It's not exactly a secret; the English language is confusing. If I'm saying this after spending the last 12 years writing professionally, I can only imagine what it's like for a second grader! To help my son understand what punctuation to use when, I grabbed an amazing book and created a fun board game for us to play and practice.
Before we got our game faces on, we read Elsa Knight Bruno's book Punctuation Celebration. This book is to kids what the AP style guide is to grown-up journalists (only WAY more whimsical). This is the most interesting reference book I've ever read!
The book explains in rhyming text how 12 pieces of punctuation are used. The explanations are simple and examples are included. Illustrations are playful (Is there anything more cute than a smiling semicolon jumping rope?), making the weighty topic less intimidating. Whether your child is showing a natural talent or interest in writing or not, this book is worthy of checking out from the public library or adding it to your own shelves at home!
Once we were done reading, I got out the Missing Punctuation board game I'd made.
You can download a PDF of the 2-page game board and game cards here. You'll need to tape the game board together and cut out the cards. Find a few buttons, magnets, LEGO minifigures, or anything else that's small to use as game pieces (each player needs one to mark their progress moving around the board). NOTE: I created the game for two players. If there are more, you may need to make additional game cards.
The game cards each contain a sentence or two with missing punctuation. It's up to the player to figure out which one is missing among the following:
Once they have figured out what punctuation is absent, they move their game piece to the space where that punctuation occurs on the game board. NOTE: You may need to remind players of the difference between an apostrophe and a comma. Play alternates between players.
I gave my son loads of hints (e.g. for quotation marks, I asked, "Is someone talking?" and for parentheses, I posed the question, "Is there any information in the sentence that could be removed and it would still make sense?"). We referred to Bruno's book a lot and it was slow-going but my son had lots of fun and when he got a card with the final answer of exclamation point and won the game, he was elated!
"Can we play again sometime?" I asked.
"You bet!" he answered enthusiastically.
Here are the answers:
"I would like a turn," said John. Quotation Marks
"Pass the ball," yelled the coach. Quotation Marks
"Thirty-six," answered Julie. Quotation Marks
"Write your name on the paper," said the teacher. Quotation Marks
Are you okay? Question Mark
Do you want a cookie? Question Mark
Dogs are furry. Period
Ethan is sad. Period
His t-shirt was red. Hyphen
I am very thirsty; I need a drink of water. Semicolon (or Period)
I can't find my hat, coat, or mittens. Commas
I can't swim. Apostrophe
I don't care. Apostrophe
I have a dog, cat, and hamster. Commas
I like blue. Period
I went to sleep at 8:35. Colon
If I was older, I could drive. Comma
I'm allergic to nuts; they make me sick. Semicolon (or Period)
In my bag are three things: a pen, pencil, and eraser. Colon
It is cold outside; I'm shivering. Semicolon (or Period)
It was a part-time job. Hyphen
Katie's nose is running. Apostrophe
My cousins are leaving; I am sad. Semicolon (or Period)
My sister wants four things: a doll, book, crayons, and a dress. Colon
My umbrella is broken. Period (or Exclamation Point)
One-fourth of the pie is gone. Hyphen
OUCH! Exclamation Point
Pickles (that I hate) are too sour. Parentheses
Somebody help me! Exclamation Point
The doctor took x-rays of my finger. Hyphen
The milk (that was sour) spilled all over. Parentheses
The radio (that was too loud) was playing my favorite song. Parentheses
The school is on fire! Exclamation Point
These cupcakes (from the bakery) are yummy! Parentheses
This is my dad's hammer. Apostrophe
Watch out! Exclamation Point
We didn't eat lunch until 1:00 p.m. Colon
What's your favorite color? Question Mark
Where were you? Question Mark
While I was sleeping, the tooth fairy came. Comma