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.

5 Capitalization Rules: the Essentials

I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and students forget basic capitalization rules like capitalizing their name. I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to this CURSIVE POST for help with that problem. There can be some writing situations that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize for elementary students, but other things are not.

capitalization rules

The students just finished up RESEARCH PAPERS about American businesses. So, I had to have a capitalization rules 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! Below are five common capitalization errors I find frequently in student work.

1) 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.

2) Capitalize words that are related to a country name

  • 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 correctly means the people who live in India.

ladybug girl poster

3) Capitalize the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between in titles

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

4) Always capitalize the first word in a sentence

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.

5) When should you capitalize “Mom” and “Dad”?

In some situations, capitalize the words “mom” and “dad”. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person uses “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 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. Visit THIS POST for student tips about using titles correctly.