Teach ESL students the correct uses of punctuation in the English Language. Remember, depending on students' native language, they may or may not be familiar with some punctuation, and the use of punctuation marks varies greatly in different languages. With a firm comprehension of English punctuation, students will better understand written texts and communicate more effectively in written forms. Commonly used punctuation marks such as periods, commas and apostrophes should be taught first, followed by lessons explaining exclamation and question marks, and advanced punctuation marks like colons, semicolons and parentheses should be taught last.
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Draw a period, a comma, and an apostrophe on the board. Label them and describe their uses to students. Periods are used to end sentences and as a decimal point. In some languages, such as Spanish, the comma serves this purpose. Commas are used to separate ideas or items in a list and in numbers to separate hundreds from thousands. Apostrophes are used to show possession, to make contractions and to make plural forms of letters and numbers. Write examples of each of these uses on the board. Field any questions that students may have. Give students a simple but interesting text that includes periods to end sentences, commas in a list of items, and apostrophes denoting possession. Have the students circle the punctuation marks and discuss their uses in groups. Review any doubts in a follow-up question-and-answer session.
Extensions on the Basics
Review the basics of comma, period and apostrophe use as a class. Teach students further uses of the comma. Write examples on the board. Give students an interesting text without the necessary commas. In groups or individually, students fill in the commas where needed. Check as a class and discuss any questions students may have. For an oral activity, teach students the pause method. Read a text, having students add in commas where they hear a natural pause. Draw a set of ellipses on the board. Explain to students that the three periods indicate a lengthy pause, an unfinished state, or the omission of ideas or words. Show them examples of all three uses on the board and then have them write their own examples in groups.
Draw a question mark, an exclamation mark and quotation marks on the board. Explain the use of question and exclamation marks. Have students practice writing their own dialogue using these three types of marks. Pair students off and have them perform their dialogues in front of the class, emphasising tones of voice used with exclamation marks versus question marks. Make sure students know only to read the dialogue within the quotation marks. For further practice, give students a book or text and instruct them to find exclamation, question and quotation marks in the text. Have students pair up to discuss their findings. Draw a slash on the board, explain its use and query the class on where they've seen slashes used.
Draw a colon, and a semicolon on the board. Explain to students that the colon is used to introduce something. That something can be a word, a sentence, a quotation or a list. Write examples of these uses. Tell students that the colon adds special emphasis to whatever it introduces but should not be used after a verb. Have students practice using the colon by writing their own examples in groups. Introduce the semicolon to students first as a connector between two related sentences. Be sure to communicate to students that semicolons shouldn't be used to connect two unrelated ideas. Then, show students how to use the semicolon as a special comma in a list of complicated phrases or ideas. Give students a text including lists with excess commas and tell them to replace confusing commas with semicolons where necessary. Check answers first in pairs, then as a class. Field any questions students have.
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- Illinois State University: Punctuation Made Simple: Guide to Apostrophes; Gary A. Olsen; 1999
- Illinois State University: Punctuation Made Simple: Guide to the Colon; Gary A. Olsen; 1999
- Illinois State University: Punctuation Made Simple: Guide to the Semicolon; Gary A. Olsen; 1999
- Illinois State University: Punctuation Made Simple: Guide to Using Commas; Gary A. Olsen; 1999