Growing Independence and Fluency Design:  Statements, Exclamations, and Questions—Oh My!


Ashley Heavener

Emergent Literacy Design

Rationale:  As students gain confidence and fluency as they improve their reading skills, it is important that children learn to read with expression as well.  Understanding emotions conveyed through text is vital for accurate comprehension.  Therefore, students must be able to read text expressively.  In order to do this, students must be able to detect the difference between monotonous reading and reading with appropriate expression and feelings.  They must also know how and when to use various types of expression.  Through listening and oral practice, students will learn when and how to effectively express various emotions derived from written text. 

Materials:  A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon, A set of cards including "?", "!", and "," for each student, Whiteboard and markers, Prepared sentences to use for class practice that exemplify various expressive symbols (Ex. "Where’s the dog?" "I’m exhausted!" and "The ball was red."), Books for each student so that students can be placed in partners and read books on their independent level


1.  Say:  "Everyone in this class is a great reader, but today we’re going to learn about something that expert readers do!  We’re going to learn about reading with expression.  Can anyone tell me what ‘expression’ means?  (Allow a few students to respond)  Expression is when we speak with feeling.  If you’re talking with some friends, do you always speak to them in the same tone no matter what?  (Briefly act out a sort of monotone scene [ex. "Yeah, the birthday party was fun.  What did we do? Oh, we played laser tag and ate delicious cake."])  Of course you don’t talk to your friends that way!  You show all kinds of emotions.  You use your voice to show that you’re sad, excited, angry, or asking a question.  Books do the same thing!  So, it’s our job to seek to understand the emotion in books and read in a way that shows that emotion.  We want to read like we're performing in a theatre!  As we read, we can express all kinds of emotion such as:  fear (model a sentence with fear [ex. ‘A snake slithered under the door and was coming right for me!’]), excitement (model a sentence with excitement [ex. ‘I had the best vacation EVER!  I got to swim with dolphins!’]), or anger (model a sentence with anger [ex. ‘My dog ate my favorite toy!’])  Can anyone else think of some emotions that we might show while we read?"  Call on students to share and demonstrate their ideas.

2.  "Today, we’re going to read A Bad Case of the Stripes.  This is a story about a little girl, Camilla, who is terrified that the other students won’t like her.  She’s always trying to impress other people with that she says, wears, and even what she eats.  On the first day of school, she’s really nervous and tries on a bunch of clothes trying to be sure that she makes the perfect impression.  But when Camilla looks in the mirror, she finds that she’s covered in rainbow stripes!  Let’s read to see how Camilla manages to get out of this crazy mess!"  Begin reading, but be sure to read without expression through the first few pages.  As soon as a couple of students clearly stop paying attention, stop reading.  "I see that a few of you aren’t even listening anymore.  What was boring about the way that I read?  (Allow a student or two to respond.)  I wasn’t using any expression.  Now, let’s try again and see if it’s any better this time."  Be sure to read theatrically, emphasizing changes in emotion.

3.  "Luckily, we don’t have to figure out by ourselves exactly what kind of expression to use while we read.  The written language has certain symbols built in that tell us how to read each sentence.  Does anyone know what symbols I’m talking about?  (Call on students if they raise their hands.)  Punctuation marks tell us exactly what kind of emotion the author is trying to convey.  Periods mean that the sentence is a statement.  It’s simply meant to be read as a fact.  An exclamation point means that the sentence is meant to be read as with intensity.  It shows a lot of emotion.  It could be anger, excitement, or fear.  Question marks mean that the sentence is asking a question.  Your voice should go up at the end.  Let’s practice a little with these types of punctuation."

4.  Write on the board "The dog fell down".  Be sure not to include any punctuation.  "This sentence does not have any punctuation, so there’s no definite way to read it.  It could be a statement. (Add a period.) It would be read, "The dog fell down."  This way, the sentence is simply telling you what happened, it doesn’t have a lot of emotion behind it.  It could be an exclamation. (Erase the period and replace it with an exclamation point.) Then, it would be read, "The dog fell down!"  This way, it has a lot of emotion behind it and you can tell that I’m really upset about the dog!  Or, it could be a question. (Erase the exclamation point and add a question mark.)  This way, it’d be read, "The dog fell down?"  In this case, I’m asking a question maybe to be sure of what happened."

5.  Pass out to each student the set of punctuation marks ("!" "?" and ".")  "Now, I’m going to read a few sentences.  I want you to hold up the punctuation mark that you think belongs at the end.  Then, I’m going to call on a few people to explain their choices, so be sure that you don’t simply hold up the same card as your neighbor!"  Use a set of prepared sentences for the class to practice. 

6.  "Take out a piece of paper.  Let’s first review how to make exclamation points, periods, and question marks."  Model these punctuation marks on the board.  "Now, on the first line of your paper, I want you to draw me three exclamation points.  Great job!  Now, on the second line, I want three periods.  Good!  On the third line, I want to see three question marks.  Perfect!"  Be sure to walk around and monitor students’ depictions.

7.  "Skip a couple of lines on your paper.  I want you to write down two sentences that should end with periods, two sentences that should end with exclamation points, and two sentences that should end with question marks."  Walk around and monitor student’s sentences.  Then, call on a few students to share.  Ask them to tell first what kind of punctuation they used and then have them read the sentence utilizing that type of emotion.

8.  "Now, I’m going to give you each a book."  Pair students ahead of time based on their instructional reading levels.  Then provide students with appropriate books based on these pairings.  "I want you to read the book to yourself.  Think about reading it with expression as you do so."  Give students time to read, if some students finish early, encourage them to look through it again.  "Now, find the other person in the class that has the same book as you have.  This person will be your partner.  I want you to take turns reading the book to each other using expression!  One partner should read the book all the way through and then the other partner should do the same."

9.  Assessment:  As students read, the teacher will take time to listen to each student read approximately a page.  The teacher will fill out a student database, noting the students’ accuracy in reading with expression as well as their level of expression.  The teacher will note whether the student read with expression himself or herself, helped his or her partner to read with expression, or did not read with expression at all.  It will be important to note aspects where students did well or where they may have struggled (ex. Students may have struggled reading questions, but did well reading exclamatory sentences.)  Take time to reteach the problem areas. 

If time allows, for a more intensive assessment, have students each write a short story incorporating questions, statements, and exclamations.  Then, have them individually read the short story aloud to the teacher and/or the whole class, depending on the comfort level of students with doing so.  Take a record of their accuracy and skill of reading with expression demonstrated through the reading.



Adams, Wendy.  "Reading with Expression."

Sauter, Elizabeth.  "Let’s Be Emotion Detectors!"

Shannon, David.  A Bad Case of Stripes.  New York:  Scholastic, 1998.  Print.


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