Pondering Punctuation

poem by Jenny Erlanger , illustrated by Rosemary Fung

Learning Intention: 

I am learning how to understand and interpret personification so that I can develop a deeper understanding of poetry. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can explain the meaning of personification. 
  • I can generate my own examples of personification.  
  • I can identify examples of personification in a text and explain why the author has used it.  

Essential knowledge: 

  • More information about how personification (imagery) is used to create complex meanings can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Connotation, Imagery and Symbol. 

Before reading the poem, explore the concept of personification with the class. First provide students with the definition of personification: attributing human characteristics to abstractions (non-human concepts) such as feelings, objects and animals. You may then want to provide students with a list of objects to personify such as a tree, kettle, piece of furniture or item of technology.  

Next, explain that they will be reading a poem in which the poet has personified the following punctuation marks: a comma, exclamation mark, full stop and question mark. Prior to reading, students must consider what these punctuation marks would be like if they were human. To do this, they must consider the purpose of each of the punctuation marks. TThen they must link this purpose with a personality trait. For example, an exclamation mark is used at the end of a short sentence that expresses a strong feeling. Therefore, if the exclamation mark was a human, they might be passionate, very loud or quick to anger or become upset.  

Students describe the unique traits of the following four personalities: Comma, Exclamation Mark, Full Stop and Question Mark. Using a digital tool such as Adobe’s Free Avatar Creator, students can also visualise these punctuation marks, adding to a richer sense of personification.  

Once students have created their own personified punctuation marks, read the poem as a class. Then, as a class summarise the character traits the poet has assigned to each punctuation mark:  

  • Comma: surrounded by its peers 
  • Exclamation mark: extremely confident 
  • Full stop: relaxed and lives in the present 
  • Question mark: anxious in mind and body language 

Explain to students that the poet has used personification for a specific purpose beyond making the poem sound interesting. Draw students’ attention to the punctuation’s character trait and ask them to find the link between it and the function of that punctuation mark in writing. Focus on student responses that recognise that the purpose of the personification is to make a joke about the effect of a punctuation mark also describes a type of person, or the way that a person could speak.