Getting Physical with Punctuation

There’s a lot to be said about the mind-body connection in learning. I recently took a workshop called “Embodied Shakespeare.” It was for actors and people like me who like to learn new ways to discover meaning in Shakespearean text.

What the teacher, a Shakespearean  actor and director, had us do was to “walk” the iambic pentameter: We walked, text in hand, reading it aloud. Whenever we “walked into” a comma, semicolon, or colon, we changed direction. Whenever we “walked into” a period or other end punctuation, we stopped.

The purpose of this exercise was to connect the body to the meaning of the word groupings–contours of the text–as signalled by punctuation. It imbues the punctuation with real meaning, making you conscious of how punctuation guides meaning.

Children and teenagers have difficulty understanding how to use punctuation–how punctuation affects meaning. This deficiency is obvious in writing, but it also affects reading comprehension: If you don’t pause or stop as the author intends, you aren’t grouping the words as intended to make meaning.

So I’ve been thinking how this mind-body connection can work in a classroom. It would not be practical to have students walking the room (although they might be able to do this in a gym). But they could move their open hands in a circular motion in front of them as they read aloud in unison, change direction when they reach a comma, close their hands and stop for a moment when they reach a period, clap when they reach an exclamation point, shrug with their hands when they reach a question mark.

The rationale behind this crazy idea is that poor readers and writers have an undeveloped sense of the cadence and contours of written text. They run right over punctuation marks when they read, and fail to give the reader the signposts of punctuation when they write. I’m thinking that, especially for kinesthetic and rhythmic learnings, this “embodied punctuation” idea may help.

Worth trying?