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Conventions, the sixth trait of writing, deals with the rules of writing. Rules exist for a reason, but without personal experience, students may find them arbitrary. After all, in earlier times invented spelling was the norm. (Just look at the writings of the founders of our country or westward bound pioneers.)
For this mini-lesson, ask students to write several sentences and then make them into “a secret code” by ignoring the conventions. The first step is to write sentences that follow the rules on an index card. (This is the solution to the secret code.) Students can use books in the classroom or library to find examples.
Now to ignore the rules, ask students to write those words again without any spaces or punctuation. It will look like a string of letters on the page, written in all lowercase or all capital letters. This will remove any clues about where each sentence begins. To make the secret code even more difficult, ask students to misspell words by leaving out the vowels or silent letters.
After students have their secret codes ready, they can write them on another index card and place it in a centrally located box, along with the card that has the solution to their secret code. (Ask students to write their initials on the back of both cards so that others can check the solution.) As students read the cards through the week, they can try to crack each other’s secret codes.
Punctuation Makes a Difference
Use poetry to teach punctuation with Punctuation Celebration by Elsa Knight Bruno. See how punctuation changes the situation with Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Twenty-Odd Ducks, both by Lynne Truss.
Punctuation Goes to School
In Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, the punctuation marks leave the classroom and send postcards to the children. Penny and the Punctuation Bee by Moira Rose Donohue is a school contest story featuring punctuation mark characters. In Greedy Apostrophe by Jan Carr, students solve problems created by a punctuation mark character.
In The Vowel Family by Sally M. Walker, the story is missing its vowels until each new “child” (Alan, Ellen, and so on) is born into the family. In Silent Letters Loud and Clear by Robin Pulver, Mr. Wright’s class finds out what happens when they stop using silent letters.
Parts of Speech
The fast, fun, and rhythmical Words Are CATegorical series by Brian P. Cleary has a book for each part of speech, including Hairy, Scary, Ordinary and I and You and Don’t Forget Who.
Why We Need Grammar
A fifth-grader’s misunderstanding of a homework assignment leads to clever wordplay in Miss Alaineus by Debra Frasier. The witty grammar guide Woe Is I Jr. by Patricia T. O’Conner is a lighthearted reference book for the writing center or library.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! By Lynne Truss. Illus. by Bonnie Timmons. 2006. 32p. Putnam, $15.99 (9780399244919). 428.2. Gr. 1–3.
Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale. By Jan Carr. Illus. by Ethan Long. 2007. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823420063); paper, $6.95 (9780823422050). Gr. 1–3.
Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective? By Brian P. Cleary. Illus. by Jenya Prosmitsky. 2000. 32p. Carolrhoda, $15.95 (9781575054018); paper, $6.95 (9781575055541). 428.2. Gr. 2–4.
I and You and Don’t Forget Who: What Is a Pronoun? By Brian P. Cleary. Illus. by Brian Gable. 2004. 32p. Millbrook, $15.95 (9781575055961); paper, $6.95 (9780822564690). 428.2. Gr. 2–4.
Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. By Debra Frasier. Illus. by the author. 2007. 40p. Harcourt, $17 (9780152021634); paper, $7 (9780152060534). Gr. 3–5.
Penny and the Punctuation Bee. By Moira Rose Donohue. Illus. by Jenny Law. 2008. 32p. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807564776); paper, $6.99 (9780807564783). Gr. 1–3.
Punctuation Celebration. By Elsa Knight Bruno. Illus. by Jenny Whitehead. 2009. 32p. Holt, $17.99 (9780805079739). Gr. 1–3.
Punctuation Takes a Vacation. By Robin Pulver. Illus. by Lynn Rowe Reed. 2003. 32p. Holiday, $17.95 (9780823416875); paper, $6.95 (9780823418206). Gr. 1–3.
Silent Letters Loud and Clear. By Robin Pulver. Illus. by Lynn Rowe Reed. 2008. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823421275); paper, $6.95 (9780823423095). Gr. 1–3. Paperback available in July 2010.
Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! By Lynne Truss. Illus. by Bonnie Timmons. 2008. 32p. Putnam, $16.99 (9780399250583). Gr. 3–6.
The Vowel Family: A Tale of Lost Letters. By Sally M. Walker. Illus. by Kevin Luthardt. 2008. 32p. Carolrhoda, $16.95 (9780822579823). Gr. 1–3.
Woe Is I Jr.:
The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. By Patricia T. O’Conner. Illus. by Tom Stiglich. 2007. 176p. Putnam, $16.99 (9780399243318). 372.6. Gr. 4–8. Also available in an ebook edition.
Anastasia Suen is a former K–1 teacher who has written dozens of children’s books and is the author of the Picture Book of the Day blog, devoted to the Six Traits of Writing.
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