Empowering Writers

November 2014 Lesson of the Month

Teaching quotation marks – not an easy task! Where do the quotes go, what about that pesky comma? What to capitalize? What about punctuation inside the quotes – when is it a comma, a period, question mark, exclamation mark? I learned the skill as an author, thanks to a number of obsessive-compulsive editors who probably also enjoyed diagraming sentences in middle school. But, all kidding aside, quotation marks are necessary for both narrative writing, and when quoting an expert in a piece of expository or argument writing.

If you’d like the low-down on quotation marks to better inform your teaching, check out this site.

In the downloadable lesson we’re including here kids will translate dialogue in text bubbles (like you see in comic books) into traditional quotation marks in sentences. In this way they can have a little fun and begin to practice the art of the quote.

Kids often struggle with the use of quotation marks – where do they belong, when do you use a comma, a question mark, a capital letter? Without a doubt, using quotation marks is an essential skill for narrative, expository, opinion, and argument writing. Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Collect a number of age-appropriate comic strips or comic books in which characters speak to one another through the use of voice bubbles (sometimes referred to as call-outs). Cut out individual cartoons in which the cartoon characters speak to one another. Collect enough so that each student has one. (Remember, each student only needs one boxed cartoon panel, not the entire series.) Another option is to ask children to bring in their own, or ask your colleagues to bring in your local newspaper’s Sunday funny pages for you.
  2. Begin by having students play-act one of the cartoon panels, each assuming the role of a character, reciting the text (dialogue) from their respective voice bubbles. Ask them if there’s another way to depict that conversation (or exclamation) on paper. Discuss the use of quotation marks and “tag” words such as said, exclaimed, shouted, whispered, muttered, whined, replied, retorted, yelled, hollered, etc. MODEL how an author would represent the words in the voice bubble using quotation marks – be sure to include the speaker’s name and a “tag” word, inserting commas, quotation marks, end punctuation, and capital letters properly. If you’re uncertain about the rules for using quotation marks you can pull up the following site: http:// www.studyzone.org/testprep/ela4/j/quotationmarksl.cfm
  3. Have students glue their cartoon panel to a piece of lined paper and write the dialogue in sentence format, using quotation marks correctly.
  4. Extension/enrichment – when they’re finished, have students locate a line of dialogue in a narrative story and create a cartoon panel with the same text (minus quotation marks and tag words) appearing in voice bubbles.
  5. For an expository or argument writing application of this, discuss the fact that a powerful way to “show, rather than tell,” is to include an expert quote to illustrate a point. You might tie this to research – ex. Provide them with a fact such as: Dogs are popular pets. Then have them find a quote from someone with direct experience with dogs and express the fact that dogs are popular pets using a quote. Be sure to have them identify their expert and use quotation marks properly. Ex. Veterinarian Mark Smith says, “By far, I treat more dogs than any other animals, because of their popularity as pets.” For fun, they can create a cartoon with voice bubbles to go along with their quote.

* For a Thanksgiving twist on this, have students interview a favorite school staff member, asking what she/he is thankful for this year. Draw a picture of the staff member, and write the quote underneath.

Ex. Fourth grade teacher Ms. Bartoli says, “I’m really thankful for my two beautiful daughters.”

For fun, students can draw a thought bubble above her head with an illustration of her daughters (or whatever the source of gratitude might be).