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Making Characters Talk

Dialogue. It’s something we wish students would use purposefully inside of a piece of writing. Too often, when our students do write with dialogue, it sounds like this:

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” my sister said.

“What do you want to do today?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Let’s go to the park,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

Rather than crafting dialogue that moves the plot forward, kids often write the words that got them to the place they were going to, rather than writing the dialogue that gives their story momentum. Why? It’s hard. It’s challenging to remember the real words people said when there were lots of words flowing. (That’s why we sometimes have to nudge students into recalling the gist of what happened and then implore them to create the dialogue that most likely got exchanged.)

I recently received a review copy of Michael Rosen‘s new picture book, Red Ted and the Lost Things, which is available in stores this-coming Tuesday.This text contains a universal theme: losing something. Red Ted is a bear whose owner leaves him on a train. He is scooped up and placed in a room where there are other lost things. He meets Crocodile, also lost, who hops down off of the shelf in the room of lost things and plans an escape from the train station in order to look for Red Ted’s owner. (NOTE: There is a happy ending in this text, which includes adorable illustrations by Joel Stewart.)

This graphic storybook does something very special: it tells the story of Red Ted’s adventure, from start to finish, almost exclusively inside of dialogue bubbles. The conversation between Red Ted and everyone he encounters is moved forward through the use of well-written and meaningful speech. Hence, this book can be an excellent teaching tool for students who struggle to write dialogue that moves their stories forward.

It’s important to note that there aren’t any dialogue tags in this book since it’s a graphic storybook. You might want to use the “Call Out Bubbles” Ruth shared last month to get this started. Once students have created meaningful conversations between their characters, in the style of Red Ted and the Lost Things, you can teach them how to punctuate their dialogue correctly using dialogue tags.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

2 thoughts on “Making Characters Talk Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for the link to that book! I’ve sometimes had reluctant writers make cartoon strips as a prewriting tool for narratives, and that looks like a particularly charming book to use to introduce the concept to those of them that aren’t already comic enthusiasts.


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