Thursday, April 18, 2013

Write Right: Banish Those Dialogue Demons

I could feel the dread twang my nerves as I glanced through Bubba’s original scene before settling down to edit and critique it. He had chosen to show the conversation Romeo and Juliet should have had instead of the one where they plotted using poison if their families kept them apart. My eyes skidded to a stop when they landed on the first dialogue between the besotted teens. “Oh, no! Not the dreaded Dialogue Demons…again!” my nerve endings screamed.

“How many more worksheets and grammar book exercises will it take,” I wondered as I tried to rub away the headache crouching behind my eyes, “until my students get proper dialogue formatting and punctuation?”

“Just one.” The creative genie in my head smiled as she waved an idea for teaching dialogue format at me. And just like that, the seed for my Thursday is Writing, Grammar, Vocabulary Day blog, “Banishing Dialogue Demons,” was planted in my mind. Well, not quite. Let me segue for a second and clarify that sentence- I first published “Banish Those Dialogue Demons” in NCTE’s Ideas Plus, Book Ten in 1992. What I am posting today is a much clearer and massively expanded version, one that is 13 instead of 2 pages.

My original goal remains-to reinforce students’ knowledge and understanding of proper dialogue format and punctuation resulting in stronger and more coherent writing when they need to show direct quotations (Common Core Standards: Writing: W3, 4, 5, and 10; Language: L1 and 2).

Here are the basic Teacher Notes. These are the condensed version. They are detailed in the product along with a page of student directions.

 Banishing Those Dialogue Demons
Days 1-4:
  1. Have students choose one of the following prompts or one of their own each day.
  2. They are to write a one page conversation that might occur between two people. 
  3. Use the Quotation Marks explanations in a grammar book of your choice. I used: Warriner, John E. English Composition and Grammar  Complete Course.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers: Orlando, 1988, 665-668.
  1. “Guess what I just heard?”
  2.  “I said, ‘Sit down!’” the principal muttered through clenched teeth as a muscle twitched in his jaw.
  3.  “I am so excited I’d float away if it weren’t for these boots,” Jenny said as she grabbed Todd’s arm.
  4. "And your excuse this time is what?" his father said as he blocked the door from the garage to the kitchen.
Character Cards
Day 5:
  1. Divide the students into pairs.  If there is an uneven number, one pair can become a trio.
  2.  Have each student choose a Character Card. Each card names an ordinary (a football player) or an outlandish character (a skunk).
  3. Have each pair choose a Setting Card. This is where the conversation will take place (a pond, a school cafeteria, Mount Everest, etc.).
  4. Students take one minute to decide on: the topic of conversation, who will play which  character, and which student will “speak” first.
  5.  From this point on, NO talking is allowed.  Any “speaking” will be done on paper.
  6. Student 1 opens the conversation with the first character speaking, and then passes the paper to character 2.  This person reads what is written and responds in writing.
  7.  Continue this process for fifteen minutes.  The conversation should show the characters, setting and conflict.  When finished, the piece should be 75% dialogue format, and 25% narrative with a few segments that show physical movements or actions in non-dialogue, explanatory mode. The “person” speaking here should be the 3rd person omniscient narrator (i.e. She stomped her foot and screamed.)
  8. When the time is up, students switch papers with another pair.  Each pair corrects that draft for quotation mark usage, proper dialogue format and punctuation, and then they return the paper to its rightful owners.
  9. Each pair now revises their paper for any errors, citing the rules in the margin. Example: (4)5. “When you write dialogue, begin a new paragraph every time the speaker changes.  One person takes the piece home to type up in final draft format.
  10.  Next class day: Each pair will read his/her conversation aloud, and then turns in both drafts, with the final, typed draft on top.

Setting Cards

This product offers: Complete Teacher Notes, detailed Student Directions, 30 Character Cards and 15 Setting Cards. If, at the end of the five days some students still haven’t fully grasped the concepts of this format, teachers can offer more dialogue prompts and revision work for remediation.

Suggestion: Here is a 20-minute remedial exercise: Have a student choose two Character Cards and one Setting Card. He/she now writes a short dialogue (take 15 minutes), and then uses the grammar book to proofread and revise the dialogue for format, punctuation and capitalization (5 minutes). The student should cite the rule number beside any error i.e. (4) 3. In the English Composition and Grammar text this one states: “Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside the closing quotation marks if the quotation itself is a question or an exclamation; otherwise they are placed outside,” ( 667).

May those dreaded Dialogue Demons be forever banished from your students’ writing.
Download this product from my Teachers pay Teachers store:

Happy Teaching,