Why bother about punctuation?

Skilled writers use punctuation to show their readers how to approach their text and extract meaning from the way that words are organised into clauses, sentences and paragraphs. If you read aloud, punctuation helps you to identify the pauses and break up large blocks of text into manageable chunks for comprehension.

If you look again at the first paragraph on this page, full stops, commas and brackets have been used to organise words (representing strings of ideas) into block of meanings.

Which organisers can you use already (punctuation and symbols)?

How many of the following punctuation marks and organising symbols do you use in your own writing?
Work with a partner to decide what each looks like and where and when you would use it.
  • Full stop
  • Question mark
  • Exclamation mark
  • Comma
  • Em dash
  • Hyphen
  • Round brackets
  • Square brackets
  • Curly brackets
  • Single quotation marks
  • Double quotation marks
  • Colon
  • Semicolon
  • Tilde
  • Bullet point
  • Numbering systems
  • Ellipsis/ Points de suspension
  • Asterisk
  • Apostrophe
  • Hash key
  • Back slash
  • Forward slash

How well do you use punctuation?


Try out your skills by punctuating this text.

Follow the links to find out more about some of these useful organisers

Punctuation with dialogue in narratives is trickier, but here are some links to those skills

Nicholas Bourgeois says:

Throughout my degree and observation in schools, I have noticed a serious lack of grammar skills in students from the middle years all the way through to year 12. From relatively simple skills such as apostrophe placement to word confusion (their, there, they’re...), I have seen students lose many marks for such easily rectifiable mistakes. In this post I will identify a few different approaches to getting students engaged with grammar rules.

An alternative to ‘formal’ demonstrative approach:

One of my favourite web-comics The Oatmeal has a short series of grammar comics that display the artist’s annoyance with simple grammatical mistakes in a humorous (but more importantly), accessible formatting. The website offers these lessons in a poster form – meaning you could place them around your classroom. When the opportunity arises in a student’s work, make a movement towards the poster and actively read the rule.

The rule will hopefully be meaningful to the student as it is an issue within their text. The student will be active and engaged in searching for the answer by analysing the poster, and this will hopefully lead to deeper levels of understanding due to the information being used in an authentic setting (to be learned, and then applied to the student’s text).
Here’s a link to the lessons:


The importance of correct punctuation:

My English tutor Gay Lynch actually gave this example out in our creative writing workshop. I thought it was an absolutely brilliant and fun exercise that would be perfect for students to understand the importance of correct punctuation (however the content may need to be changed if the themes are too mature).

Without punctuation:
Dear John
I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be?

With punctuation #1:
Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

With punctuation #2:
Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy; will you let me be yours?

As you can see, the use punctuation in this fun exercise has completely changed the meaning of the letter. I believe this is a great task for students to learn both the use and effects of grammar. It may be too advanced for some, however I think that it would engage and entertain students who are able to manipulate the text.