“[A]lways get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start,” nineteenth-century writer P.G. Wodehouse commented. He is not alone among authors in emphasizing dialogue in writing, but teaching students how to use quotations can be so difficult.
So, I’d like to give you some tips on teaching basic quotation use and punctuation to your students. Also, check out the Tricky Tricks Sheet at the end of this post. It gives a concise summary of basic quotation rules. Additionally, Character Ink Press’s Meaningful Composition 5 I includes more info on using quotes, along with a number of other writing lessons.
Tip #1 – Teach quotes as they are needed for assignments
Oftentimes, the easiest way to teach quotations is in conjunction with essay and report writing. Most students do not learn quotation rules well unless they have a chance to use them. So, they benefit immensely when they can apply a quotation rule to the assignment they are working on.
This also ensures that your students will know the skills they need for their assignments. Obviously, it’s easier for them to use a skill correctly when they have just learned it.
Tip #2 – Use good examples and have students interact with examples
Everyone learns better when they have an example that clearly demonstrates what they have just learned. For example, let’s say you have just taught your students about quotes with speech tags at the beginning. After going through the rules, you would want to use an example like this:
Charlie Brown sighed and said, “Oh brother, this always happens to me.”
This sentence shows the two rules for punctuating this type of quote: comma in between the speech tag and quote and if there is a period, a period inside the quotation marks. This is a fantastic beginning; however, to help your students analyze the example, it is extremely helpful to let them interact with it.
What do I mean by interacting with the examples? Highlighting, underlining, boxing, circling. Whenever possible, you want your students to mark the example’s important aspects—capital letters, punctuation, quotation marks.
Tip #3 – Go SLOWLY through examples
Quotations are some of the trickiest elements in writing. Students will not catch all the rules unless you take the time to carefully work through the examples with them. Highlighting, underlining, etc. is part of this. The other part is mentioning how each part of the example matches the rules you just taught. For example,
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Snoopy wrote.
Start with the first letter and explain how a quote starts with a capital letter. Then move on to the comma and mention how it comes before the quotation marks and between the quote and speech tag. End with discussing how a speech tag ends in a period when it follows the quote. This, of course, can be done in conjunction with marking:
Download Beginning Quotes Tricky Tricks Sheet by clicking or tapping below, or clicking here:
Tip #4 – Give time for students to practice
Seeing is one thing, but doing is another. Students need time to practice with unpunctuated sentences. Give them sentences that make them decide where to put the punctuation. Have them come up to the board and punctuate a sentence. For example, you might write this sentence up on the board:
What should I do Lucy Charlie Brown asked despairingly
Then, have your student do their best to punctuate the sentence. If they know the rules perfectly, the sentence will look like this:
“What should I do, Lucy?” Charlie Brown asked despairingly.
Most students will not get it right the first time or the first few times. But, even if they mess up, they are getting practice using quotes by themselves. Of course, it also allows you to see which quotation rules they have or have not learned. You can then focus your examples and efforts on helping them learn that rule.
Tip #5 – FIX students’ quotes in their papers for them and EXPLAIN the errors to them
Correcting students’ quotes in their papers is crucial. It allows you to discuss rules with them in the context of an actual paper. This will help them see how the quotation rules apply in their actual writing.
Of course, it doesn’t help students learn if you just fix their errors. You have to explain what was wrong and why you corrected it the way you did. For example,
Charlie Brown sadly stated, “the Kite-Eating Tree ate my kite again.”
If they wrote something like this, you would capitalize the in their paper.
Charlie Brown sadly state, “The Kite-Eating Tree ate my kite again.”
Then you would explain that a quote always starts with a capital letter.
I hope these five tips gave you some help in teaching basic quotations. As I mentioned at the beginning, check out the following Tricky Tricks sheet on basic quotations.
Love and hope,
P.S. What questions does this post leave you with? I will be expanding on this article later, so let me know how I can help you!