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What Is the Punctuation Pyramid?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The punctuation pyramid is both a concept and a manipulative used in Big Writing, a teaching method developed in the United Kingdom by Ros Wilson over a period of three years. Schools in the United Kingdom and other European countries use Big Writing and, subsequently, the punctuation pyramid to improve the writing abilities of elementary or primary school students. As a manipulative, or an object that is used to help instruct a student, the pyramid is a desktop diagram with multicolored bands indicating a set of punctuation marks. In theory, as a child develops advanced writing skills, he or she is able to move down the pyramid using progressively more complex punctuation.

Big Writing writing focuses on four major areas with regard to increasing students' writing abilities. These areas include vocabulary, connectives, openers, and punctuation, as indicated by the acronym VCOP. With VCOP as a basis, the punctuation pyramid is the primary tool for teaching punctuation to students aged five to 11. Each colored band builds on the previous band, incorporating punctuation the student has already learned with new punctuation marks for the student to master.

In terms of concept, the punctuation period challenges students to monitor progress and seek out more challenging punctuation for writing exercises. Progressing downward through the levels of punctuation, each subsequent level indicates more sophisticated punctuation to further challenge the students' skills. First level punctuation, according to the punctuation pyramid, features only a period. Bottom level punctuation features commas, semicolons, apostrophes, and other punctuation marks. Used in conjunction with writing and speaking lessons, the punctuation pyramid seeks to call a students' attention to his or her own writing, including the use of punctuation.

Internalizing is a primary component of Big Writing. Students are expected to read and analyze the writing of others. Using the punctuation pyramid, students are encouraged to analyze the use of punctuation in what others write. According to Big Writing theories, the more a student can recognize and understand the use of punctuation in what he or she reads, the more likely he or she will use correct punctuation in personal writing. A physical manipulative of the punctuation period is used during writing exercises to further help a student visualize where his or her writing falls in terms of complexity.

The use of Big Writing and the punctuation pyramid is not widespread throughout the United Kingdom or Europe. The idea behind the concept, as well as specific teaching methodologies, was not developed until the beginning of the 21st century. Case studies involving schools in the UK and English-speaking schools overseas have helped to popularize its use based on positive results reported by both students and teachers.

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