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How to Teach Writing Mechanics

How to Teach Writing Mechanics asks and provides possible answers to the What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics, Why Teach Writing Mechanics? When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach? How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics? How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics? questions related to teaching the nuts and bolts of punctuation, capitalization, formatting, citations, quotations, etc. Disclaimer: The author has published several writing mechanics resources.

What is (and isn’t) Writing Mechanics?

Since this is a “catch-all” subject, let’s discuss what I do mean and don’t mean by writing mechanics.  I do mean punctuation (commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, parentheses, and brackets), capitalization (including proper nouns, common nouns, abbreviations, and acronyms), formatting (paragraphing, indentations, when to skip and not skip lines, proper headings and spacing, what goes where and what does not), citations (MLA rules, the purpose thereof, and creative problem solving including references, in-text formatting, and list of works), quotations (direct, indirect, titles of works, and dialogue rules). I did mention rules, as no doubt you noticed. However, mechanics is also about style and coherency. “Let’s eat Grandma” comes to mind. Or how about…

I’M STUFFED DO WE HAVE TO EAT GRANDMA AFTER ALL WE JUST FINISHED EATING GRANDPA CAN’T WE WAIT UNTIL MOM’S DONE COOKING

Your students will love more of these examples.

Some teachers would, but I don’t mean grammar. Grammar refers to the sentence components and their functions, such as the parts of speech, subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers. Grammar also means the arrangement of words within the sentence (the syntax), the formation of phrases and clauses, and word choice. Additionally, grammar includes study and practice in the accepted rules of proper usage, such as subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and whether to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. Finally, grammar is used to identify and correct non-standard usage. Check out a related article on How to Teach English Grammar.

I also don’t mean spelling. The authors of the Common Core State Standards lump the entire kitchen sink into the “language conventions” category. However, as an MA reading specialist, I will assure you that spelling (encoding) has much more to the how-to’s of reading (decoding) and vocabulary than with proper comma usage.

Why Teach Writing Mechanics?

The authors of the Common Core include writing mechanics in a separate Language Strand as Standard L. 2., and the accompanying Smarter Balanced and PAARC tests do test mechanics. Teaching mechanics will not only help your students avoid eating Grandma, but will also provide a forum for rich language discussion. The differences in British and American punctuation are fascinating. The changing nature of mechanics rules and the controversies between editors of new and old media are instructive. Want to raise a real ruckus? Try debating the serial comma rule! By the way, I don’t consider myself a serial comma killer.

When Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

The Common Core State Standards have shifted so much of the language conventions to the primary or intermediate elementary grade levels. Such is the case with mechanics. Of course, review is essential and it is nice to have the recursive nature of language instruction validated by the Common Core authors. So, writing mechanics is certainly a K-12 focus.

What Writing Mechanics Should We Teach?

Because of the downward shift in terms of instructional responsibility, it does make sense for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to begin teaching more complex writing mechanics skills. Building on prior knowledge will allow teachers of older students to “get to” issues of, say punctuation and capitalization that heretofore (always wanted to use that word) have never been addressed. It does makes sense to share the instructional load and to prioritize instruction. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a fix-the-random-error “curriculum,” such as DOL or DLR. Most of us old veterans of Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that these “error fix-a-thons” (Jeff Anderson) never transferred to student speaking or writing. District committees and instructional teams at the site level can and should align and sequence instruction. For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary) from my own Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

How Should We Teach Writing Mechanics?

Both direct and individualized instruction are needed to teach students writing mechanics. We do need to up the rigor of direct instruction as explained above, but we also need to build on individual student strengths and weaknesses. Because primary and intermediate elementary teachers are transitioning to more writing mechanics instruction, older students will have even a greater diversity of skills sets. Teachers can choose to teach as if none of their students knows anything and repeat the instruction that some have received, or use diagnostic assessments to determine mastery of writing mechanics for each student and provide remediation to those who need it.

Effective diagnostic assessments will help teachers identify what grammatical concepts and skills students have and have not mastered from previous grade levels. Here’s an effective 32 question writing mechanics assessment (with answers) and recording matrix. Teachers can create mini-lessons and/or assign remedial worksheets to correspond to items on the diagnostic assessment to “catch up” individual students to grade level direct instruction. Of course, my grades 4-8 programs provide these resources.

How Much Class Time for Writing Mechanics (and all Language Conventions) Instruction?

