Apostrophe Detectives


Writing Trait/Strategy:
Writing conventions

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Alphie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue
The Girl’s Like Spaghetti by Lynne Truss
Greedy Apostrophe by Jan Carr
The Perfect Pop-Up Punctuation Book by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels

This lesson focuses on apostrophes, but the procedures can be used for any writing convention. I noticed that my students were very confused about the proper usage of apostrophes. As with anything new, learners tend to overuse punctuation–some of them even started using apostrophes in every plural noun (“I have three cat’s.” “The flower’s are blooming.”).

The writer "uses but confuses" apostrophes

I decided to launch an investigation that we called “Apostrophe Detectives.” Each student searched through their independent reading books for words that contained apostrophes and wrote both the word and the phrase or sentence that contained the word.

Next I had the students work in small groups to discuss what they noticed. As a class we made charts of some of our “noticings.” We talked about why the apostrophe is an important punctuation mark and what happens when it is used incorrectly.

Next I read Greedy Apostrophe  to wrap up our discussion. Then I asked them to look through their writer’s notebooks to find any “greedy apostrophes” in their own writing. After our investigation, my students didn’t all go off and immediately start using apostrophes correctly, but this investigation made them much more aware of this little punctuation mark in both their reading and writing and helped them gain a more solid understanding of its proper use. I invited them to continue to search for “greedy apostrophes” in their own work and in the world. This is a common error—even among adults. Just a few days after our discussion, I found this “greedy apostrophe” at a local store! 

For more information on using mentor texts to teach grammar and punctuation skills, I highly recommend the following resources:

Patterns of Power by Jeff Anderson
A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation by Janet Angelillo
Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson

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