Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: What I Have Learned From the Ellipsis… #SOL18
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Slice of Life: What I Have Learned From the Ellipsis… #SOL18

Conventions.  Conventions have got me down lately.  The use, and lack thereof, in student writing seems to be a recurring theme in many of my professional development sessions.  Teachers are working tirelessly to teach, model, explain and support students in the use of conventions.  Student’s writing does not reflect this instructional effort.  They don’t seem to be committing the use of conventions to working memory.  When they are writing authentically, they have no use for most conventions.


Enter ellipses…


I have yet to meet a five-year-old who has studied Mo Willems, Ezra Jack Keats or Jan Thomas and doesn’t use an ellipsis appropriately.  They love ellipses.




I have been observing, talking, asking, listening, playing with, and noticing this phenomenon.  Why ellipses?  Isn’t it simpler to know when to put a period than an ellipsis?  Isn’t a period more common?  Shouldn’t a period be more familiar to them?  I think the answer to each question is … YES.  So, what’s up with an ellipsis?

I think what sets it apart is its purpose and how it is taught.  Ellipses are not typically taught as a convention or a rule.  They are not something you check for or have to remember.  An ellipsis is a craft.  It is a move a writer makes to add tension or to signal the reader to pause.  An ellipsis adds meaning to your writing and allows the writer to decide when he or she wants to create this mood or feeling in the text.

When I confer with a young writer and add the “Dun, Dun, Duuuun” to his story, his eyes light up and a huge smile spreads across his face.  Young writers see the power in this craft and they are off and running. Now with all things, there is often an initial over-application of use.  What is interesting to me, is that while overused, they are still using ellipses in the appropriate spots in their writing.  They know how they want to use them and they execute effectively.  In fact, they let you know it if you read it incorrectly.

So, what I have I learned from ellipses?

Teach punctuation and conventions as crafts rather than rules.  When students know why they are using a convention or how a convention adds voice to their writing, they seem to pay more attention to the use of them.  All writers want to make their writing better and they know that using crafts is the way to do it.  When we study mentor texts and mentor authors, let’s include how they use conventions.  When we design our units, let’s launch sometimes with conventions rather than wait until the end.  When we plan our instruction, let’s make sure conventions are taught in the same way we teach leads, endings, word choice, and dialogue.  When we notice the power of conventions, how they add mood, tone, tension or intrigue, our students notice them as well.

We have been trying this with young writers and we are seeing it pay off.  When we value it and we show them how an audience will value it, they seem to slow down and choose the convention they need to add voice to their writing.  Now…spelling sight words and using capital letters correctly is another story…


Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year

  • Avatar
    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 12:17h, 08 March Reply

    I love your thinking here this morning and maybe I can find a way to put an ellipses into my morning message – what would be that exciting about today?

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    Christie Wyman
    Posted at 12:27h, 08 March Reply

    Were you spying on my Kindergarten writer’s workshop yesterday? We are both in Massachusetts after all! Obsessed with ellipses is an absolute understatement. They run rampant through the pages of my student’s writing. And the best part is that when they share their writing with the class, they can’t wait to say “dot dot dot.” It doesn’t matter how often I tell them you don’t do that, they still do! Personally, I blame Mo!

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    Susan Kennedy
    Posted at 13:05h, 08 March Reply

    As you might notice, as a writer I overuse ellipses and may in fact, bend the rules of their use. I have begun to talk to our youngest writers about using punctuation for story voice too. Haven’t seen the big payoff…yet.

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    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 13:45h, 08 March Reply

    I am on board for teaching punctuation as craft. Grammar and conventions – so closely tied with elements of style. The ellipsis gives voice to a piece of writing – so much anticipation and suspense and excitement and endless possibilities! Students tend to overuse something they are trying out for size, discovering how it fits into their writing pieces. It levels off eventually when they own it. Love the choice of authors you mention. Another great post, Clare. Thank you!

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    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 13:56h, 08 March Reply

    You know, when Lynne and I were writing “Grammar Matters,” an English professor friend of mine, said, “But you’re writing about style and craft, not conventions.” She felt that the book should have been about rules and how to apply them. However, conventions craft style. I love ellipses; kids do too. I love seeing the classroom through your eyes.

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    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 14:23h, 08 March Reply

    I love ellipses, but I also love sentences and capital letters and the power I have over readers when I use all of those moves well, too. Maybe that’s the way in to get them to matter to our kiddos. I think also it’s all about approximation and accepting that we can all only spin so many plates at once.

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    Paula Bourque
    Posted at 15:32h, 08 March Reply

    YES! YES! YES! Punctuation with purpose is a craft move. LOVE this post!

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    Rose Cappelli
    Posted at 22:33h, 08 March Reply

    So fun! It’s all in the delivery I think. If you make conventions exciting…they will be exciting. If you let kids experiment with conventions in their own writing…they will use them effectively. If you relegate conventions to worksheets…uh-oh!

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    Amy Rudd
    Posted at 02:37h, 09 March Reply

    I agree with the idea of teaching the craft moves. I love to see young writers experiment and try what they read in mentor texts. I think Mo helps them catch ellipses fever!

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    Julie Zasadil
    Posted at 03:41h, 09 March Reply

    We use Lucy Calkins to teach writing and we model small moment stories with The night of the Veggie Monster as our mentor text. The first graders always love the pages with the eclipses on them. Your post reminded me of the difficulty in teaching conventions. I say, “period, capital letter,”. More than a dozen times a day during writer’s workshop .

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    Ashley Brown
    Posted at 03:51h, 09 March Reply

    I am saving this post to share with my teachers! We talk often about how students (in grades 3 and 4) struggle with conventions. This is going to spark some great conversation!

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