Most English-language specialists suggest that short, interactive language conventions lessons, including writing mechanics, (say 20−30 minutes twice per week with a focus on just a few skills, including a brief review to connect to prior learning) makes sense. Clear examples and quick practice in which students apply the skill or rule and identify what is correct and what is not helpful. Short dictation sentences in which students apply the writing mechanics focus will serve as formative assessments to inform the teacher as to mastery or if re-teaching is necessary. Less effective is the “teach writing mechanics only in the editing stage of process papers” approach via mini-lessons. Direct instruction makes a difference. Individualized instruction with targeted worksheets (corresponding to the diagnostic assessments) can add another 15-30 minutes of classroom instruction per week or be assigned as homework.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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22 MLA Citation Formats

Most mechanics manuals have either too few or too many of the MLA Citation Formats to be of real use to the student, author, or blogger. This one is just right with the most common 22 MLA citation formats. For the few sources that would not be well-suited to these 22, I recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s OWL and Son of Citation Machine. Of course, MLA (the Modern Language Association) is not the only citation format. Two others, APA (American Psychological Association) and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), are preferred by most social science professors. Here’s a great side by side comparison of all three.

Most would agree that mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. All academicians would agree that proper research citations do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 MLA Citation Formats from The Pennington Mechanics Manual to help you proper cite the most common sources in your Works Cited at the end of a research paper or article and in-text citations and the end of individual direct or indirect quotations. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? Get The Pennington Mechanics Manual PDF here. The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies program

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Mechanics Manual: 22 MLA Citation Formats

1 MLA Works Cited (Print Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA:   Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

2 MLA Works Cited (Print Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 1st ed. 1. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

3 MLA Works Cited (Print Journal) Pennington, M. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 1.1 (2010): 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

4 MLA Works Cited (Print Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. 2010: 212-213. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

5 MLA Works Cited (Print Newspaper) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” London Bee 5 May 2011: B5. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington B5)

6 MLA Works Cited (Print Textbook or Anthology) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Ed. Jane Doe. El Dorado Hills: Pennington Publishing, 2010. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

7 MLA Works Cited (Print Letter) Pennington, Mark. “To Jane Doe.” 5 May 2011. El Dorado Hills, CA: 2011. Print. Letter. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

8 MLA Works Cited (Print Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Print. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

9 MLA Works Cited (e-Book) Pennington, Mark. Teaching Essay Strategies. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2010. 212-213. e-Book. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 212-213)

10 MLA Works Cited (Online Journal) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Journal 3.2 (2011): 1-3. Web. 26 Mar 2011.               < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 1-3)

11 MLA Works Cited (Online Magazine) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies 5 May 2011: 22-26. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

12 MLA Works Cited (Online Encyclopedia) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Encyclopedia of Writing. 2. 3. El Dorado Hills, CA: Pennington Publishing, 2011. Web. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 111-113)

13 MLA Works Cited (Web Document) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Teaching Essay Strategies. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. < http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

14 MLA Works Cited (Web-based Videos or Images) “Sunset in Cancun.” Tropical Paradises. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com >. In-Text Citation: (“Sunset in Cancun”)

15 MLA Works Cited (Blog) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Pennington Publishing. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

16 MLA Works Cited (Podcast) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Writing Podcasts. Pennington Publishing, 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

17 MLA Works Cited (E-Mail) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” Message to Jane Doe. 5 May 2011. E-mail.  In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

18 MLA Works Cited (Online Forum) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” 5 May 2011. Online Posting to Writing Forum. Web. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

19 MLA Works Cited (Online Government Document) Pennington, Mark. United States. Civil Air Patrol. District of Colombia: Department of Defense, 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.departmentofdefense.gov>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington 22-26)

20 MLA Works Cited (Radio, Television, Film, or Recording) “Magical Kingdoms.” Behind the Scenes with the Mouse. Pennington Broadcasting Company: KTES, El Dorado Hills, 5 May 2015. Radio. 26 Mar 2011. In-Text Citation: (“Magical Kingdoms”)

21 MLA Works Cited (Online Interview) Pennington, Mark. Writing Works. Interview by Oprah Walters. 5 May 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2011. <http://www.penningtonpublishing.com/blog>. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

22 MLA Works Cited (Lecture) Pennington, Mark. “Works Cited.” English-language Arts Class. El Dorado Hills Unified School District. El Dorado High School, El Dorado Hills. 5 May 2011. Lecture. In-Text Citation: (Pennington)

Information taken from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed., 2009, sections 6.4.8, 7.7.1, and 5.6.2.

