Tricky Titles

title notecard

Distinguishing titles is a tricky punctuation kind of thing for students. After reviewing the rules for capitalizing titles, I usually give kids a guideline for formatting titles. I don’t know what to do with every type of title, but I have a rule for the major ones we come across in most school situations.

Big things are underlined; little things have quotations marks around them.

Think about a basic chapter book. The name of the whole book will be underlined (a big thing), but the chapter titles within the book will be identified inside quotation marks (a little thing). The name of a newspaper is underlined (big thing), and the name of an article within the newspaper (little thing) is in quotes.

If students can remember this tip, they can usually take a stab at marking titles correctly in their writing. Different English language and editing resources have different guidelines, so the important thing is to be consistent with whatever style you choose to use. For school-aged kids, it is best just to give a “rule” that they will follow while in the classroom. When the students go to high school or college, they can consult a current style guide, which will probably have changed multiple times by then anyway.

Should be Underlined

  • Chapter books (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Name of a poetry anthology or a poem that is the length of a book (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Odyssey)
  • Newspaper names (New York Times)
  • Plays and movie names (The Lion King)

Should be in Quotes

  • Name of a chapter within a book (“Wilbur”)
  • Picture book (“Brave Bitsy and the Bear”)
  • Poem name (“Fog”)
  • Individual newspaper article (“Light Earthquake Felt in Anchorage”)
  • Song title (“Second Hand News”)

There is one final option. If you are using a computer for your writing assignment– italicize every title. According to most editing sources, titles can be italicized whether it is a big or small document. Word processing eliminates the need to remember the difference between underlining and using quotation marks. Since I am old school, I would still probably have students know the difference between titles… and maybe even handwrite them… in cursive. Do you have a policy for marking titles? Please share.

Click Writing Titles for a copy of the notes for your classroom or refrigerator at home.

Capitalize It!

I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and a student has forgotten to capitalize his or her name. (I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to the cursive post for help with that problem.) I recognize that there may be some things that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize in the 4th grade, but other things are not.

capitalization rules

The students just finished up their research papers about American businesses, and I had to have a capitalization rant with them. There are some capitalization rules that I think we should all live by and use without being reminded. Capitalizing the name of the company and the company founder a person researched for 2 weeks should happen automatically without any outside assistance. And, as I had to remind my students, auto-correct and spell check won’t catch everything!

Capitalize “I” by itself— no questions asked, always and forever.

  • I should capitalize proper nouns.
  • I often forget to capitalize proper nouns.
  • My teacher reviewed capitalization, and I listened carefully.

Words that are related to a country name are capitalized.

  • I am an American.
  • I speak English.
  • I love junky Mexican food (and margaritas) on Friday nights.
  • We used to refer to Native American people as Indians, but now it really means the people who live in India.

ladybug girl poster

In titles, the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between are capitalized. Deciding if the middle words in a title should be capitalized can be tricky. When in doubt, count the letters in a word. Words in titles that have 4 or more letters will probably be capitalized (this is a guideline only– the trick won’t work for every short word).

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • The New York Times
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

research paper outline

The first word in a sentence is always capitalized. No other words in the middle of the sentence should be capitalized unless they meet the “proper noun” criteria. Proper nouns are the words that name a particular person, place, or organization. Proper nouns name a specific, one-of-a-kind item.

The words “mom” and “dad” may be capitalized in some situations. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person is using “mom” and “dad” like a first name, and the words could be replaced with a first name like Jennifer or Scott, capitalize. If the words are being used to describe a person that is like many other people, do not capitalize.

  • I did my homework, and Mom checked my assignment book.
  • I did my homework, and my mom checked my assignment book.
  • After dinner, Dad played basketball with me.
  • After dinner, my friend’s dad played basketball with us.

Up next… whether or not to underline titles or put them in quotation marks. Is that a problem for anyone else? We had to have a class discussion about that too.