Punctuation is a big deal for readers.
When kids understand how each punctuation mark works, they learn how to change the way their voice sounds at each mark... which makes them more expressive readers... which is part of being a fluent reader.
I remember going through a horrible period of teaching several years back when fluency was being overly boiled down to "words-per-minute." Teachers everywhere, including myself, were holding timers as kids visibly shook with anxiety while they tried to read as quickly as they could. Of course the children didn't understand a thing they were reading because they were concentrating so hard on speeding through the pages of the book in a race to beat the clock. Obviously, reading at a snail's pace isn't productive (or even enjoyable), but reading like a hyped-up auctioneer is equally ineffective. I'm so glad to see more and more children understanding that reading should be as smooth and as natural as talking.
Expression is a component of fluency that is sometimes overlooked in reading instruction. Many features of a text impact expression. Some include:
• punctuation marks
• bold, underlined, and/or italicized words
• understanding how the characters feel
• clues in the illustrations (setting details, facial expressions, etc.)
• inferring suspense
Punctuation is a tricky one. First, there's the very basic understanding that readers need to notice punctuation in the text. (But you know they don't. New readers just keep going as if it were never typed on the page.) Once they become aware of the punctuation marks, they have to know what to do with them. If you're a primary teacher, you know this is no easy task. It takes a lot of teacher-modeling and student-practice.
One way I help my students learn this expressive quality is to share books about punctuation. There are several choices out there, but my two favorites are Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka and Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Yo! Yes? has been a favorite of my 1st grade students for years. They ask to read it out loud with me, over and over. If you're not familiar with it, here are a few sample pages:
It only has two characters... a shy, timid boy and another boy who has enough confidence and courage to fill the whole school. At first glance, it looks like a really easy book to read, but the author is intentional about so many things in this story, including the size of the words, the punctuation marks, the color of some words, and the facial expressions. Because the words are easy to read (or learn), the children can really practice the way their voice should sound with each changing punctuation mark. (As a side note, read the shy boy's part softly and ask the kids to explain why they think you're reading his words more quietly than the other character's. Most will infer from the illustrations that the boy is shy and they'll notice his words are smaller.)
I love the page with the words well. It's a great way to show the children the power a punctuation mark has. They have fun hearing how the same exact word can sound differently depending on the mark that follows it... the first boy is asking... the second boy is thinking.
This next book, by Amy Rosenthal, is about a little exclamation mark trying to find his voice. At first, he's surrounded by periods, but he knows he's different and that he stands out. And then he meets a question mark who asks SO MANY questions, he instinctively yells "STOP!" and finds his loud, exclamation-marky sound.
If you need more resources for teaching fluency to your K-2 readers, your children may enjoy this BUMP game. (My students LOVE these little BUMP games.) It's a set of slides, but randomly placed throughout the slides are active verbs that keep the kids kinesthetically engaged as they stomp, clap, snap, wiggle, and BUMP! The set helps improve rate, smoothness, and expression and includes practice slides for:
• 2-word, 3-word, and 4-word phrases
• underlined words
• understanding a character's feelings
You can check out the PREVIEW at the link below.
I also have a set of Punctuation Posters, if you don't already have a set in your classroom. In addition to the posters, it includes a bookmark for the children to keep with them as a reference, either at school or at home.
Happy teaching! :)