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22 Quotation Mark Rules

The most misused and confused punctuation marks? Quotation marks have my vote. I have two theories as to why. 

The first is academic; the second is more a matter of mental illness.

First, Americans have the Brits to blame for our confusion (and they have the former colonists for theirs). The British use single quotation marks, when Americans use double quotation marks and we each reverse when using quotes within quotes. The Brits are also consistent in their placement of punctuation, while Americans are not. For example, the Brits place periods to the left of the citation, while we opt for the right. Example: Americans = “Over 22% were sterile” (Hampton 34).  British = “Over 22% were sterile.” (Hampton 34) For more of American-British differences, check here.

Secondly, educated students and adults have access to a vast amount of correct and incorrect use of mechanics and grammar rules. With the Internet our publishing standards have declined as most of us do not hire copy editors, or God forbid use Spell Check and/or Grammar Review to publish on the Web. As is often the case, professionals such as teachers and editors are exposed to so many repeated mistakes that they truly begin to question what is right and what is wrong. As a teacher of 30-something years and author of numerous spelling and grammar, usage, and mechanics books, I would hazard to guess that I’ve seen as many mistakes using quotation marks as I’ve seen correct usage. I truly begin to doubt myself sometimes.

I distinctly remember a late afternoon, sitting alone in my classroom in Sutter Creek, California. I was teaching eighth grade English and I had one more essay to grade before hopping on my motorcycle to head home. The student spelled thier in his first sentence. I had a brief panic attack, thinking that the student must be right and that I had just red-circled at least thirty thiers on other student papers. I actually had to look it up in a dictionary. The older we get, the more mental illness of this sort sets in. We get confused about quotation marks because we so often see them abused. Check out this their, there, they’re cartoon to help you remember correct usage and spelling.

For additional use of quotation marks in academic research, I highly recommend Purdue Writing Lab’s The Owl.

Here’s the 22 quotation marks rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Quotation Mark Rules 

1 Double Quotation Marks Use double quotation marks to title parts of whole things, short things, or things which can’t be picked up from a table. Specifically, enclose titles of book chapters, articles, songs, videos, short poems, documents, reports, and short stories within double quotation marks. Example: The best chapter is titled “Mad Men.”

2 Double Quotation Marks for Special Use Words or Phrases Use double quotation marks to enclose words or phrases used in a different way than the norm. Example: With “friends” like that, who needs enemies? Use double quotation marks for technical terms. Example: The politician argued against “pork belly politics.”

3 Double Quotation Marks for Translation Double quotation marks or parentheses are used to enclose a translation. Example: The work was muy duro “very hard.”

4 Double Quotation Marks for Nicknames When used in the middle of someone’s full name, a nickname is enclosed in double quotation marks. Example: George Herman “Babe” Ruth

5 Single and Double Quotation Marks for Numbers When numbers are used for measurement, single and double quotation marks are used to show differences in number sets. Examples: The young woman stood 5’9” tall.

6 Double Quotation Marks in Dialogue Use quotation marks before and after dialogue with commas placed to the left of the quotation marks. Ending punctuation goes inside (to the left) of the closing double quotation marks. Begin a new paragraph for each new speaker. Examples:

———She said, “Call me.”

———“If I call,” he said, “it’ll be too late!”

———“So text me,” she replied.

7 Multiple Dialogue Sentences Separate speaker tags from multiple sentences used in a dialogue. Examples: “Call him tomorrow,” John urged. “Then text me what he says.” “Call him tomorrow. Then text me what he says,” urged John. 

8 Dialogue Ending a Paragraph Writers may choose to add dialogue to the end of a paragraph if the paragraph specifically relates to the speaker of the dialogue or the subject to which the dialogue refers. Example: Tom is so unpredictable. You never know how he will react. First, he said that he would not visit. Later, he texted me to call him that night, but I don’t think I will. “I’ll call him tomorrow, instead,” I said out loud.

9 No Punctuation before Dialogue or Direct Quotations If the quoted words flows directly without a pause from the first part of the sentence, no punctuation should be used. Examples: We asked him and he said “okay.” The author thought that “the evidence was quite clear” (Levy 76).

