GIA LAI DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HUNG VUONG GIFTED HIGH SCHOOL
AN ACTION RESEARCH
ON SECONDARY STUDENTS’
: ĐÀO NGUYỄN TIỂU QUYÊN
Position: Secondary school teacher
PART A: INTRODUCTION
Language is the most powerful weapon in communication. It makes
human beings different from animals. It is the way through which we share
our ideas and thoughts with others.
In the four skills of learning English, writing, as one of the
communicative activities, has been neglected by English learners. But in
reality, writing is very important; writing and speaking help you express
yourself. Writing is how much of the world communicates. Writing can be
a great tool to help you know more about the way you think... writing can
solidify ideas and thoughts, and allow you to reflect on them better than if
the ideas remained evolving in your head. Writing is one of the ways that
we translate our thoughts for other people.
Punctuation is one of the most important aspects of written English,
and yet it is one that is taken the most lightly. It is, in fact, this feature of
writing that gives meaning to the written words… much like pauses and
changes in tones of the voice when speaking. An error in punctuation can
convey a completely different meaning to the one that is intended.For
example, “ Don’t Stop.” means carry on, you are not required to stop.
Rewriting the same words as ‘Don’t. Stop’ means stop what ever is being
done with immediate effect. Definitely both sentences would be spoken in
a different manner. Let us look at another example: “He was bitten by a
dog which hurt him.” is completely different from “He was bitten by a dog,
which hurt him.” The first sentence means the dog hurt him. The second
sentence means the bite hurts him. It’s the comma after the dog that has
completely changed the meaning of the sentence.
It’s very important to know all the punctuation marks, their
meanings, and when to use them in order to produce a good piece of
writing – and more importantly, to convey the correct message.
Moreover, Good punctuation shows that a student or a writer has a good
knowledge of grammatical structure. And to understand the latter, you
should obviously grasp what is a simple sentence, a complex sentence and
the meaning of each punctuation marks and where to use them. Good,
correct use of punctuation is very important in your writing. Punctuation
often plays the same role as variations in your voice do when you are
speaking: full stops, colons, semi-colons and commas indicate various
lengths of pauses; a question mark obviously indicates a question, whereas
a rise or fall in your voice would do this. Lack of punctuation, therefore, or
incorrect use of it, will result in your writing being difficult to follow, and
your reader having to do unnecessary work. It could, in fact, be argued that
correct punctuation is more important than correct grammar in making your
writing easy to read.
It is convenient for Vietnamese to learn punctuation in English
because Vietnamese and English have the same language system. Their
usage of punctuation is almost similar. That is the reason why the students
use some common punctuation marks in the habit. Teaching punctuation at
schools in general and high schools in particular is not mentioned much
because in reality, this is not the curriculum. Moreover, in the high school
graduation examination and the entrance university examination, students
only have to do multiple-choice tests, which make them lazy to study
Thus, beginning with the recognition of the importance of
punctuation in writing and the practical teaching, we choose “An Action
Research on Secondary Students’ Punctuation” as the topic of my
II. Scope, objectives and research question of the research
This research is aimed to investigate how and how much students at Hung
Vuong Gifted High School in Gia Lai province use punctuation in writing.
The data collection and data analysis therefore are based on the information
provided by written tests and the journals written by the students of Hung
Vuong Gifted High School during the first semester from August to
December 2012. The subjects of the study are the students of class 12C1 of
Hung Vuong Gifted High School.
To be more specific, in realizing the study, the main objectives are:
- To investigate how much the students use punctuation marks in writing.
- To investigate how the students use punctuation marks in writing.
- To give some pedagogical implications and suggestions for further
With those objectives, my research questions with sub-questions are:
1. How much do students use correct punctuation marks?
- Are the students eager to use punctuation in writing?
2. How accurately and purposefully do students use punctuations mark?
- Do they use the correct punctuation marks?
3. What are the students’ attitudes towards the usage of punctuation
PATR B: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
I.1. The concepts of punctuation
Up to now, there have been many officially published materials on
punctuation by English. The best known book on this grammatical point in
the English language is “Punctuation” by Robert Allen (2002). According
to them, punctuation is the use of standard marks and signs in writing to
separate words into sentences, clauses, and phrases in order to clarify
meaning. The marks or signs are called punctuation marks. Punctuation
marks are signals to readers. When you speak, you can pause, stop, or
change your tone of voice to make your meaning clear. You cannot do this
when you write. When writing, you must use punctuation marks such as
commas and question marks to make your meaning clear.
Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate the structure and organization
of written language, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when
reading aloud. (Wikipedia)
In the book entitled “The King's English: A Guide to Modern
Usage,” Kingsley Amis states that punctuation is the system of signs given
to a reader to show how the sentence is constructed and how it should be
read. Sentences are the building blocks used to construct written accounts.
They are complete statements. Punctuation shows how the sentence should
be read and makes the meaning clear.
I.2. The importance of punctuation
According to Oxford dictionary, punctuation marks are essential
when you are writing. They show the reader where sentences start and
finish and if they are used properly they make your writing easy to
understand. This section gives practical guidance on how to use commas,
semicolons, and other types of punctuation correctly, so that your writing
will always be clear and effective.
For example, "woman, without her man, is nothing" (emphasizing the
importance of men) and "woman: without her, man is nothing"
emphasizing the importance of women) have greatly different meanings.
I.3. Types of punctuation marks
1. Period [.] (Full stop)
- Use a period to show the end of a sentence.
Hockey is a popular sport in Canada.
The federal government is based in Ottawa.
- Use a period after certain abbreviations.
B.C. is the province located on the West Coast.
Dr. Bethune was a Canadian who worked in China.
The company is located at 888 Bay St. in Toronto.
It is 4:00 p.m. in Halifax right now.
3.2. Question Mark [?]
- Use a question mark at the end of a sentence to show a direct question.
How many provinces are there in Canada?
Note: do not use a question mark for indirect questions.
The teacher asked the class a question. Do not ask me why.
3.3. Exclamation Mark [!]
Use an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence to show surprise or
We won the Stanley Cup!
The forest is on fire!
3.4. Comma [,]
- Use a comma to show a pause in a sentence.
Therefore, we should write a letter to the prime minister.
- Use a comma with quotation marks to show what someone has said
"I can come today," she said, "but not tomorrow."
- Use commas for listing three or more different things.
Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. are the three biggest provinces.
- Use commas around relative clauses that add extra information to a
Emily Carr, who was born in 1871, was a great painter.
3.5. Apostrophe [']
- Use an apostrophe to show ownership of something.
This is David's computer.
These are the player's things. (things that belong to the player)
Note: For nouns in plural form, put the apostrophe at the end of the noun.
These are the players' things. (things that belong to the players)
- Use an apostrophe to show letters that have been left out of a word.
I don't know how to fix it.
3.6. Quotation Marks ["]
Use quotation marks to show what someone has said directly.
The prime minister said, "We will win the election."
"I can come today," she said, "but not tomorrow."
3.7. Colon [:]
- Use a colon to introduce a list of things.
There are three positions in hockey: goalie, defence, and forward.
- Use a colon to introduce a long quotation.
The prime minister said: "We will fight. We will not give up. We will
win the next election."
3.8. Semicolon [;]
- Use a semicolon to join related sentences together.
The festival is very popular; people from all over the world visit each
- Use a semicolon in lists that already have commas.
The three biggest cities in Canada are Toronto, Ontario; Montreal,
Quebec; and Vancouver, B.C.
3.9. Dash [-]
- Use a dash before a phrase that summarizes the idea of a sentence.
Mild, wet, and cloudy - these are the characteristics of weather in
- Use a dash before and after a phrase or list that adds extra information in
the middle of a sentence.
The children - Pierre, Laura, and Ashley - went to the store.
Most Canadians - but not all - voted in the last election.
- Use a dash to show that someone has been interrupted when speaking.
The woman said, "I want to ask - " when the earthquake began to
shake the room.
3.10. Hyphen [-]
- Use a hyphen to join two words that form one idea together.
- Use a hyphen to join prefixes to words.
- Use a hyphen when writing compound numbers.
I.4. Teaching Punctuation
Converting spoken words into a written form is a critical process. If
you fail to convey the exact intended meaning of what someone said, you
are essentially conveying the message in a different form which may entail
consequences. Thanks to the punctuation marks, a writer can put his/her
feelings into the message and make it more interesting and attractive to the
readers. So teaching punctuation is an on-going process in four-skill
According to Janet Angelillo, here are some guides to teach
Starting With What Students Know and Notice: The class focuses on
the author’s intentions and on noticing how the author wanted to shape our
reading of the text. Whole-class and small-group work suggestions show
ways to meet students’ needs and extend student learning.
