Did you know that emus can’t walk backward or that an iguana can stay underwater for nearly 30 minutes?
Did you know that The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought at neighboring Breed’s Hill or that the state of Maryland has no natural lakes?
While these bits of trivia are interesting (and fun to learn during studies of science, history, or geography), they don’t need to take up permanent residence in your kids’ brain cells.
On the other hand, certain concepts should be so ingrained in your children’s minds that there’s no way they’ll misuse or forget them—including important rules of writing mechanics. Why? Because better grammar contributes to better writing!
Let’s look at three areas of grammar and punctuation every child must master.
Apostrophes, Possessives, and Plurals
Everywhere I look, it seems, random apostrophes are turning up incorrectly in words meant to be plural, not possessive.
These are typical examples:
No dog’s allowed
Closed Sunday’s and Monday’s
Wanted: Chef’s and Cook’s
No shoe’s, no shirt, no service
Other times, apostrophes are just misused altogether:
Ladie’s Apparel Sale
Life at it’s best
“The correct use of plural and possessive forms may seem like a minor issue. Among educated persons, however, incorrect forms, especially misuses of apostrophes, stand out like red flags. One area executive has said he will not hire an applicant whose letter or résumé includes such an error.” ~Meredith College Grammar Review
Teach your children to use apostrophes correctly. A quick Google search will yield pages of helpful rules, tips, and practice exercises—as well as many humorous examples of apostrophe abuse. Here are a few links to get you started:
- Possessive vs. plural: Getting it right
- Correct use of apostrophes
- Apostrophes and plural family names
- Possessives/plurals quiz
Homophones are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same—and confusion among them contributes to all sorts of writing problems. Common sets of homophones such as except/accept, peek/peak/pique, and principal/principle can trip up both kids and adults. Worse, spell-check won’t catch tricky errors because it’s about meaning, not spelling.
While some people may not care whether a Facebook friend types your instead of you’re, it’s definitely a problem when it comes between a student and an “A” paper or a job applicant and the position he’s applying for.
Like apostrophe misuse, homophone mix-ups can cause the writer to seem uneducated or ignorant, so it’s important to begin teaching children when they’re young to distinguish between these confusing words.
- All About Homophones – lessons for grades 1-8
- Homophone learning games for kids
- Comprehensive list of homphones
Comma Splices, Run-ons, and Fragments
Commas can be tricky. They’re either overused, underused, or just plain misused! One of the worst culprits is the comma splice, in which the writer sticks a comma instead of a period between independent clauses.
I’m tired of all this rain, I wish the sun would come out again.
Run-ons (also called fused sentences) are “comma splices without the commas.”
I ate deep-fried pickles and Twinkies at the fair they were both delicious.
Sentence fragments are also known as incomplete sentences. Fragments are missing a verb, a subject, or both.
On the other hand, leafy green vegetables.
Running all the way to the wall without stopping.
If your children have trouble with comma splices, run-ons, or sentence fragments, follow these links for helpful rules, games, and tips:
- Repairing comma splice errors
- Rules for fixing comma splices and fused sentences
- Repairing run-on sentences – interactive quiz
- Sentence fragments practice exercises
It’s All about Practice!
These are among the most important grammar skills kids must learn. Don’t turn a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. They need to hear these rules over and over again, and they need much practice to reinforce proper usage and develop new habits.
Why not pick one problem area, such as comma splices or its vs. it’s, and work on it regularly until your child experiences frequent success? You’ll put her one step closer to becoming a more confident writer.
Photo: Hand (Carissa Rogers) and book case’s (R/DV/RS), courtesy of Creative Commons
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