10 Period Placement with Uncited Direct Quotations Periods are placed inside (to the left) of ending double quotation marks for figures of speech and informal quotations. This is the rule even when ending the sentence with a quoted title. Examples: Everyone knows that “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” The music critic “loved everything the band performed.” She especially enjoyed “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree.”

11 Period Placement with Cited Direct Quotations Periods are placed outside (to the right) of the parenthetical citation following a direct quotation. Examples: According to the author, “Few remained to help” (Zaner 45). Ezekiel saw “what seemed to be four living creatures,” each with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1.5-10).

12 Question Marks and Exclamation Points with Cited Direct Quotations Question marks and exclamation points go inside (to the left) of the double quotation marks, if part of the quoted sentence, but outside (to the right) of, if not. Example: “Why should we care?” the author asked (Peavy 22). When asking a question about a quotation, remove the ending punctuation, add an ending quotation mark, and then follow with the question mark. Example: In The Declaration of Independence, did Jefferson say “…all men are created equal”?

13 Semicolons with Cited Direct Quotations Semicolons go outside (to the right) of the closing quotation marks. Example: George exclaimed, “I made twenty sales today”; however, George said he had only twelve.

14 Colons with Cited Direct Quotations Colons replace commas following beginning speaker tags to introduce long sentences or passages. Example: The researcher explained:  “No one knew whether the emergency doctor knew how to handle the medical crisis or not.” Colons go outside the closing quotation marks. Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”: these words were President John F. Kennedy’s most memorable. 

15 Removing Words from Direct Quotations When removing words from a direct quotation, use the ellipsis (…) inside the double quotation marks. Only remove information that is irrelevant to the quotation. Example: Did Madison say “…in order to form a more perfect union…”?

16 Long Quotations longer than three lines (not three sentences) should be indented one tab space as a block text. Block quotations are not enclosed with double quotation marks. The citation is placed following all ending punctuation, even periods.

Example:        

———No one knows me

———and no one seems to understand

———the things that I feel

———and the things that I don’t. (Pennington 43)

17 Indirect Quotations Indirect quotations do not need quotation marks because the ideas are paraphrased. Only indirect quotations of a general nature may be used without citations. Example: She told me everything about college life. Indirect quotations of any online or printed sources must be cited in the same manner as direct quotations, but do not need quotation marks. Indirect quotations still require citations. Example: Most credited General Washington’s inspiring leadership (Adams 34).

18 Single Quotations within Double Quotations Use single quotation marks before and after a title that is punctuated by quotation marks or before and after a quotation that appears within the double quotation marks enclosing dialog or a direct quotation. Examples: He asked, “What did Dr. King mean in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by the phrase ‘free at last’?”

19 Italicizing and Underlining Titles Italicizing and underlining are used for the same purposes. Italics are used in word processing; underlines are used in handwriting. Use italics or underlines to title whole things, long things, or things which can be picked up from a table. Specifically, italicize or underline titles of books (except religious books such as the Koran, albums/CDs, movies, television shows, games, magazines, newspapers, plays, blogs, and works of art. Example: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series.

20 Italicizing and Underlining Uncommon Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to an uncommon word or phrase. The scientist warned of the dangers of frackingthe process of injecting liquid at high pressure beneath the earth’s surface to force open existing fissures to be able to extract oil or gas.

21 Italicizing and Underlining References to Words Use italics or underlines to refer to words within a sentence. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. 

22 Italicizing and Underlining Foreign Words and Phrases Use italics or underlines to refer to a word or for an uncommon foreign words or phrases; use italics or underline instead. Examples: By manage, she really meant control. She certainly did not practice laissez-faire management.

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22 Punctuation Rules

Most of us got plenty of practice in elementary and middle school with commas and capitalization. We thought we were on secure footing until freshman English. At some point during that year, our English teacher tossed out a copy of E.B. White poetry and everything we learned about punctuation went out the door. Besides, we started reading articles and plenty of other expository text with weird things like  semicolons, colons, acronyms, and plural possessives with strange apostrophe placements. Who thought there were actual rules about dashes, brackets, parentheses, and such? And don’t get me started on parentheses. All we knew was that our frosh English teacher loved to use that red pen for the “other punctuation” and grammar rules. We needed, and most of us still need, a bit of help.

Here’s the 22 other punctuation rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to give you the help you need. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Other Punctuation Rules 

1 Singular Possessive A possessive is a noun or pronoun that serves as an adjective to show ownership. For a singular possessive, place an apostrophe at the end of the noun and add an s. Example: His mom’s cookies are the best. Don’t use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun (yours, his, hers, ours, yours, its, theirs). Examples: That plate is your’s. Revision: That plate is yours.

