There’s a kid in my class that I’m continually impressed by. His answers are straight-out honest and typically thoughtful. He participates, even though at first glance I didn’t think he would. And yesterday he asked me to help him with the dialogue in his writing.
“I took your advice and worked in some dialogue in this,” he jumped straight into the conversation.
“How’s it working?” I asked sitting alongside him.
“It made the writing better, I can tell that. But don’t I need a new paragraph somewhere?”
Although I had a good idea of what he was talking about, I went ahead and pushed a little more, “What do you mean?”
“Well, I remember a teacher saying something about paragraphs and dialogue. Do you know what that’s about?” Love it when they turn the tables and start asking the questions.
“Yes, I do . . .” and we went through the rules of paragraphing dialogue.
“So where does the punctuation go — inside or outside of the quotation marks,” he continued on the train of thought.
“Inside. But here, you don’t use a period. You use a comma because the speaker tag is following your dialogue and you use commas instead of periods.”
“But,” he emphasized the word, “I can use exclamation points and question marks at the end.”
He adeptly moved his mouse and made the corrections in the blink of an eye. Before I could say anything, he was in the next line, making the same changes. I’m amazed at their swift ability on the computer.
“There,” he said, “Is it perfect now?”
“Perfect?” I question, raising my eyebrows.
He smiles, “Yeah, I want this right. I, mean, why shouldn’t it be right?”
“Well, the capitalization is a bit off.”
“A bit off?” he spits back. I love this kid.
“Yeah . . .” and I explain the capitalization rules within dialogue.
Just a little peek into Writing Workshop at 8:24 am on a Monday morning. This small conversation speaks volumes to the power of Workshop teaching. When the writing matters, then the conventions matter too.
Recently I observed the teaching of dialogue outside the context of writing. Once the essays were turned in and scored, the teacher lamented about how students didn’t know how to punctuate dialogue . . . and they’re adolescents, for crying out loud — her words, not mine.
Juxtapose the two teaching opportunities and the value of workshop teaching is evident.