P is also for…. Punctuation

PPunctuation is important. It helps people to understand what you want to say.

There are lots of different punctuation marks and your teacher will show you how they are used, but at the very least you need to use full stops.

A full stop goes at the end of a sentence. Sometimes it’s tricky to know where the end of your sentence is, but read what you have written, and if it has a verb and it makes sense on its own then it’s a sentence. If in doubt, ask your teacher to show you.

Have a look at this passage and try to work out what is going on.

I took my dog for a walk with my friend yesterday he was late because he had to help his mom wash up before he left the house she didn’t know he was meeting me so she made him dry up too he forgot to tell her so she never found out in time we walked for miles we got blisters on our feet and achy legs when we stopped we had some biscuits when Rover finished eating his he licked my hand

It’s hard to understand, isn’t it? Have a go at putting some full stops in, and you will see how much more sense it makes.

Related posts: O is also for….  Q is also for…..

E is also for…..ellipsis

E is for...You know those three little dots that mean “dun dun derr!” – well this post is about how to use them.

The ellipsis is a useful bit of punctuation, and used well it will show you are a great writer, but used badly will bore your teacher’s socks off. It makes me really sad when children use them at the end of their work just because they can’t think of anything else to write, or because they ran out of time.

Imagine you are the teacher and you have marked 25 books that end with “When Tom entered the castle he saw…” Would you find that boring? I would. It tells me that the writer doesn’t have the imagination to continue. Or worse, that they are too lazy to continue. It would be far more interesting to describe what he saw. What did it look like? What did it smell like? Did it make a noise?

A much better place to put the ellipsis is in the middle of your story. This shows me that you have thought really carefully about the punctuation you use and the effect it has.

Which of these seems more exciting? This one:

Tom watched the wolf change back into a man.  This could be his best chance to find out what was going on, so he followed the man into the castle. When he opened the door he saw….

Or this one:

Tom followed the wolf-man into the castle. When he opened the door he saw a wooden staircase straight in front of him. It was covered in dust and there were no footprints. Nobody could have gone that way…unless they could fly. He turned to his left, trying not to scream as a sticky cobweb brushed his face, and searched for another way out. Where had the man gone?

Suddenly, he heard a door slam upstairs…

What should he do? Investigate upstairs, or carry on searching the ground floor?

The first ellipsis here, in the middle of the sentence, is used to introduce an element of doubt. Nobody could have gone upstairs – or could they? If the man can change into a wolf, can he also change into a bat and fly? It makes you wonder. The second ellipsis makes you pause between sentences, and helps to show that Tom is also pausing as he makes his decision what to do next.

Now try using the ellipsis in different places in your own writing and see if your teacher comments on the improvement.

Related posts: D is also for….   F is also for….

VCOP display

Every classroom in my school has to have a VCOP display. In fact as a supply teacher I’ve been in a lot of classrooms, and every single one of them has had a VCOP display, so I’m assuming it’s something on Ofsted’s ticklist.

Now don’t get me wrong – I like VCOP. I know it has a lot of opponents, but I find it a very useful teaching tool, and like every tool its success depends on how you use it. I’m not a big fan of taking it out of context and treating it as four separate elements that children have to shoehorn into their writing, and to me a VCOP display does that.

My sentence displayThis display is my solution. My children are Deaf and for many of them BSL is their first language. They find English sentence structure difficult, so I have put up this display to demonstrate the structure of a standard English sentence. It would work equally well for EAL and EFL students, and I’m sure it could also be adapted for the MFL classroom, although I haven’t tried that yet.

adjective and subjectI have my Openers at the beginning of the sentence, where they belong, and my Punctuation at the end, also where it belongs. Connectives are underneath punctuation, to show that they are used to join two sentences together. Vocabulary is spread over four panels – Nouns (subject and object), Verbs and Adjectives.