2 Singular Possessive Ending in s or /z/ When ending in an s having a /z/ sound, place an apostrophe, then an s, or simply end with an apostrophe. Examples: Charles’s friend or Charles’ friend is fun.

3 Singular Possessive Gerunds A singular possessive noun can connect to gerunds (verb forms ending in “ing” that serve as sentence subjects). Example: Joe’s cooking is not the best.

4 Singular Possessive Indefinite Pronouns Place the apostrophe before the s for singular indefinite pronouns. Examples: Now it is anybody’s, everybody’s, somebody’s, somebody else’s, either’s ballgame.

5 Plural Possessive without s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that doesn’t end in s, place the apostrophe after the s. If the singular and plural forms are spelled     differently, place the apostrophe before the s. Examples: The girls’ team is good, but the women’s team isn’t.

6 Plural Possessive with s Ending For a plural possessive of a singular word that does end in s, add “es” and then the apostrophe. Example: Our stove worked better than the Thomases’ stove.

7 Plural Possessive Joint Ownership When two or more words share joint ownership, the possessive form is used only for the last word. Example: Matt and Suzanne’s wedding was the social event of the season.

8 Plural Possessive Individual Ownership When two or more words are combined to show individual ownership of something, the possessive form is used for each of the words. Examples: Linda’s, Christie’s, and Wendy’s dresses were each individually designed. 

9 Period after Initials and Abbreviations When ending declarative and imperative  sentences with initials and abbreviations, use one period. When ending interrogative and exclamatory sentences, keep the period and add the question mark or exclamation point.  Examples: Is he John, Jr.? Viva U.S.A.!

10 Acronyms An acronym is any abbreviation formed from the first letters of each word in a phrase. Most frequently used acronyms do not require periods. Example: HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language).

11 Contractions A contraction is a shortened form of one or two words (one of which is usually a verb). An apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter(s) at the      beginning, middle, or end of the word. Examples: ‘Tis almost Halloween, but don’t light the jack-o’-lantern yet.

12 Semicolons Use semicolons to join independent clauses with or without conjunctions. Semicolons combine related phrases or dependent clauses. Example: Anna showed up late; Louise didn’t at all.

13 Colons with Ratios Use colons to show a relationship between numbers. Example: At 8:02 p.m. the ratio of girls to boys at the dance was 3:1.

14 Colons within Titles Use colons to show a relationship within titles. Example: Many people are familiar with “Psalm 23: 1” and refer to it as “The Lord is My Shepherd: Psalm 23.”

15 Colons in Business Letters Use colons after business letter salutations. Example: To Whom It May Concern: Thank you for your employment application.

16 Colons with Independent Clauses Use colons at the end of an independent clause to introduce information to explain the clause. Example: This is the most important rule: Keep your hands to yourself.

17 Exclamation Points Use one exclamation point at the end of a word, phrase, or complete sentence to show strong emotion or surprise. Phrases or clauses beginning with What and How that don’t ask questions should end with exclamation points. Examples: Wow! How amazing! The decision really shocked me!

18 Parentheses as Appositives Use parentheses following words as appositives to identify, explain, or define. Dashes or commas can serve the same function. Examples: That shade of lipstick (the red) goes perfectly with her hair color. The new schedule (which begins next year) seems confusing. The protocol (rules to be followed) was to ask questions after the presentation. 

19 Parentheses with Ending Punctuation Ending punctuation never is placed inside of parentheses, even when the parenthetical remark stands on its own as a complete sentence. Examples: I want that Popsicle® (the orange one). He was crazy. (He didn’t even know what day it was).

20 Dashes Use dashes, not hyphens, before and after appositives. Dashes are longer than hyphens and are found in INSERT > SYMBOL in Microsoft Word®. Appositives identify, explain, or define. Example: The best-loved movies−those with memorable plots−are worth repeated viewings. Also use dashes to indicate a numerical range. Example: Pages 4−29

21 Brackets Use brackets before and after words or ideas to make them more clear. Brackets add explanation or necessary background knowledge for the reader. Examples: George Washington [1732-1799] was gracious to Lord Cornwallis [the British general who surrendered at Yorktown].