- Building on Students’ Knowledge: extend students’experience
punctuation beyond examining texts, practicing in notebooks, and
discussing with peers. By assessing your class’s needs,
you may decide
to plan additional punctuation study of an author, a genre, or deep study of
one punctuation mark across content areas.
- “Hearing” punctuation: how reading aloud to students holds such owner
for teaching them punctuation. Through reading aloud, teacher teach
students the way reading should “sound,” and we can model for them by
thinking aloud about our decisions as readers when we see punctuation.
Punctuation is therefore a “code” which must be understood in the same
way that the combinations of letters that make up words must be
- Conferring With Children: conferring as a way to research and assess
what students know about punctuation. Conferring is a powerful tool for
gathering information, and teachers should use the information to inform
their teaching. Ideas for later lessons can come from conferring. It also
includes groups of mini-lessons that grew from information gathered in
- Reading and Writing by the Book: Studying authors, not grammar texts,
is what will teach students that punctuation is a powerful and complex tool.
Looking at authentic texts helps students learn punctuation and then holds
them to a standard of punctuation use.
- Passionate about punctuation: supporting students who become fascinated
by punctuation. When students are treated as learners who can figure out
most anything, they often take up the challenge and surprise everyone with
their passion for any topic. You will read about mid- and end-of-year
studies in punctuation that push students to deepen their knowledge and
improve their facility. Independent study of punctuation
evaluation are also important pieces of a total punctuation immersion. This
is what teachers can do when students want to know more about
punctuation, and how to encourage them.
- Losing the red pen: evaluating Written Conventions
Teacher will face the difficult question of how to evaluate punctuation.
Examining student writing while thinking about how the student has
grown, what he or she is demonstrating about learning, or what he or she is
attempting to do make evaluation of writing much richer and provides
validation for students.
I.5. Punctuation and intonation
Punctuation, the use of special signs in writing to clarify how words
are used; the term also refers to the signs themselves. In every language,
besides the sounds of the words that are strung together there are other
features, such as tone, accent, and pauses, that are equally significant. In
English, stress, pausing, and tonal changes interlock in a set of patterns
often called intonations. Such features are represented by punctuation,
indicated by signs inserted usually between words, and often following the
feature they mark.
The intonations of declaration are classified in three types,
symbolized by the comma (,), used to separate words or phrases for clarity;
the semicolon (;), used to mark separation between elements in a series of
related phrases, generally in a long sentence; and the full stop, or period (.),
used to mark the end of a sentence. Other intonations are shown by the
exclamation point (!); the interrogation point, or question mark (?); the
parenthesis [( )], used to set off a word or phrase from a sentence that is
complete without it; and the colon (:), typically used to introduce material
that elaborates on what has already been said. Quotation marks (" ")
indicate direct quotation or some borrowing, and usually demand special
intonation. The ellipsis (…) is used to indicate the place in a passage where
material has been omitted or a thought has trailed off. The long dash (—) is
especially used in handwriting for incomplete intonation patterns.
CHAPTER 2: DEVELOPMENT OF THE RESEARCH
I.1. Students and Teachers
The most significant feature of the students entering Hung Vuong
Gifted High School is that most of them come from different secondary
schools in the districts of the province and the Pleiku city in many of which
traditional method of teaching English is popularly applied. Although their
learning focused on the grammar, they hardly know how to use punctuation
marks. Most of them find the high school learning completely different
from that at their secondary schools and make the first steps to access to the
higher requirements in learning English in general and learning how to
write effectively in particular.
In the English group of Hung Vuong Gifted High School, there are
12 teachers, who were all trained in universities in Viet Nam (Da Nang
University of Foreign Languages and Qui Nhon University). They are from
30 to 50 years of age. 3 of them are experienced teachers who have devoted
over 20 years of their life to the development of the School and the grownup of generations of teachers in the province; others are young teachers
who are friendly, active, knowledgeable and full of inspiration for teaching.
Every year, they are all sent to seminars or training courses held in Pleiku
or other cities.
