaddressed, affecting their attainment in every subject.

There is a need for more secondary-targeted grammar instruction to boost older learners’ communication skills, but this sometimes comes at the expense of teachers’ time. Adding explicit grammar instruction to an already full curriculum is unrealistic for many teachers.

For this reason, Bedrock’s core curriculum includes a grammar curriculum, differentiated between primary and secondary, which is delivered using Bedrock’s deep-learning algorithm. Activities and recap tasks learners complete are marked automatically, and data is neatly collated to give teachers visibility of learners’ progress. All bespoke prose has a primary and secondary version, ensuring older learners have grammar resources targeted to them.

As well as this, grammar is taught through engaging videos where learners encounter the technique, see it scaffolded, and progress onto using it themselves. This provides an immersive solution for teaching grammar without taking away valuable time in the classroom. All of this is taught alongside a rich Tier 2 vocabulary curriculum, reinforcing learners’ literacy to improve their outcomes across the curriculum.

If you’re a primary teacher looking to create more consistency in your grammar curriculum while saving yourself time, Bedrock’s core curriculum is a fantastic option. As well as this, secondary teachers can benefit from Bedrock’s secondary-specific grammar resources to address misconceptions and close gaps in the classroom.

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