Dialogue and Elaboration: Using Comics to Encourage More Detail
Dialogue is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for middle schoolers. Usually, by the time they get to middle school, they generally know how to punctuate it (well...most do), but they almost always don't know how to format it properly or how to use it to add description to their writing. It is usually their go-to for writing; no description, just talking.
Read about how to use dialogue well and to make writing more creative!
Punctuating, Capitalizing, Indenting
While students should know how to do this by now, oftentimes, they do not. For this, honestly, they just need to practice the old-fashioned way. Go ahead and use those worksheets. I like using No Red Ink for this kind of stuff, too.
The big thing I have to focus on with my students is indenting dialogue correctly. They often do not realize they need to indent every time a new person speaks. They will have long pieces of text with dialogue all chunked into one paragraph. Take a look at a student sample below. Notice how she has ALL her dialogue in one big paragraph? This is a common mistake in my students' writing.
My first approach at tackling this is showing them mentor texts, or showing them how it is done in real books. I will share a page from a read-aloud we are doing and point out what a back and forth conversation looks like. We also discuss when to keep description in the paragraph if it is focusing on the person speaking, then moving on to another paragraph.
My next approach to this is use comics to simply rewrite dialogue in prose form. They look at a comic and write out the dialogue, indenting properly. Looking at the activity below, I did focus more on description and tagging (more on that later) but if you look at how I went about doing it, a big focus was on indenting each time another person spoke.
Lastly, they practice all of this work in a digital escape room. I've found this to be the most engaging way to do grammar. In this particular escape room they practice punctuating, indenting, and capitalizing all in different puzzles.
Tagging..."Said is Dead"...For Real
I kind of loathe this phrase, but it's true. I do usually revisit this concept, that students shouldn't always be using "said", but I don't spend a ton of time on it. They usually get it...replace "said" with something else that better describes the emotion of the dialogue.
What I really like to focus on is moving around the tag (which is the part where they say who said the quote. For example, "Sally said".) and actually dropping "said" altogether. That part I will explain more later.
As for moving around the tag, I again, use comics to do this. They will rewrite a comic's dialogue in prose, then look at the images to determine who is saying what. They practice tagging who is speaking, but are encouraged to place the tag in different locations of the quote. This just breaks things up.
Tagging as Description and Elaboration
This is my favorite part! Students usually get the hang of tagging who is speaking pretty quickly. However, it's still not great writing if their text is loaded with dialogue and tags written in this manner. This is when I get into elaboration.
First, we spend time on the good ol' fashioned "showing not telling". We talk about our senses and how to use those to describe emotions, thoughts, and actions. They practice doing this using some great clip art I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. Looking at the images, they write descriptively based on what they are seeing. I also sometimes have them act out the emotions and actions aspect to visualize it more. They look at samples as well. I always encourage all teachers to write what they expect students to write. You can find this activity here.
The best way to help students practice this is, again, through comics. Students can use the illustrations to help them describe the setting, characters, emotions and more. They focus on the actual colors, facial expressions, etc. and write those out with words. Comics help them visualize a story more. I have them focus on adding thoughts, description, and action to their tags. They can even eliminate the word "said" if they replace it with what the character is doing. Check out what they do below.
Also, something to think about, if you provide students with a passage that has JUST dialogue, they will be lost. I always present something like this first to them. It shows them how important it is to have description.
We stress a lot on punctuating dialogue, which is important, but we really need to spend more time on using it well and appropriately, while also not overusing it.
Comics are a fantastic way to practice this. You can get my entire activity on this below!
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