Digging into Dialogue Writing Skills—Exploring Dialogue Tags

Earlier this month, I used resources from the beloved late Dr. Rozlyn Linder to help my students inquire into noticings about the purposes and patterns of dialogue tags.  I crafted a guided study lesson and resources from her book, The Big Book of Details: 46 Moves for Teaching Writers to Elaborate, to help us explore beginning, ending, middle, and invisible tags for our first major assignment, an extended narrative writing task (more about this task in my next blog post).

Learning Targets

We started with this guided mini-lesson that I adapted from Dr. Linder’s book:

For Part 1, students wrote their responses, and then we did a whole class share out; I recorded the responses for each class and then compiled them into a master document for students to keep in their notebooks in a sheet protector (I provide those to students).

We also explored how repeating “said” or any variant of it deadens our writing instead of bringing it to life.  Students received a list of synonyms to keep handy in their binders for reference.

We then delved into reviewing each type of dialogue tag, recording and discussing our notices about when we might use each type of tag, punctuation, and capitalization; students were asked to circle their noticings and jot down notes.

Then, depending on the class section and their needs as learners, we did one or more of the following activities over 2.5 class days:

Over the next few days, I crafted assorted warm-up activities for the beginning of class to reinforce and review those rules of punctuation and capitalization for students.  In addition, students took an open-note quiz in Canvas over punctuating and capitalization different types of dialogue tags.  Last but not least, I provided additional practice for mastery with a free module in NoRedInk.

Note:  to view these documents properly, you will need these free fonts:

While these learning structures were a solid entry point for students, they needed and continued to need reinforcement and practice as they crafted their own original dialogue tags in their extended narrative assignment.  Placement of punctuation and remembering to punctuate the dialogue as well as the dialogue tags at all have been our two major areas of struggle.  After seeing these struggles, I am confident that students’ difficulty in punctuating dialogue correctly is where many of them are losing points on our state Milestones test we take each spring, particularly with the extended narrative writing task, a writing task that is worth 4 points:

On the ELA EOG assessment, an extended constructed-response item elicits a longer, more complex and detailed response from the student. The four-point narrative extended constructed-response item requires the student to write a narrative in response to a prompt based on a literary or informational passage he or she has read;
the response will fully develop a real or imagined experience based on the text and will be scored for the Writing and Language domain.

Source:  Georgia Grade 8 EOG Item and Scoring Sampler 

A student who achieves a score of 4 demonstrates these skills on an extended narrative writing task:

  • The student’s response is a well-developed narrative that fully develops a real or imagined experience based on text as a stimulus.
  • Effectively establishes a situation and a point of view and introduces a narrator and/or characters.
  • Organizes an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Effectively uses narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, pacing, and reflection, to develop rich, interesting experiences, events, and/or characters.
  • Uses a variety of words and phrases consistently and effectively to convey the sequence of events, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
  • Uses precise words, phrases, and sensory language to convey experiences and events and capture the action.
  • Provides a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
  • Integrates ideas and details from source material effectively.
  • Has very few or no errors in usage and/or conventions that interfere with meaning.

Even though our focus is on composing strong dialogue, this standard 8W3 goes hand in hand with a distinguished (highest level) of achievement in Standard RL3:

Analyzes and evaluates the effectiveness of an author’s use of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama to propel the action, reveal complex aspects of the character, or provoke a decision.

Source:  Georgia Milestones Assessment System Achievement Level Descriptors for Grade 8 English Language Arts

In my next post, I’ll share more about our extended narrative writing assignment and how we are working through our drafting and revision endeavors.  How do you teach the importance of dialogue to your students?  What are your best strategies for helping them understand the rules of punctuating and capitalizing dialogue and dialogue tags appropriately?