Helping your child with punctuation


Boy writingPunctuation is an abstract concept and for many young children (and a fair few adults) it can be confusing and difficult to grasp.

Children need to know that punctuation is there to help the reader to understand what has been written.

Some schools use a kinesthetic approach to reinforce the teaching of punctuation - each punctuation mark has an agreed action (eg a clenched fist punching the air might represent a full stop).

It's worth finding out if your child's school adopts this approach.

Sentences - putting in the full stop

Developing the concept of a sentence can be tricky and can take time. A sentence:

  • is a group of words which express an idea that makes sense
  • begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark
  • usually contains an subject and a verb

Children often manage to start a sentence with a capital letter but then get carried away with their ideas and forget to put in the full stop.

Activities to help

  • Ask your child to read their writing aloud to you or to themselves. This highlights the need to take a breath and perhaps add a full stop, so that the words make sense. It helps if your child does this after a break from writing as they'll approach it with a fresh pair of eyes.
  • You could read the work aloud to your child but without pausing to breathe - this shows them that full stops are needed for the reader/listener to understand what the writer means.
  • When listening to your child read, point out where the writer has included a full stop and discuss why this was necessary.
  • Play a story sentence game. Take it in turns to make up a story together. At the beginning of each new sentence say 'capital letter' and at the end of the sentence say 'full stop'. Eg:
    First person (parent) says: 'Capital letter – Once upon a time there was an old man who lived in a dark wood. Full stop.' Next person (child) says: 'Capital letter – His wife had died and so he lived all alone in the forest. Full stop.'

Speech marks

To understand when speech marks are necessary, children have to be able to identify when someone is speaking. Comics can be useful - the speech is written in an explicit bubble.

  • Draw speech bubbles and ask your child to write what each character says in a bubble.
  • Show them how the speech is written without the bubbles, explaining that the speech marks are used instead of bubbles - the visual prompt may help.

Exclamation and question marks

Point out that they sit inside the speech marks. When you're reading together, point out when exclamation and question marks occur and discuss why. 

Question marks

Remind your child of the 'question words' - Who? What? Why? When? Why? How? Where? – and that a question mark is required whenever they're used.

Exclamation marks

Exclamation marks tend to be overused by young children. Play the 'Exclamation game' using comics, books, adverts etc.

  • Collect words that might need an exclamation mark (eg No! Stop! Run!)
  • Ask your child how they might say these words
  • Ask them if they can think of other words that might need an exclamation mark (eg Jump! Catch!)


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Last updated: about 3 years ago