Like everything with teaching, once you’ve done it, you think of a better way to do it, and next time I’ll move the adjective panel to just before the object instead of just before the subject. I think adjectives are probably used more to describe the subject than object, and it means that I could also have a S V A structure (The rose is pink) in the middle of the longer structure. It’s still a work in progress and I do plan to split the subject panel into nouns and pronouns, and the white panel needs an “or number” halfway down. Other than that, I’m quite happy with it so far.

In addition to providing them with a standard structure sentence, it is exposing them to grammatical terms, and already one of the boys in the class has asked what the word “article” means and what it’s for.

So there you have it. Nobody can accuse me of not having a VCOP display in my classroom, but I’ve managed to turn it into something more useful.

Why do they have upside down question marks in Spanish?

upside down question markWhy do they have upside down question marks in Spanish? Unlike English, Spanish doesn’t have a question form for many types of question.
For example, in English I would say “You have a pencil.”
If I wanted to ask whether you had one I would either add the word “do” to the beginning – “Do you have a pencil?” or I would change the word order and ask, “Have you (got) a pencil?”

These subtle changes are clues that I’m asking a question. In Spanish the first statement would be
“Tienes un lapiz.” and the question would be
“Tienes un lapiz?” where I use my intonation to indicate that this is a question.

Similarly I could say
“They saw the film last night.”
and ask
“Did they see the film last night?”

In Spanish these sentences would be
“Han visto el películo ayer.” and
“Han visto el películo ayer?”

See the problem? This is fine for spoken language, but when it is written down there is no way of knowing whether you are reading a statement or a question until you get to the end of the sentence and see the question mark. To solve this problem, and for ease of reading, they decided to put an upside down question mark at the beginning of the sentence as a sign that the next thing you read will be a question. It saves you having to read the sentence twice!

upside down exclamation markSo – why do they have upside down exclamation marks in Spanish? For the same reason: an upside down exclamation mark indicates that the next thing you read will be an exclamation. If you think about it, it’s far more logical than our English system where you don’t know the exclamation is coming until it’s too late!

Looking for a private tutor for Spanish or French? Contact me via my website www.sjbteaching.com.

Why Do They Do That?

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself when I’ve read children’s work and seen capital letters in the middle of sentences; lines and lines of writing without a full stop, and then a random one placed for no apparent reason; and exclamation marks in the middle of instructions.  So why do they do that?  For the last two years I have been lucky enough to be contracted for 1-2-1 tuition with a number of children. By working so closely with them I have gained an insight into how their minds work when they are writing, and some of life’s great mysteries have been revealed.

Let’s start with capitalisation in the middle of sentences. What’s that all about then? “Miss told us that names have to start with capital letters,” they told me when I asked. And “apple” is the name of a fruit, and “oak” is the name of a tree. Unfortunately, somewhere down the school they were also told that nouns are naming words (yes, I know, I think I’ve been guilty of that one as well), so now every noun has a capital letter.

How about full stops?  I’ve been that teacher that nags the class “Don’t forget to put full stops at the end of every sentence!” and I know I’m not the only one. When I’ve asked the children I’ve been tutoring what they know about full stops, they happily parrot, “You have to put one at the end of every sentence.” They know. So why don’t they do it? Because it seems, a lot of children have no idea what a sentence is. So they just keep on writing till they have no more ideas, and then put a full stop. Then when they think of a new idea, they start a new sentence.

What about those exclamation marks that appear at the end of sentences such as, “First, take the bread out of the packet! Next, get the butter out of the fridge!”? I was baffled when I first asked a child, whose writing target was to use exclamation marks correctly, when he thought he should use them and he told me that you had to use them every time you were telling somebody how to do something. It seems he thought it was called an explanation mark! And he’s not alone. I’ve tutored 3 children of different ages from different schools who all thought the same things, so it’s obviously a fairly common misconception.

All these things are really easy to correct when you have time to work one-to-one with the children – but not so easy when you have 29 other children needing your attention, because no matter how much you want to you just don’t have time to spend half an hour with one child. That’s why I really love my job.