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Marks Across Time: Explaining Punctuation and Its (Historical) Function

Christopher LeCluyse, Westminster University


This lesson starts with a brief history of punctuation to help consultants-in-training understand how punctuation has evolved and how it has always marked different units of meaning to help readers navigate texts. It then explains the hierarchy of punctuation and conventions for using semicolons, colons, and dashes as well as their functions. An easy test is provided to help writers understand where to place semicolons and colons. The training concludes with an activity in which students create their own metaphors for explaining and distinguishing different punctuation marks. This knowledge can be applied in any consulting modality, online as well as in person.


In-person tutoring
Synchronous online tutoring
Asynchronous online tutoring
Verbal feedback/response


Student writers often learn punctuation merely as a set of "rules" disconnected from larger issues of meaning-making. As a result, they may have difficulty retaining conventions and using punctuation in a purposeful way (Mann, 2003). Meanwhile, writing center trainees often express concern over their ability to explain punctuation to writers. This training addresses both sets of concerns by helping consultants understand how punctuation evolved first as a tool for readers and how the units marked by punctuation were from their beginning units of sense and argument. The culminating activity, which involves inventing metaphors to explain different punctuation marks, helps consultants translate the conventions and motivations for using different punctuation marks to writers

This lesson typically occurs late in the training sequence for new consultants. Previous trainings have covered the fundamentals of consulting praxis; language and identity, including African American Vernacular English; and working with multilingual writers. As such, it is primarily focused on understanding the "why's" behind standard academic mechanical conventions and taking a functional view of punctuation.

Mann, N. (2003). Point counterpoint: Teaching punctuation as information management. College Composition and Communication, 54(3), 359–393. doi: 10.2307/3594170

Shapiro, S. (2022). Cultivating critical language awareness in the writing classroom. Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9781003171751.


Synchronous online
Asynchronous online
Hands-on activity


Lesson Time: 1-2 hours
Prep Time: 30-60 minutes
Occurrence: New tutor orientation - located early in the first term of new tutors' employment 
Timeline: Training Type: Session - a training designed to happen once


Novice tutors
Undergraduate student tutors
Graduate student tutors
In-person tutors
Synchronous online tutors
Asynchronous online tutors




Christopher LeCluyse, Westminster University

Christopher LeCluyse is professor of English and writing center director at Westminster University in Salt Lake City, Utah. His research relates medieval literacy, ancient rhetoric, religion, and game studies to writing center praxis. He served as president of the Rocky Mountain Writing Centers Association and co-chaired the 2015 National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and the 2017 International Writing Center Association Summer Institute. His work has appeared in Praxis, WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, and the edited collections (E)Merging Identities: Graduate Students in the Writing Center, Writing Program Architecture: Thirty Cases for Reference and Research, and Unlimited Players: The Intersections of Writing Centers and Game Studies.

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