I.2. School and class
improvements in the school’s infrastructure. Students are in small-sized
class (from 30 to 35 students/class); each class has one private classroom to
study. The rooms are especially designed for small classes with large
windows, blackboards, fans, lights and especially projector and sound
mixer which are very convenient for teaching. Besides, there is a language
learning laboratory that helps teachers and students improve their English
Teaching English 12 (Advanced level) is distributed 4 periods (45
minutes/period) a week. English 12 (Advanced level), the book following
the English 10 and 11 (Advanced level), consists of sixteen units whose
themes are Home life, Cultural diversity, School Education System, Higher
Education, Future Jobs, Economic Reformed, Youth, Future Life, Deserts,
Endangered species, Books, Water Sports, SEA Games, International
Organizations, Women in Society and Association of Southeast Asian
Each unit contains:
and is carried out for seven periods – two for Reading lesson, one for
Listening lesson, one for Speaking lesson, one for Writing lesson and two
for Language Focus lesson. So there is a writing lesson about every two
weeks. And it is assessed as a part of on-going tests.
II. Methodology of the study
The action research is carried out in a 12-grade class of 32 literaturemajor students at the age of 18, eight boys and 23 girls one third live in the
city center and the rest come from various districts in the province. Their
level of proficiency in English can be roughly attributed to preintermediate, judging from the curriculum and requirements of the
Education and Training Ministry. The students attended a hard entrance
examination to become students of the gifted school. Some of them are
considered as the best students in Literature in Gia lai after spending
several examinations held by the Gia Lai Education and Training
Department or Vietnam Education and Training Ministry to choose the
best. This means most of them are good at Vietnamese and Literature. It is
acknowledged that they know how to use correct punctuation marks in
II.2. Problem diagnosis
To clarify the problems, the researcher scored the first practice test,
interviewed students, read the students’ journals to discover the reasons
why they cannot use the correct punctuation marks:
Focusing on the content of an essay and forgetting the punctuation
Doing multiple-choice test makes them neglect punctuation
Not having opportunities to learn how to use the proper punctuation
Not having opportunities to "play” with punctuation
II.3. Plan of action
Finding the problem through the students’ first
writing practice test (unit 1)
Finding the students’ need by their journals and
Collecting data by collecting the students’
Writing action research report
Submitting the report
II.4. Data collection
The results of the study were developed on the basis of data collected
via observation, practice tests and journals written by students. As
motioned above, the stage of data collection has been carried out during the
first semester of the school year 2012-2013.
The first instrument for collecting data is observation schedules
aiming to examine the students’ frequency of using proper punctuation
marks in pre- and post- tests. The pre-observation has been carried out in
the first practice test (unit 1: Home Life) and the post-observation is used to
examine the students’ usage of punctuation in the last writing practice test
of the first semester of school year 2012-2013. Besides, punctuation study
must be embedded in authentic reading and writing experiences, and must
become part of the classroom conversation all semester long. So another
observation is fulfilled during the reading, listening and speaking lesson
(sometimes through games of language) to emphasize how to read the
the teacher asks students to read the reading passage, paying
much the intonation because punctuation tells the reader where to pause,
breathe, raise his voice, change his voice, etc. This activity is on-going in
speaking and listening lessons.
The teacher organizes punctuations games such as filling,
guessing the punctuation, etc.
The second instruments are students’ journals written regularly every two
week after the teacher correct score their writing practice tests in each unit
to express their reflection on the usage of punctuation and also the practice
of effective writing . The journals are aimed to collect data for the research,
thus, they were structured to focus on the issues related to the research
questions. The students were also informed that the journal are not marked,
but they are just means by which the students feel totally free to reflect
their feelings, opinions of the lessons to help the teacher improve the
teaching and learning. It is of great important that they will give reflection
thoroughly and honestly. All this is done to make sure that the students’
journals will provide essential qualitative data for the research.
After all the data have been collected, we move into quantitative and
qualitative data analysis, which will be thoroughly presented in the next
III. Data analysis
III.1. Data analysis procedure
In term of quantitative analysis, the data collected from the
observations of pre and post-practice tests were used to discover the
students’ frequency of using punctuation marks.
In term of qualitative analysis, the data collected from the second
observation and students’ journals are useful sources of data about the
students’ accuracy of using punctuation marks in writing and speaking and
their attitude towards the punctuation.
III.2. Data analysis results
Punctuation means making points. It means putting the right kind of
points in the right place so as to mark the exact length and meaning of
sentences. Proper punctuation is essential in written English to enable the
reader to understand what it is you are trying to say.