22 Hyphens Use hyphens to divided words at syllables when more space is required at the end of a line. Also use hyphens to join words that are necessarily related, but are not compound words. Don’t capitalize the letter following the hyphen. Example: We read a spine-tingling story in English-language Arts.

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22 Capitalization Rules

When should you capitalize and when do you not? Contrary to popular belief, capitalization does not add importance, prestige, or respect. If you want to get real controversial, try taking a stance on capitalizing pronouns referring to God. Do you refer to He, Him, His or he, him, or his? Let’s not even go to the gender issue. Check out the controversy if you wish, but for the rest of us, what about those capitalization rules?

Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 capitalization rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer your capitalization questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats?  The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Capitalization Rules 

1 People and Character Names Capitalize people’s and characters’ names. Also, capitalize people’s titles, such as The President f the United States or Alexander the Great. Do not capitalize an article (a, an, the) that it part of the title, unless it begins the title. Example: President James Earl Carter worked to provide housing for the poor.

2 Place Names Capitalize place names. Do not capitalize a preposition that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Examples: Stratford upon Avon or Cardiff by the Sea.      Examples: Ryan visited Los Angeles to see the Holocaust Museum.

3 Names of Things Capitalize named things. Do not capitalize a conjunction that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Example: President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home is a national monument in Washington D.C. Example: The Old North Church and Fenway Park are in Boston.

4 Names of Holidays Capitalize holidays. Normally, it is proper form to spell out numbers from one through ten in writing. However, when used as a date name, the numerical number is used. Example: They celebrate the 4th of July, but not Easter.

5 Dates and Seasons Names Capitalize dates, but do not capitalize seasons. Example: The winter months consist of December, January, February, and March.

6 Titles of Things Capitalize the words in titles. Don’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and), or prepositions (with), unless these words begin or end the title. Examples: My favorite Jim Morrison song is “The End.” I like the movie Gone with the Wind.

7 Titles of Courses or Classes Capitalize the titles of specific academic course or classes, including any  connected letters. Example: Next spring Jake has to take Math Analysis 2C in order to stay on track for early graduation.

8 Hyphenated Titles Capitalize the first and second parts of hyphenated titles if they are nouns or adjectives that have equal importance. Example: The Twentieth-Century was haunted by two world wars. Don’t capitalize a word following a hyphen if both words make up a single word or if the second word is a participle modifying the first word. Examples: Top Twenty Large-sized Models and English-language Arts

9 Organization Names Capitalize the names of  organizations and the letters of acronyms that represent  organizations. More commonly now, writers drop the       periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: M.A.D.D. has both parents and teachers as members, as does the PTA.

10 Letter Salutations and Closings Capitalize the salutations and closings in both friendly and business letters, excluding articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that don’t begin or end the salutations or closings. Examples: Dear Son, … Love, Dad

11 Business Names Capitalize the names of businesses and the letters of acronyms that represent organizations and businesses. More commonly now, writers drop the periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: McDonald’s provided money for our school uniforms, as did IBM.

12 Language and Dialect Names Capitalize the names of languages and dialects. Examples: He spoke Spanish with a Castilian dialect.

13 People Groups Capitalize the names of people groups, including nationalities, races, and ethnic groups. However, do not capitalize colors, such as black or white, when referring to race. Examples: Both Aztecs and Mexicans share a common heritage.

14 Event Names Capitalize the names of special events. Examples: The New Year’s Day Parade was fun, but the Mardi Gras was even better.

15 Historical Period Names Capitalize named historical periods. Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the historical period. Examples: My favorite period of history to study has to be the Middle Ages or the Age of Reason.

16 Time Period Names Capitalize the names of special periods of time. Use lower case and periods for “a.m.” and “p.m.” Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the time period. Example: Next year we celebrate the Year of the Dog.

17 Quotation Capitalization Capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. Don’t capitalize the first word of a continuing quote that was interrupted by a speaker tag. Examples: She said, “You are crazy. However,” she paused, “it is crazy to be in love with you.” Don’t use a capital letter when the quoted material is only part of the original  complete sentence.

18 Capitalization Following Colons Capitalize the first word following a colon if it begins a series of sentences. Example: Good writing rules should include the following: Neatness counts. Indent each paragraph one inch. Proofread before publishing.

19 Lower Case Following Colons Don’t capitalize the first word (or any word) in a list following a colon if the first word of the list is a common noun. Example: Bring home these items: tortillas, sugar, and milk. Don’t capitalize the first word following a colon that begins an independent clause. Example: I just re-read Lincoln’s best speech: his Second Inaugural Address is brilliant.

