Dialogue: A Mini-Lesson Goes a Long Way


Capturing the conversation between two or more characters is a great challenge, especially to a middle school student. Offering some basic rules and engaging practice opportunities allows a student to master the use of dialogue along with the potential of addressing other learning targets.


My term one writing focus is narrative.

I gave the pre-writing test.

There were glimpses of hope and shear horror. I know my colleagues have taught more than what showed up from this initial writing test, but the results indicated otherwise. Many forgot many of the small conventional pieces relating to utilizing dialogue in their writing.

Therefore, I used Nancy Attwell’s writer’s workshop model to teach a mini-lesson on dialogue in writing.

Similar to many researchers’ claims, the amount of direct instruction given on a new topic cannot exceed the child’s age. Being in the middle school, I only had about 10-12 minutes before I needed to have my scholars engaged or I was going to lose them.

Rules for dialogue

Scholars cannot be overloaded with a lot of the specifics; my scholars need it quick and simple. Consequently, I combine to make three rules of dialogue:

  1. Change lines/paragraphs when a new speaker begins
  2. Keep dialogue brief
  3. Punctuation goes into the quotation marks

Plus for each rule, I showcase a specific correct example and incorrect example to show them the difference.

Relevance in Practice

Finishing a short story “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury, I pulled phrases from the story and purposefully made them incorrect. In groups, scholars needed to re-write the sentences with dialogue correctly before sharing with the group (on a large sheet of paper).

  • “It’s been raining for years” the girl said.
  • “Let’s go outside the teacher said.”
  • The boy said “What are you waiting for?”
  • The sun looks like a penny Margot said

Next, students were given phrases where they needed to insert the correct punctuation to make the dialogue work for a writing piece.

  • I don’t think it is realistic enough he responded. Who could believe people walking around on Saturn?
  • But if the story tells you something about the way people really think and feel Teresa suggested isn’t that realistic enough?
  • Juan said I don’t like science fiction.
  • Why not asked Teresa.

Notice, there are not a lot of examples because I wanted them to be able to quickly fly through it. After another quick thumbs up or down on whether they felt comfortable identifying and writing dialogue, scholars moved into an interactive practice.

Scenario Writing

Quickly jigsawed to get scholars moving around the room and with a new partner, each group blindly picked a notecard with a scenario on it. The scenarios ranged from something simple as asking a boy/girl to the homecoming dance to walking into a crowded doctor’s office.

Each group was instructed to write a four piece dialogue exchange between two people which reflected the scenario. Given a short time, the scholars needed to think on their feet and use all their newfound knowledge on dialogue.

At the end, each group’s work was presented under the document camera for constructive criticism regarding the dialogue (nothing else). Most were excellent, but some came into some common dialogue mistakes by sixth graders which is expected. However, it made a nonthreatening environment for students to learn together.


In the past, I have used the scenario as the formative assessment, but I had the same group for the next period enrichment/intervention. Seeing how much they were enjoying the lesson, I added a new formative assessment to see their creativity and whether they could master the skill after receiving some constructive criticism.

Using the short story “All Summer in a Day,” scholars created a dialogue conversation about the main character, Margot, and her visiting grandmother to Venus. Written in first person as Margot,  scholars needed to share their experiences with Margot’s visiting grandma using dialogue.

ExemplarDialogueMendiaz1 ExemplarMendiazPg2

Taking it to the next level

Many scholars pushed to write and were creative beyond what I ever expected (see below). The rules, individual and group practice, and an interactive partner practice scaffolded beautifully to each student finding success in this activity. At the end of class, I always ensure time for scholars to share their artifacts with fellow classmates.

They continue to impress me and school has only just begun.

It’s going to be a blessed school year.


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