Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate the structure and organization of written language, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when reading aloud. In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example, "woman, without her man, is nothing" and "woman: without her, man is nothing" have greatly different meanings, as do "eats shoots and leaves" and "eats, shoots and leaves". "King Charles walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off" is alarming; "King Charles walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off", less so. (For English usage, see the articles on specific punctuation marks.) The rules of punctuation vary with language, location, register and time and are constantly evolving. Certain aspects of punctuation are stylistic and are thus the author's (or editor's) choice.
Punctuation really gains in importance as students progress through their studies. If you do not have a lot of experience teaching punctuation or are simply looking for creative ways to include it in your lessons, Busy Teacher has 35 worksheets that can help you. For instance, to review the rules of comma placement, take a look at this punctuation worksheet which you can use to structure one of your lessons or as a handy review sheet for students. If commas are not what you are interested in, browse the section for a free, printable worksheet that focuses on your target material.
Punctuation is often overlooked in ESL courses.
With beginners and even intermediate learners, structures are often too simple to really require special punctuation lessons but students should be made aware of the importance of punctuation early on. You can include short reviews on punctuation in your lessons to help students keep it in mind. For a lot of learners speaking is the most significant aspect of learning a language but writing and punctuation are important too especially for students who may have to write in English. Plan to devote some extra time to punctuation when teaching advanced learners and business students.