6 Rules of Capitalization Your Students Need to Know
Posted by GRASPhopper Team on
6 Rules of Capitalization Your Students Need to Know
There are lots of rules to the mechanics of writing, and yet they are so important! From conveying meaning to editing their work, we want to prepare our students for life outside of the classroom - and that includes knowledge of mechanics. This influences how people read and interpret what we write. One part of mechanics is, of course, capitalization rules. In this blog, we’ll dig into the six capitalization rules your students need to know.
How do you teach capitalization rules?
Capitalization rules are just that: rules. They require memorization, and we know it is not always easy for students to commit things to memory. The best way to help students memorize capitalization rules is by giving them a kid-friendly connection and lots of practice. Find a way to connect the rule to real life examples of why this rule is necessary.
The other thing to consider when teaching capitalization rules is pacing. Teach just one rule at a time. Prioritize what students need to know in order to complete other necessary writing elements.
For example, you are likely going to teach students to capitalize the first letter of their name or the first letter of a sentence long before you teach them that some eras in history should be capitalized.
When talking about rules, it often helps to get to the bottom of why this rule exists. When students understand the purpose of the rules, they are often more apt to implementing them. This also gets in front of all the “but why???” questions you will ultimately get when telling students they must use something in their writing.
When we break it down and take each rule one at a time, the task feels much less daunting. Remember, too, to practice before moving on, and then continually practice each rule. You can build capitalization practice into bellringers, centers, and general writing you do in class!
Let’s take a look at the six capitalization rules students need to know.
Capitalizing the Beginning of Sentences
The reason behind this first rule is simple to explain! Capitalizing the beginning of a sentence tells the reader that new information is starting.
Capitalization at the beginning of sentences breaks up the text in a way that makes it easier to read. For example, “mrs. smith went to the store. she needed bread,” is a lot more challenging to read than, “I always have breakfast. It is very healthy.” Visually, our eyes can see when the next sentence began because of the capital (and the period helped, too! But that's for a different blog). Give students example sentences like the ones above to model this for them!
Capitalization of Names
The next capitalization rule is to teach students that the first letter of first and last names are always capitalized, as well as the first letter of a prefix like “Mrs.,” “Dr.,” or “Mr.”
One thing that can be tricky for students is that names of things like pets and fictional characters are included. However, they are still names and therefore proper nouns, which are always capitalized. Make sure to directly discuss these proper nouns.
Use a character that is high-interest to students when modeling this. For example, show them that Mario and Luigi are written with capitals, rather than mario and luigi.
Make sure you also address that names of companies fall into this rule. Students will write about looking things up on Google, but do not realize that Google is the name of a business and therefore must be capitalized.
When explaining the purpose behind this rule, let student’s know that capitalizing names lets readers know you are referring to a specific person, business or character, no matter where the name appears in the sentence.
This is a pretty simple rule for students to remember once you practice it a few times. Practice with sentences that contain familiar and high-interest people, characters, and companies like, “I found an Anna and Elsa pillow on Google,” and “I watch lots of Buzz Lightyear and Woody videos on YouTube.”
Capitalization of Places
The next capitalization rule deals with places. Students need to learn that the first letter of a country, state, and city all need to be capitalized. You can start by giving them examples using your own city, state, and country. Show other examples like Atlanta, Georgia, Sacramento, California, and the United States of America.
You can also discuss specific street names, such as Main Street. Have students write their address or the school's address to practice this rule.
Use this capitalization rule to reinforce that the first letter of a restaurant or store name should be capitalized. since they are places people can go. For example, the first letter in Walmart, Target, and Macy’s should all be capitalized. Show students that restaurants like McDonald’s, Domino’s, and The Cheesecake Factory are all capitalized too.
When explaining this rule, be sure to remind students that capitalizing places lets reader’s know you are talking about a specific location. As well, teach that sometimes a word can be a common and a proper noun- but with different meanings. For example, We are going to Target means something very different than We are going to target...
When working on this rule, be sure to give practice examples that have more than one word within the name of the place. Often students will capitalize just the first word in the name of a restaurant or city.
