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Inside Practically Paradise

Grammar & Punctuation ? Fun?

Is there any way to make teaching hyphens easier? Just what can you do to make exclamation points interesting after the first time you show them to K-1? Why do teachers expect there to be a new parts of speech series each year? 

How do I know which book has the most conjunctions? Sometimes I just read a book for the story, not to turn it into a workbook.  I grew up in the age of Schoolhouse Rock, "Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?" "And, but, and or" have got me pretty far. 

What’s the big deal on these parts of speech anyway? If you read constantly, you’ll develop a bigger vocabulary and just know when to use these words. <sigh> If only every child was an avid reader and had ACCESS to more books at home. My English teacher simply handed us a list of conjunctions and said, "You might use 8 of these regularly in your life, but here’s the list so you’ll recognize them when you see them. If you think you’re going to write someday, you may actually have to learn to use these." They never seemed thrilled to teach some of those aspects of English. 

 Maybe if they’d had these titles, they could have made the parts of speech more interesting: 

Bowling Alley Adjectives, Hole-in-One Adverbs, Home Run Verbs, Slam Dunk Pronouns, Tennis Court Conjunctions, Touchdown Nouns entertain us in Grammar All-Stars: the Parts of Speech series by Gareth Stevens (a Weekly Reader Company). $17.95 each.

The second grade team was planning around my desk while they used the Riso machine to copy papers. I listened to their discussion while I frantically brewed Chocolate Velvet coffee, set out the chocolate creamer and arranged my glass coffee cups. When they agonized over how to incorporate more curriculum standards into their upcoming Football Day, I dashed to my preview shelf and was able to triumphantly present Touchdown Nouns

"Perhaps you could incorporate a language arts center with this new title," I suggested. "There are great tips after each section that encourage students to go back and interact with the text. The All-Star Activity Page in the back might look like a simple activity that you do daily, but the Answer Key that accompanies it is superb and STILL manages to teach while assessing. I’d suggest you read the entire story to the class first so they understand how the author told a story, yet focused on using a variety of nouns to teach in a new way. Each chapter emphasizes the three major divisions: Proper & Common, Singular & Plural, and Signals & Possession so they can explore at their own pace. This book has something for all levels of learners in your classroom." 

Success! Another happy team with a new title to meet their needs. When they realized I needed their opinions on these Spring 2008 releases, they were elated because they had the practical and in-depth knowledge needed to ground these two series. They could identify exactly which part of speech or punctuation was emphasized at each grade level and to what degree. This team takes opinion-making seriously. They read, they incorporated, they distributed the titles to other grade level teachers, they asked questions, then they returned to share their viewpoints. 

Their verdict: Touchdown Nouns and Bowling Alley Adjectives are going to be very useful for Grades 1-2; Homerun Verbs and SlamDunk Pronouns will work for Grades 2-3; Tennis Court Conjunctions actually incorporates conjunctions, prepositions, and articles so it would be best for Grades 3-4; and finally the Hole-in-One Adverbs book is the most difficult conceptually to teach so this would be great for Grades 4-5. 

You may be shocked to read this, but sometimes I miss a series when it first appears. <gasp> So it was with the Best Selling Weekly Reader series Meet the Puncs. 

Emma Exclamation Point, Christopher Comma, Hannah Hyphen-Hyphen, Peter Period, Quincy Question Mark, and Alan Apostrophe star in the Weekly Reader series Meet the Puncs – A Remarkable Punctuation Family. Author: Barbara Cooper. Details: Reinforced Library Bound. Reading level: Grades 1 – 3, 32 pages, Special Features: Flesch 100 (Very Easy); Fog 3; Fry 1.5; Smog 3; Spache 1.9, A punctuation usage checklist at the back of each book. Reviewed in SLJ April, 2005.

Published in 2005 this library bound series has been out there long enough to earn "Best Selling" status, yet I had never held it in my hands until the SLJ Summit in Phoenix, AZ. Notice how the main character also has a fitting facial feature (the eye patch on Alan is an apostrophe, in case you cannot see it online, while Hannah Hyphen-Hyphen has a straightly drawn mouth).

When I opened the pages and saw the deliberately enlarged punctuation on each page, I could visualize students easily locating when the appropriate punctuation was being used. (Sometimes they seem to ignore it entirely when reading. In fact, I often demonstrate reading paragraphs with no periods then dramatically fall on the floor totally out-of-breath. When I recover, I suggest to students that we read this again with some periods and commas for breathing marks.) 

But I wondered, would the enlarged punctuation be confusing to students? Would teachers be able to use these titles for teaching? Were they all appropriate for the same grade-level?

The answers were No, Yes, and No. Students loved seeing the punctuation emphasized. They told me that they had never realized just how many hypens could be used. I found them looking at the newspaper later and circling hypens. The teachers agreed that they could use these titles for teaching, but, no, not all of them were useful for their grade level. For example, the hypen book was amazing to me and I learned a great deal from the page Hannah’s Checklist in the back which detailed when and when not to use hypens. Excellent! I know quite a few other educators who could benefit from that particular title. The 2nd grade team suggested 4th graders might use hypens to the greatest extent in our school, but that the 5th graders next door would benefit the most. 

Surprisingly they found Emma Exclamation Point, Quincy Question Mark, and Alan Apostrophe the easiest to use with students. Christopher Comma and Peter Period were the next two in reading levels and layout, even though students use periods and commas more than all the other punctuation marks. And, as I mentioned earlier, they recommended saving Hannah Hypen-Hyphen for upper level classes. I could tell these books were originally published in the UK when I stumbled upon the integration of a British bobby in Peter Period. 

All-in-all the Meet the Puncs meets a need we had in a creative way. Now I’m able to provide resources when teachers are focusing on punctuation without straining my overworked brain.

Noticed that I am focusing on lots of nonfiction series lately? I need to get these books off my desk and into students’ hands so I’m quickly chatting about series titles to speed up the process. Also, there is a snobbery about series nonfiction books of which I want no part. I will continue to venture into the oddest places to find series that actually help you help teachers. You are welcome to disagree with me about these series and individual titles. I now have several teachers helping me by GIVING ME THEIR OPINIONS about individual books in a series. The first time they realize that they don’t have to fall in love with every book they "review," they are so amazingly liberated. 

Gareth Stevens a Weekly Reader Company
Grammar All-Stars: the Parts of Speech

Meet the Puncs – A Remarkable Punctuation Family

Bowling Alley Adjectives Emma Exclamation Point
Hole-in-One Adverbs Christopher Comma
Home Run Verbs Hannah Hyphen-Hyphen
Slam Dunk Pronouns Peter Period
Tennis Court Conjunctions Alan Apostrophe
Touchdown Nouns Quincy Question Mark

Negative information and detailed information such as "this works with 2nd graders, but this other topic gets only one question on our state tests; consequently, we ignore it" is most helpful to me. How about you? Why don’t you click and go to the websites above; moreover, be the first to post your reviews? Remember, I don’t really write reviews instead I comment on books and how I’ll actually use them. Reviewing limits me. Blogging is freeing; therefore, you should try it and start sharing your ideas. Anyone counting the number of conjunctions I used in this blog post?


  1. tischann says:

    Is the number of conjuctions 42? I heard somewhere that 42 is the answer to the universe.