Narrative Writing Lessons and More: Teaching Dialogue

One thing I really like to do with my literacy instruction is to make sure that I weave reading and writing together whenever possible.  This is especially true when choosing narrative writing lessons.  I weave the two content areas seamlessly, and I hope this post helps you do the same. This year I chose the phrase, “Read like a writer and write like a reader!” and we are working to dig into what that really means.
narrative writing ideas


Studying Characters in Narrative Writing Lessons

As we started our narrative unit several weeks ago, we spent a great deal of time studying our main read aloud, Fish in a Tree, along with other picture books I selected.  We studied the characters, their traits, their actions, and then–finally–their words.  We actually then worked to create our own characters that we would later insert into some “mini” narratives that we wrote.  The students were SO engaged and I truly saw them thinking more deeply about the characters in their own books.  (Note:  This student had a bad experience with a pigeon…I guess my “hint” that authors often work their real life into their books paid off!)

writing about character lessons

Creating a Story Arc or “Story Map”

From story arc to detailed plan…this TRULY helps the students plan ahead, make sure they have a clear ending, and gives a place for them to add quality sensory details.
narrative writing graphic organizer
prewriting strategies narrative writing


Learning how to write dialogue

As we started to realize all the ways writers help us get to know characters, I told my students we were going to work hard to do this with our own narratives–we were going to write so our reader can really get to know our characters.  Students grabbed their own books (great because no matter WHAT level a child reads at, you can use this lesson) and searched for dialogue “tags”.  We jotted them on sticky notes and then came back to the large group to do some sharing.  I recorded their findings on a chart and then we talked about the messages writers can send by carefully choosing tags.  What does “mumbled” show about a character instead of “shouted”?  If a character “demands” something, what does it say about them?

narrative writing lessons

Writing Dialogue

If you have taught writing dialogue before, you know how challenging it can be to get students punctuating it correctly.  There is a LOT to remember!  I decided to go back into our read aloud, “Fish in a Tree“, and do some practice with this sentence frames. I gave them permission to change the “tag” to match the characters, but I really wanted them to think about what these characters might say. Also, I wanted them to use the guides to punctuate these made-up sentences.  They worked in pairs for a while and then shared with others–they had a GREAT time imagining they were these characters and came up with some great dialogue examples!
teaching writing lessons
I then wanted to give them some more practice, so I used this “sort” activity where they had to manipulate the parts of the sentences and mindfully add the punctuation.  It was challenging for some, but I saw many of them referring back to the pink strips from the lesson before!
writing lessons dialogue


punctuating dialogue
Finally, I talked to the students about how a true dialogue involves characters speaking back and forth.  I explained how their discussion helps move the story forward.  It often reveals character feelings or plans and should have a purpose.  We worked in partners to try writing some dialogue scenarios based on my dialogue task cards and we had a blast.  It was a great chance for me to walk around and do some coaching on the punctuation, remind about indenting for new speakers, and so on.
writing dialogue
punctuating dialogue

It was so much fun to see how creative they got! Their writing REALLY displayed their understanding of how characters can be revealed.

dialogue lessons

Using “Fish in a Tree” and other books to put all the pieces together!

With all the pieces in place, we were ready to write our narratives!  It’s funny…we spent 2 weeks prepping for them and three days writing them–.  It was amazing to see how all the “quick writes” we did paid off. The students REALLY saw how the planning made it so their story essentially wrote itself.  When I asked how many of them felt it was the best thing they had ever written, it was almost unanimous!  Also, if you are working on narratives, I can’t recommend “Fish in a Tree” highly enough to really look at character development, character change, and more.  Narrative writing lessons that piggyback off narrative reading lessons?  Yes, please!

Want some help with your narrative writing lessons?

narrative writing lessons and narrative writing ideas
My novel study for Fish in a Tree…
Fish in a Tree Novel Study and Fish in a Tree lessons
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