You can practice this rule with sentences like, “I raced my friend down Maple Street,” and “To get to Home Depot, you need to turn on Broad Street and follow it until you get to Oak Street.” Have students write about their favorite places to go. Then have students switch papers and edit the work of their peers for capitalization of places.
Capitalization of Titles
Next, talk about the capitalization rule of titles. This includes books, movies, and shows. Use books they are familiar with like Captain Underpants or Hatchet. This rule can be explained in the same way as capitalization of places. Again, be sure to include practice opportunities with titles that have more than one word!
To practice, have students write sentences with their favorite movies, books, or TV shows or write them together as a class! Students will be much more excited about practicing with sentences about Encanto or Harry Potter than a sentence about a movie they’ve never heard of.
After they write their sentences, have students swap papers again and check for capitals.
Capitalization of the Pronoun “I”
This is a tricky one for students because it is a one-letter word. Many students do not capitalize “I” as a pronoun when writing. Or they want to capitalize every “I” they come across. We see this across all grades, even in the writing of middle school students. Often, students will quickly scan their work and do not notice the stand alone “I”s.
To explain this rule, give students a few sentences that contain “I” and ask them who the “I” is referring to. When they respond “it’s talking about you,” lead them into a discussion that you are a specific person, and therefore the I needs to be capitalized to show that. They can think of the I as a capitalization of a name.
For this capitalization rule, be sure to talk about when this pronoun is included in a contraction like “I’m” or “I’ve.” Let them know it is still referring to a person, so it needs to be capitalized. Practice with sentences like, “After school, I’m going to the store,” or “Do you want to hear what I’ve been up to?”
Another practice idea is to provide students with a paragraph that contains a large number of the pronoun I, both capitalized and lowercase. Ask students to locate all of the pronoun “I”s that they can find. It may be helpful to give them the specific number they are looking for. Then, have them edit the lowercase “I”s. This task will give them practice in noticing the lowercase “I.”
Capitalization of Calendar Words
Lastly, teach students that days, months, and holidays should be capitalized. Show them the difference between august and August, wednesday and Wednesday, and christmas and Christmas. When discussing the purpose of this rule, explain these are the names of the day, months, and holidays - which is why they are capitalized! However, make sure you mention that seasons are not capitalized, since they are considered common nouns.
We’ve noticed that many of our students know to capitalize the days of the week and often the months of the year, or at least can more easily find these mistakes during the editing phase of writing. Likely because they have seen these words daily throughout their schooling. We recommend making sure practice activities include holidays - not only does this help with mechanics, but helping students to understand the difference between all the calendar terms.
Practice with sentences like, “Christmas is celebrated in December,” and “My family goes to the beach for independence Day every July 4th.”
It’s easy to add in some capitalization work for calendar words during morning meeting or bellringers!
Capitalization Activity Ideas
Here are a few activities you can use for teaching capitalization -
#1 During morning meeting, make mistakes in the morning message that students need to find and fix in their writing notebooks
#2 During read-aloud, have students identify all the capitals on a specified page and explain which type each one is
#3 Have students write all the capitals they find on a page of their independent reading book
#4 Each day, have students list 5 items to answer a prompt and underline the capital letters. Prompts can be favorite holidays, favorite restaurants, worst candy, interesting characters, action TV shows or Movies, etc
#5 Have students write 3 sentences with missing capitals. Then, trade with a classmate and have them add the missing capitals.
If the thought of teaching capitalization rules to your students is overwhelming, we have a resource to help you! Our Differentiated Capital Letters Resource is perfect for second and third grades.
It covers all six capitalization rules, like calendar, names, titles, and more with fun and engaging mystery stories. Students can practice these rules while also engaging in reading or listening to the complete stories. Students will be able to practice with both multiple choice and open response, depending on their level and abilities. The resource also pairs perfectly with our Capitalization Rules for Kids YouTube video.
We hope this blog helps you tackle capitalization rules with your students! Our best tip is to practice, practice, practice. Include these rules in bellringers, read alouds, and journal prompts! The more you practice, the more it will become a habit.
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