After reading this title you might be thinking: “punctuation” and “engaging” in the same sentence?
Think about it: Punctuation, after all, is really just one way that readers and writers control the pace of a text. Periods, commas, semicolons, and especially those specialty punctuation marks ellipsis and em-dash all denote a specific amount of time in which the reader pauses. How these punctuation marks differ (and the pause-time that corresponds to each) is best understood through the rhythms and cadences of natural speech, i.e., dialogue. And what reading format is exclusively dialogue? Reader’s Theater!
Allow me to demonstrate how you can use Reader’s Theater to teach an engaging lesson on punctuation.
As a writer, especially as a writer of dialogue, I like to think of punctuation as my tools, or weapons. One analogy you can use with students is to explain that punctuation is not dissimilar to the various strokes in a tennis player’s arsenal: topspin, slice, lob, and drop shot; each has its own specific use and changes the pace of the point. Punctuation marks likewise have their own specific use and also change the pace of a sentence. (FYI, you can extend the tennis metaphor and explain that when speaking, or exchanging, dialogue characters take turns, as when tennis players hit the ball back and forth.)
Here is a simple way to show/explain the differences in these common punctuation marks:
Period (.) – Tells a reader to stop, that an idea is completed.
Question mark (?) – Tells a reader that a question is being asked and is characterized by the voice going up (reflecting an interrogative tone).
Exclamation point (!) – Tells a reader to use emphasis, to speak loudly and with forcefulness.
Comma (,) – Tells a reader to pause, briefly, before continuing.
Semicolon (;) – Tells a reader to pause a bit longer than for a comma but not as long as for a period.
Em-dash (—) – Tells a reader to make a brief pause (even briefer than a comma), as when adding a thought; also used in lines of dialogue at the end of a clause to show that one character is interrupting another.
Ellipsis (…) – Tells a reader to slow down the pace of dialogue; it may also be used to show that a character is…thinking.
To demonstrate the differences among these punctuation marks, use a Reader’s Theater script (preferably one that has some instances of the lesser-used em-dash and ellipsis) and show HOW these punctuation marks function. Read specific sentences aloud; have the students echo-read (repeat). Once again, because the text is written as dialogue, it will have a natural rhythm and sound; the punctuation marks will make sense for how they control the pacing. To underscore how each of the punctuation marks differ, substitute one punctuation mark for another, such as reading a sentence where an ellipsis is replaced with an em-dash or where a period replaces a semicolon. Or reading the following three sentences, in which the end punctuation changes the meaning of the same three words:
He did it.
He did it?
He did it!
Here is a live example:
Editor, Benchmark Education Company
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- Multiple Reading Opportunities with Reader’s Theater: Day 1 | Benchmark Education Company
- Reader’s Theater Reading Strategies: Day 2, Echo-Reading | Benchmark Education Company
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