20 Titles of People Capitalize the title of a person when it precedes the name. Don’t capitalize the title if it does not precede the name. Examples: I heard the senator ask Mayor Johnson a question. Capitalize the title of a person when it follows someone’s name-then a comma-in  correspondence. Example: The letter was signed as follows: John Pearson, Chairperson. Capitalize the title of a person when the title is used as a noun of direct address. Example: I do plead guilty, Your Honor.

21 Locational Names Capitalize the locational names on a compass when they refer to specific places. Leave directions in lower case. Examples: Ivan grew up here on the Lower Eastside of New York City, but I am from the South.  Ivan knew that we should head south for two blocks.

22 Titles of Agencies Capitalize the titles of  governmental agencies, including these words when connected to the agency titles: City, County, Commonwealth, State, and Federal. Example: The Federal Bureau of Investigation had targeted his operation.

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22 Comma Rules

When should you use a comma and when should not? It could be a life or death matter. After all, “Let’s eat Grandma” is considerably different than “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose.

Here’s the 22 comma rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer all of your comma questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats? . The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Comma Rules 

1 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas after a beginning speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: He said, “I shouldn’t listen to what you say.”

2 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before and after a middle speaker tag to the left of both  quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “But if you don’t,” he shouted “you will never win.”

3 Speaker Tag In dialogue sentences, place commas before an ending speaker tag to the left of the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points can also separate speaker tags from dialogue. Example: “Okay. I will give you another chance,” he responded.

4 Appositive Use commas to set apart appositives. An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun or pronoun to identify, define, or describe it. The     appositive can be a word, phrase, or clause. Example: That man, the one with the hat, left town quickly.

5 Commas in Series Use commas after each item in lists (except the last). Use commas after each item in lists, except the last one. Example: John, Jane, and Jose left early.

6 Introductory Word Use commas only after introductory words which receive special emphasis. Examples: Conversely, you could listen. Then I went home.

7 Introductory Phrase Use commas after introductory phrases when followed by a modifying noun or pronoun . Example: Bold and beautiful, the statue was popular. Don’t use commas if the phrase modifies the following noun or pronoun or if another part of speech follows the phrase. Examples: A bold and beautiful statue was popular. Bold and beautiful was the popular statue.

* Exception: Avoid using commas after short (four words or less) introductory prepositional phrases. Examples: Under the tree he hid. Under the shady oak tree, he hid.

8 Introductory Dependent Clauses A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Place a comma following introductory dependent clauses. Examples: Even though I listened, I didn’t understand.

9 Ending Dependent Clause A dependent clause includes a noun or pronoun and connected verb, but does not express a complete thought. Don’t  place a comma before an ending dependent clause. Example: I never got her letter although she did write.

10 Geography Place commas between related geographical place names and after the last place name,  unless it appears the end of a sentence. When the place name is a possessive, this rule does not apply. Examples: She lived in Rome, Italy, for a year. Rome, Italy’s traffic is congested.

11 Dates Use commas to separate number dates and years. Don’t place a comma following the year. Example: It all happened on May 3, 1999. On May 4, 1999 we went back home.

12 Beginning Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the beginning of the sentence, one comma follows. Examples: Kristen, leave some for your sister. Officer Daniels, I need your help. Whoever you are, stop talking.

13 Middle Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If in the middle of the sentence, one comma goes before and one follows. Examples: If you insist, Dad, I will. If you insist, Your Honor, I will.

14 Ending Direct Address Use commas to separate nouns of direct address. The noun can be a word, phrase, or clause. If at the end of the sentence, one comma goes before the noun. Examples: Just leave a little bit, honey. Just leave a little bit, best girlfriend.

15 Compound Sentence Use commas before coordinating conjunctions to join two independent clauses if one or more of the sentences is long. Example: I liked her, and she definitely said that she liked me.

16 Commas to Enclose Parenthetical Expressions Use commas before and after words that interrupt the flow of the sentence. If the interruption is minimal, you may leave out the commas. Example: The best way to see the game, if you can afford it, is in person.

17 Commas to Set Off Non-restrictive Clauses A nonrestrictive clause can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. The relative pronouns who, whom, whose, and which, but not that, begin nonrestrictive relative clauses. Use commas to set off nonrestrictive relative clauses from the noun or pronoun before the clause. Example: The girl, who sits in the corner, is sleepy.

