Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Slice of Life: Wondering about a Capitalization Rule

Thanks to Stacey, Dana, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth, the amazing writers and thinkers who host the Slice of Life community every Tuesday. Everyone is welcome to join with posts or comments at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com!

My morning slice is more about wondering than about capitalization, but I'd love to hear who is an expert on dog breed capitalization. A classroom moment sent me wondering!

Yesterday, I taught a lesson for third-graders where I asked them to read a mentor information writing piece from Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins. Many of you may be familiar with this resource and with the series of pieces about bulldogs. (If not, this is a must-have resource for writing workshop teachers! Worth the money for the checklists alone!!!) One close reader/editor noticed inconsistencies in the capitalization of bulldog. He was absolutely right! In some instances, bulldog was capitalized and in other instances it wasn't.

I thought that I was an expert on capitalization. In the moment, the other teachers who were in the room and I said that bulldog should be capitalized. (It shouldn't be. We were wrong...) This morning, I asked my husband about dog breeds and capitalization, mostly because before I wrote about not knowing the right answer, I wanted to see how silly I might look in front of my slicing community. (Garth is a pretty good editor.)

"Yes," he said. "Dog breeds are capitalized."

"Cocker spaniel?" I asked?

"I think so. But wait, cocker isn't really a place. I'm not sure."

"Poodle?" I pressed.

"Hmmm. No, I don't think poodle," he said.


"Not sure. American pug is, though."

"The A and the P? Or just the A?"

"You got me," he admitted. "I'm not sure."

 This morning, I looked it up. Here are some of the on-line responses:

From AP Style Rules at a Glance:

Animals: Capitalize names of specific animals: The dog’s name is Rover. The veterinarian could not save Snowflake. For breeds, follow Webster’s. Capitalize words derived from proper nouns: Boston terrier, German shepherd.

3. Should names of dog breeds be capitalized — for example, pomeranianlabrador, “bull terrier,” “American pit bull terrier”?
Dog breeds are not capitalized unless the name is that of a geographic region: Pomeranian, “Labrador retriever,” “bull terrier”, “American pit bull terrier.” (Dalmatian is an exception; it’s usually lowercase, but I would probably uppercase it when it appears with similar names normally capitalized.)

I will definitely return to this class and these teachers to tell them about my learning. While I would love for them to use correct capitalization every single time, what I really want them to celebrate is the wonder that this young editor inspired. Sometimes, we don't know all the answers, but we can ask questions and we have places and references to consult. Also, sometimes even teachers are wrong, but we can circle back and correct our mistakes.

Hmmm. Life lesson?

Happy Slicing,


  1. Tricky and nerdy. Love capitalization queries. But the cool thing is not the answer, but the question and the quest. Great mentor work that goes far beyond the piece!

  2. Love Julieanne's response - tricky & nerdy. Ha. That's a tough one - I had my money on 'no' while I was reading. I frequently email the TWT team with capitalization & punctuation questions. I love that you investigated this issue.

  3. Here's another vote for tricky and nerdy - loved the quest, too. And, through reading your post,I learned how to do this, too!

  4. I loved learning about this punctuation rule with you today! And tricky and nerdy--too funny!

  5. Isn't it fun to discover and learn new stuff. It's impossible to know it all (and who would want to, anyway?). Learning beside my students was the best learning ever! You're right, there are some tricky distinctions with this rule.

  6. Love that you made inquiry and process the focus of this slice. This is what our Ss need to know -it is about the questions we ask -- not the answers.

  7. It's great that you all will celebrate this particular question, and then the adventure you were on, Melanie. Your students will love it.

  8. I thought I knew this, but your post got me thinking. We use No Red Ink in my classroom. I am always surprised by the grammar I don't know.
    This is a lesson for the teachers and the students that we all need to check our resources sometimes.

  9. Going back to tell kids what you learned (and admitting when you're wrong) is such a teachable moment. I always liked to admit when I was wrong to kids since it made them more willing to accept their own mistakes. Great work, Melanie. (And thanks for teaching ME something new too.)