Proving the Purpose of Punctuation

By Vicki Dalton, October 6, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

135 minutes for classroom activities


Many times students don’t make the connection between learning grammar and real-world skills that involve the need to use correct grammar.  This lesson is designed to demonstrate the importance of correct punctuation in the “real world.”

Punctuation is relevant to the Language Arts state and national standards as well as in real life.

Students will be engaged in the design process as they use group work, individual thinking, and teacher prompting to discover just how important punctuation is to oral and written language.  This lesson is an introduction to the design process.  Students will learn how the process works for future design process activities.

(Note: This lesson could coincide with National Punctuation Day, September 24th.)

National Standards


Students will:

  • more fully understand the importance of punctuation and the verbal and written implications of life without punctuation and without correct punctuation
  • begin learning/ reviewing national and state standards regarding punctuation
  • work in cooperative groups to learn the design process


Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss


  • above resources
  • texts of teacher choice that have had punctuation deleted are needed
  • tape recorder with a taped excerpt of text read without punctuation or computer program that will read text without punctuation is needed
  • chart paper


  • design process: a systematic path to creative problem solving


This lesson is designed to be used in the opening days of school or on or around National Punctuation Day on September 24 to demonstrate the importance of punctuation in oral and written language to students.  The hope is the purpose for learning grammar will be set and short mini-lessons on punctuation can begin to be taught. 

Day 1: (45 minutes)

1. The lesson will start with the brainstorming topic “What might the world be like if there was no punctuation?  What potential problems would you predict if punctuation didn’t exist?”  Students will answer this question on their own (writing as a bell ringer activity or journal activity) and then share with a group. (Note: For me this is their table group.)  Students can then share with the whole class. This presents the challenge to the students.

2. After students are finished writing the design process should be defined and step one of the process should be reviewed as students have already been given the challenge.

3. Next, students will investigate the problem.  Point out to students that this is step two in the design process.  There will be six groups.  Three groups will be exploring the verbal implications of life with no punctuation.  Three groups will be exploring the written implications of life with no punctuation.  (These groups will switch later so that everyone has both experiences.)

4. Groups investigating the implications of no punctuation on written communication will have texts with no punctuation and have the task of trying to place punctuation in the correct place.  (Any text can have punctuation deleted by being typed without the punctuation.  No specific text is needed.  Three copies of this text will be needed; one for each group.)   This will be a group activity and will be timed, depending on how many texts are included for the activity.

5. Groups investigating the implications of no punctuation on verbal communication will have recordings of people speaking as if there is no punctuation.  Each group will need a tape recorder/ CD player and a recording of the reading.  (A program that will read something in a robotic tone would also work well.)  This group will be tasked with trying to understand what the voice is actually trying to convey to them.  One group member will be the recorder for the group; writing down the text with the group’s agreed upon punctuation inserted.

6. Groups will then switch to the other communication form.  Groups will continue to work with their group to accomplish the task.

7. When finished with the second group, students will then write a short reflection piece on how the lack of punctuation affected the oral and written language.

Days 2 & 3: (90 minutes)

1. Students will be given the opportunity to share their reflections before being presented with the “reframe the problem” step of the design process.  Students will write a bell ringer on the following: “Is it REALLY necessary to have punctuation?  Are there other ways to get the meaning of punctuation across to readers/listeners without using punctuation?”

2. Students will then be introduced to the [re]frame the problem step of the design process.  Is our current system the only way that punctuation could be designed?

3. Students will then work with their group to generate possible solutions to this problem.  What ARE other ways that the idea of punctuation could be communicated?  Students will brainstorm, writing all possible ideas down, and then edit down to one idea all group members agree may work.  Each list must consist of at least ten ideas, writing these ideas large enough to be seen easily.  All ideas are to be considered without judgment; no idea is to be seen as too outrageous.  Students should sketch other possible ideas on chart paper.

4. Students in each group should agree on another possible solution presented by a group member to the punctuation problem.  Ideas with the most potential from the brainstorming session should now be fully developed.  Sketches, diagrams, prototypes, etc. should be made to further develop the alternative to our current punctuation.

5. After agreeing on a possible solution, groups will pair up with another group to present the possible solution.  This is the “share and evaluate your process and ideas” step of the design process.  Groups will take turns being the presenting group and listening group.  The “listening” group will give feedback to the presenting group.  Then the roles will switch, providing each group time to present and time to give feedback.  Feedback should be in the form of possible problems with the proposed punctuation alternative.  Feedback could be oral or written.

6. Original groups will then gather back together to refine the possible solution based on feedback received.  This is the “finalize the solution” step of the design process.  Any ideas should be supported by any visual aid that will help with the understanding of the proposed punctuation change.

7. For the final step of the design process, the “articulate the solution and process” step, the group will present the final possible solution to the class.  Each group will include how the proposed punctuation alternative will convey meaning of the text by demonstrating their proposed solution in a text of their choosing.

8. After presentations students will have a whole class discussion regarding possible solutions presented.  Would any of these solutions work?  Why wouldn’t others work?

(Note: After this activity is completed, Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver and Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss could be read to further show how important punctuation of some form is to our language.

Web sites included under the resources portion of this document provide online resources for further resources for this activity.)


Teacher observation will be a major part of the assessment process.  The teacher will observe the students using the design process, discussing punctuation errors and needed punctuation, and using correct punctuation for the texts provided. Since this activity is designed to be an introduction to the design process and thinking about the importance of punctuation, formal assessment such as a test, quiz, project, etc. is not in this lesson plan.

Since this is a group project, students will be able to receive help from other group members.  Teacher support should be given as needed.  More difficult texts could be used with gifted students to provide differentiated instruction. 

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students could share examples of incorrect punctuation that they discover in the community on billboards, business signs, newspapers, etc.

Obviously, students could use the design process skills used in other curriculum areas, their home, and their community.

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