18 Commas and Restrictive Clauses A restrictive clause can’t be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. A restrictive clause limits the meaning of the independent clause to which it is attached. Don’t use commas before and after restrictive clauses. Example: The student who wins the most votes will be elected Student Council President.

19 Comma and Abbreviations These abbreviations: Sr. (senior), Jr. (junior), and etc. (et cetera) are always preceded by a comma. Don’t place commas after these abbreviations. Examples: Howard, Sr. had Howard, Jr., take out the trash, water the lawn, pull weeds, etc.

20 Comma and Duplicate Words Place commas between repeated words when needed to improve clarity. Examples: Tommy and Pam moved in, in May.

21 Comma to Replace Missing Words Use commas to replace omitted words, especially the word that. Examples: I am a vegetarian; my wife, a meat-eater. Win some, lose some. What I mean is, she hasn’t changed her diet and followed mine.

22 Comma in Parenthetical Citations Place a comma after each author’s name, except the last in a multiple author citation. Don’t use a comma between the author(s) and the page number(s). Example: (Peabody, Jones, and Smith 14) Don’t place a comma between different authors or resource titles citing information; use a semicolon.

Examples: (Peabody 16; Jimenez 55) (The Nature of Change; Wrong Policy)

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The Most Useful Punctuation and Capitalization Rules

We’ve all had a chuckle or two when students or others have misused punctuation.

Of course the famous “Let’s eat grandma” would rank close to the top. Others include “I always have enjoyed cooking my friends, neighbors, and most of all my family” or the neighborhood sign, “SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY.”

My favorite would have to be this one:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.” Let’s revise as the following: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Wish I knew whom to credit for this one:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy. Will you let me be yours?

Gloria

Now let’s see the difference just by moving around the punctuation:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

Knowing how to properly punctuate and capitalize will help readers better understand what one intends. Additionally, readers judge misuse quite harshly. Following are punctuation with examples and capitalization with examples:

Punctuation/Examples

Commas 

-Use commas before or after speaker tags.

She said, “Call me at home.”

-Use commas to set apart appositives.

That man, the one with the hat, left.

-Use commas after each item in lists (except the last).

John, Jane, and Jose left early.

-Use commas after introductory words or phrases.

First of all, you should listen to me.

-Use commas between number dates and years.

It all happened on May 3, 1999.

-Use commas between geographical places.

She lived in Tampa, Florida.

-Use commas after greetings/closings in personal letters.

Dear Ralph, … Sincerely, …

-Use commas after nouns of direct address.

Kristin, leave some for your sister.

-Use commas before conjunctions to join two independent clauses.

I liked her, and she liked me.

Exclamation Points    

-Use exclamation points for surprise or strong emotions.

The decision really shocked me!

Quotation Marks

-Use quotation marks before and after direct quotations.

Sue said, “I’m going to bed.”

-Use quotation marks before and after songs, poems, document titles, book chapters, magazine articles, and short story titles.

Whenever I hear “Clementine,” it reminds me of “Leaves of Grass” and “The Gettysburg Address.”

Colons               

-Use colons after business letter greetings.

Dear Sirs:

-Use colons to introduce lists.

The following: shoes, pants, and…

-Use colons between numbers in relationship.

8:52 P.M.

Semicolons    

-Use semicolons to join independent clauses without conjunctions.

Jamal went to school; Larry met him.

Underlining     

-Underline movie, television show, book, magazine, and work of art titles.

I saw the wonderful Fiddler on the Roof last night.

Apostrophes    

-Use apostrophes for contractions.

I can’t see what they’re doing.

-Use apostrophes for singular and plural possessives.

Tom’s and the girls’ coats were red.

Parentheses

-Use parentheses to explain or define.

The hombre (man) rode off alone.

Capitalization      

-Capitalize proper nouns (a name that is given to special persons, places, or things).

Ryan visited Los Angeles to visit the Holocaust Museum.

-Capitalize holidays, dates, groups, organizations, and businesses.

Last Easter on March 24, 2002 the P.T.A. and McDonald’s helped out.

-Capitalize the first, last, and any important words in titles.

Prince Charles’s favorite book was Islands of Adventure.

-Capitalize the names of languages and peoples.

He spoke Spanish to the Indians.

-Capitalize special events and historical periods.

The New Year’s Day Parade celebrates the Year of the Dog.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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