Teaching Capitalization

When teaching capitalization, it is important to remember that mastery comes with practice. Students need to learn how to recognize and use capital letters in different settings. Discover some great ideas for different ways to expose students to the rules of capitalization, along with options for students to practice the rules so they will become second nature to them.

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Basic Capitalization Rules for Students to Learn

Teaching capitalization involves helping students learn, remember and apply how to properly use capital letters in their writing. You’ll want to start by providing students with an overview of the basic capitalization rules.

The following items get capitalized:

  • first word in a sentence
  • proper nouns, including people, cities, holidays, organizations, and places (Bob and Mary live in the Pacific Northwest and celebrate Christmas there.)
  • the pronoun "I"
  • days and months of the year
  • proper adjectives like French or African
  • words used as names and titles, like Mom (when addressing you mother, as if it were her name) and General (such as General Colin Powell)
  • the first word used when opening or closing a letter, like Dear friends or Yours truly
  • the main words in a title, like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince or Little House on the Prairie
  • historical events, eras or documents like the Declaration of Independence or the Stone Age
  • letters and abbreviations that stand for names or organizations, like J. K. Rowling or the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • the first word in each line of poetry

As you cover the various situations in which words need to be capitalized, be sure to provide many examples to illustrate when and how capital letters are required. Give students plenty of opportunities to practice through exercises and activities.

Ongoing Reinforcement of Capitalization Skills

If you’re wondering how to teach capitalization effectively, it’s important to realize the effects of reinforcing the rules. Just going over the basic rules is not sufficient. You’ll want to provide students with several activities to help them master this aspect of English grammar. Being able to properly capitalize words is an important skill that students will rely on throughout their lives.

  • Repetition is key in this kind of learning. Mastering capitalization is so important that teachers often cover and reinforce capitalization skills on an ongoing basis.
  • Consider working capitalization into daily grammar activities at the beginning or end of each day, or less frequently at the beginning or end of a literacy block.
  • If students practice capitalization rules once a week or even once a month, then they will have multiple opportunities for learning and reinforcement throughout the year.

To provide students with effective instruction and reinforcement, you’ll need to use a variety of classroom activities. Use the various options presented below to expand and enhance your lesson plans.

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Text Editing Capitalization Activity

Having students practice editing brief blocks of text that do not have any words capitalized is a good way for them to learn how to apply the rules of capitalization. Use the text below for this purpose.

Instructions

The brief story below does not have any capitalization.

  1. Either project it to the whiteboard or copy and paste it to a worksheet that you can print and distribute to students.
  2. Make it clear to students that this is a worksheet activity rather than a test.
  3. Tell the students that their mission is to find all of the words in the text that should be capitalized. Let them know that there are 32 words in the text that need a capital letter.
  4. Give them 15-20 minutes to work through the text, then go over the answers with them in class.

Text for Editing Exercise

the lazy queen

in a faraway land, there lived a very lazy queen named suzie. she loved to drink pepsi, eat lays potato chips and twinkies, and watch the movie toy story. she never exercised and soon got too big to walk into her favorite place, wanda's wonderful world of wonder. on tuesday, queen suzie wanted to attend the celebration of her country's victory over veggieland, called spoiling day. she called to bob and juan and said, "i order you to bring a scooter for me. they got the scooter and she was off. naturally, she won the contest and got the all you can eat in ten minutes award.

Answers for Editing Exercise

The Lazy Queen

In a faraway land, there lived a very lazy queen named Suzie. She loved to drink Pepsi, eat Lays potato chips and Twinkies, and watch the movie Toy Story. She never exercised and soon got too big to walk into her favorite place, Wanda's Wonderful World of Wonder. On Tuesday, Queen Suzie wanted to attend the celebration of her country's victory over Veggieland, called Spoiling Day. She called to Bob and Juan and said, "I order you to bring a scooter for me." They got the scooter and she was off. Naturally, she won the contest and got the All You Can Eat in Ten Minutes award.

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Newspaper/Magazine Reading Activity

The more students read, the more exposure to proper writing they will have. Reading quality content that is properly capitalized and punctuated can help the basic rules stick in student's heads.

  1. Select a newspaper or magazine article (or article from another source) for the class to review and identify capitalized words. Provide students with copies of the article.
  2. Task students with finding and circling capitalized words, as well as deciding which rule of capitalization applies to the word.
  3. You could have the students work through the article individually or in groups.
  4. Either way, project the text on the board during the activity so you can lead a discussion about it.
  5. Once the students have had time to work through the article, ask students to identify the capitalized words in the order they appear in the text.
  6. You could ask students to volunteer or, if they worked in groups, go through the groups in the order in which they are seated.
  7. As students point out the words and explain which rule of capitalization they think applies, provide reinforcement as appropriate.

This is a great way for students to see capitalization in a real-word context and reverse engineer the rules. It provides students with insight into the thought processes a writer needs to use when deciding how to properly capitalize words.

Fun and Educational Capitalization Game

Bring a little fun into your classroom while helping students master their capitalization skills though a bit of friendly competition in the form of a quiz game.

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Preparation

Create a slideshow (using PowerPoint or a similar program) that has one phrase or sentence on each slide. Some of the slides should be capitalized properly and some should have errors in them. Write each student’s name on a piece of paper and put all the names in a paper bag, hat or fishbowl.

Instructions

Explain to the students that today’s class activity will be a capitalization quiz show, and that they’ve all been selected as contestants.

  1. Let them know that you’ll show a phrase or sentence on the screen, then draw a student’s name.
  2. The selected student will need to say if there are any capitalization errors on the screen or not, as well as what they are (if there are any).
  3. Students can opt to confer with a classmate for help, or answer on their own.
  4. Allow each student two tries at the correct answer if they are fairly new to the rules of capitalization.
  5. Students who get the answer correct will get a small prize, such as a sticker, and their name won’t go back into the hat to be called on again.
  6. Those who don’t answer correctly will have their names placed back in the hat for another turn later on.

This can be a fun and engaging way to spend a class period, with the end result being that students know more about capitalization. Of course, this isn’t the only game option you might want to consider. See capitalization games for more fun activities to use with your students.

Worksheets to Teach and Reinforce Capitalization

Worksheets focused on capitalization skills can be an integral part of your approach to teaching this topic.

These exercises can be great in-class activities for students to complete individually or in teams or groups. You could also use them as homework exercises.

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Test Student Mastery

Exercises, activities and educational games are great tools for teaching capitalization, though it’s also important to assess the extent to which students know and can apply the rules of capitalization. Use these capitalization tests to get a sense of how thoroughly your students have mastered how to capitalize.

Expanding Capitalization Instruction

Once you have mastered the art of teaching capitalization and your students have mastered the basics, consider expanding your instructional scope to more advanced guidelines. Check out special cases for capitalization and consider including these unique situations in upcoming lesson plans. Alternatively, consider focusing on helping kids integrate what they’ve learned about capitalization with other key writing skills using the capitalization, organization, punctuation and spelling (C.O.P.S.) strategy. Wherever you take your class next, your students will benefit greatly from your expertise.