III.2.1. The results from observations
The results from observations of the pre-practice test
In unit 1 of English 12 (Advanced level), the topic of writing lesson
is Family rules. The students were asked to write a letter to a friend about
their family rules in about 200 words. Here is the frequency of the students’
usage of punctuation marks.
Table 1: The frequency of students’ using punctuation marks in the prepractice test
occurrence / necessary occurrence
250 / 423
Question Mark [?]
8 / 15
Exclamation Mark [!]
289 / 524
18 / 55
Quotation Marks ["]
27 / 32
30 / 32
17 / 23
As can be seen from the table 1, the students did not use the
punctuation much. They seemed to neglect Exclamation Mark (20%) and
semicolon (0%). When the teacher interviewed them, they said that they
did not know how to use these punctuation marks in English and they
focuses so much on the contents and the grammar structures that they did
not pay attention to the punctuation. On the contrary, they used the colon
most with 94% because they were familiar with it in Vietnamese.
Here are some common mistakes and abuses of punctuation marks that the
students made in the pre-practice test of writing
1. Neglect of Full stop
Most of the students forgot the usage of full stop in the end of the
last sentence in a paragraph or after certain abbreviations.
- I love my family
- We represent our family wherever we go, and my parents expect us to
- Tell the truth
2. Punctuation outside Quotes:
In English, punctuation should always be placed within quotation
marks, even if it’s not part of the quotation itself. Look at what a student of
mine write in their essays:
“The amount of work that children contribute to the family is essential”,
says my father
The problem here is that when a comma separates two independent
clauses, they must be joined by a conjunction. Without a conjunction, it
becomes a comma splice. So the sentence must be corrected like this:
The amount of work that children contribute to the family is
essential,” says my father
“I'm the one in power (ha-ha, you're not)”, “I'm an adult so I
matter, you're a kid so you don't”, and “Just wait until you grow up.
Then you can break all the rules you want”.
must be written:
“I'm the one in power (ha-ha, you're not),” “I'm an adult so I
matter, you're a kid so you don't,” and “Just wait until you grow up.
Then you can break all the rules you want.”
3. Missing Comma after introductory elements:
Introductory elements of a sentence need a comma afterwards. Some
of my students forgot that. So the sentence:
In my family my parents always set a rule.
should be changed into:
In my family, my parents always set a rule.
4. Misplaced Apostrophes:
Most of the students were confused whether they use apostrophes for
possessives and conjunctions where appropriate.
Every home should have it’s own home rules.
it’s in the sentence is completely wrong in term of grammar, its is correct.
It's what anchors children's loyalty to their parents and brothers and
sisters--and forges a lifelong bond to their parents' convictions of
right and wrong. It empowers children's inner voice of conscience
The message that the student wanted to convey through these sentences is
meaningful but it is not appreciated because of the mistake of using
apostrophes. Here are the corrections
their parents’ convictions of right or wrong
children’s inner voice
5. Incorrect use of Cemicolons:
Semicolons are frequently used incorrectly. They connect two independent
clauses that could be distinct, separate sentences. This is one of the most
difficult punctuation marks to use that the students tended to forget or use
Wrong: We used to think that following family rules was hard
however, we can now get it easy.
Right: We used to think that following family rules was hard;
however, we can now get it easy.
Keep your rule list sparse, the fewer there are, the more power each
rule will have.
should be written:
Keep your rule list sparse; the fewer there are, the more power each
rule will have.
6. Incorrect use of Semicolons:
Influenced by Vietnamese, the students sometimes put colon after
Wrong: Set regular times for certain activities such as: meals,
homework, cleanup and bedtime.
Right: Set regular times for certain activities such as meals,
homework, cleanup and bedtime.
7. Too many punctuation marks
- Do you agree with me???
- I love my family!!!
- Let me tell you all about my family riles…..
The students think that when they use three punctuation marks
instead of one, the question becomes deeper, more mysterious and more
impressive. Too many punctuation marks distract the reader and make the
text look sloppy. They also render a pushy, in-your-face, or desperate tone.
The results from observations of the post-practice test
For the post- practice test in unit 8 of English 12 (Advanced level),
the students were asked to write a paragraph about life in the future in
about 200 words. The requirement is to use as much punctuation as
possible to make the paragraph more lively. Here is the frequency of the
thirty-two students’ usage of punctuation marks.