Quotation Marks, Commas, And More

Correctly punctuating a character's dialogue can become a fun activity as students learn to use quotation marks, commas, and more.

By Greg Harrison

quotation marks

Let's face it, punctuation is important. Punctuation marks give the reader clues as to what kind of sentence they are reading (exclamatory, interrogative, declarative, imperative), where pauses come in the sentence (commas, semicolons), when someone is speaking (quotation marks), plus many other important clues. When punctuating dialogue, there are very specific rules that must be adhered to in order for writing to be considered correct. 

Quite often, even the best writers in my class begin to stumble as soon as the characters in their stories begin to speak. I'll bet you've noticed the same thing. In this article I'd like to share a technique that has worked for me when I begin teaching how to correctly punctuate dialogue.

There are so many rules embedded in using correct punctuation with dialogue, and students may feel overwhelmed if too much information is given at once. Don't expect your students to be able to correctly use commas, periods, exclamation marks, question marks and rules of capitalization just yet. Those can be covered in separate mini-lessons. I suggest taking it one step at a time. I'd suggest focusing on just quotation marks at first.


Students love to laugh, so why not give them a selection that has some shocking, or funny dialogue to work with? Here's one I would use to introduce how to use quotation marks:

  • Ariana whispered to Alicia, "I think Mr. Harrison needs a haircut. His hair is sticking out all over the place!"                                                                                                           
  • "I think so too," replied Alicia. "His hair looks like it's going in 100 different directions all at once."
  • "I heard that!" thundered Mr. Harrison. "Are you making fun of my hair again Alicia?"  
  • "It wasn't just me," said Alicia. "Ariana also thinks that your hair looks really weird."
  • Another student, James, got into the act. He said, "We all think you should shave your head Mr. Harrison." 
  • "I've heard quite enough!" shouted Mr. Harrison with a smile. "Take out your pencils and get ready to write the sentence, 'Mr. Harrison does not need a haircut,' 500,000 times!" 
  • "Oh geez," moaned Ariana, "Why did I open my big mouth?"

Using the overhead is a great way to model how to insert quotation marks. I make a copy of the selection (with the quotation marks missing), and have students tell me when quotation marks are needed as I run my finger underneath each sentence. As you go over the selection, you can point out important details such as: the commas, question marks, periods and exclamation points all go inside the quotation marks, and each time a new person is speaking, the dialogue is on a new line. Next, I would pass out a photocopy of another selection, and have them work in pairs to correctly insert quotation marks. After the groups are finished, I put a copy of that selection on the overhead so we can all check for understanding together.

Here are some other lesson plans that I think you'll find helpful when you begin teaching the fine art of punctuating dialogue.

Using Quotation Marks, Commas, And More:

Macaroni Quotations

Students use pieces of macaroni pasta to practice the skill of inserting quotation marks where needed. I love the idea of using macaroni, because they are shaped just like quotation marks. It's a brilliant idea!  There is a quotation worksheet embedded in the plan which the students use to glue the macaroni where necessary.

Pasta Punctuation

Once again, students use pieces of macaroni pasta when practicing the skill of inserting quotation marks, and commas, where needed. This lesson is a higher-level version of the lesson described above, and would be suitable for third and fourth grade students.  Additionally, students explore writing sentences which use character traits. 

Fun With Quotations

Students engage in a variety of activities which help them understand the use of quotation marks.  In addition to picture books, students create dialogue (using quotation marks) for comics which have the dialogue removed from them. This clever and fun lesson should be highly motivating for your students.

To Quote or Note to Quote

Students attempt to successfully edit a paragraph through the utilization of quotation marks.  This higher-level lesson is appropriate for upper elementary through junior high school students. Computers, newspapers, magazines and surgical gloves are just some of the tools used in this engaging and informative lesson.