Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. Sarah’s approach goes beyond verbal explanation, incorporating hands-on activities that utilize right-brained strategies to teach students difficult topics such as using quotations.
When I taught second grade, the majority of my students had a hard time with quotation marks. They were not sure how to use them, when to use them, or how to identify in writing the words that were actually being spoken by someone. This first surprised me and then puzzled me. I thought it was relatively easy to discern which the spoken words were when I read. I didn’t know how much of their difficulty was due to a lack of focus on the content of the text, or if they just needed to be taught quotation marks in a more direct way. In retrospect, it seems that the difficulty for my students might have been that when a child is reading a passage, they are speaking ALL of it. So, there can be a bit of a challenge to separate words spoken by a character in the passage from those the child is speaking.
No matter what the cause of confusion stemmed from, I knew that rather than verbally explaining a new or difficult concept, I needed to add some right-brain-friendly strategies. Once I infused my lessons with multisensory elements, my students were easily able to comprehend and correctly use quotation marks. The following lesson will show you how to help your students experience success, too! (This unit can last a week or two if you do all the suggested activities.)
For this lesson, we will use a simplified version of Little Red Hen, as it is chock-full of spoken words.
What You Will Need
- 4 Actors/Actresses*
- Character Identification Images
- Story of Little Red Hen
- Chart Paper or Whiteboard
- Colored Markers/Dry Erase Markers
(5 different colors)
*If 4 actors/actresses are not available, improvise with the number you have available, making sure to distinguish the different characters when speaking their lines. Another option is to use a picture and point to the characters when their lines are spoken. For groups over 4, you can split the lines or repeat the skit as many times as needed.
- Print the Character Identification images and cut out if desired.
- Write the story on chart paper or whiteboard, without quotation marks, or use smaller copies for individual use.
How to Teach
- Read the story to the children first. Ask them to identify the characters in the story. They would say, “Little Red Hen, Duck, Pig, and Cat.” Then tell them they are going to act out the story. Hand out the Character Identification images as you assign parts. Assign a different color for each character. These colors will be used to underline speaking parts.
- Review the story, this time with the children looking at the words with you. Use the story without quotation marks for this part. Talk your way through the story, reading together, and discussing the words actually spoken by each person. As you point to each line, underline the spoken words only with the corresponding color, and have the child read their part. You will read the other parts of the sentences, such as, “said Pig,” etc. Doing this will provide a color-coded text and will highlight the spoken words.
- After you get through the story this way, tell the children you will act out the play again, but this time they will only be reading the words that are underlined. This activity offers a visual and auditory experience that will reinforce their understanding through the spoken repetition of the words.
- Now would be a good time to go over quotation marks basics:
- Write the following example sentences on your whiteboard:
Mom said, “Come in now.”
“Can you play ball now?” Tom asked.
- Look at the first sentence and point out the quotation marks and explain that we use quotation marks to surround the exact words someone has spoken. Next, point to the comma and explain that a comma comes before the opening quotation mark, then a capital letter starts what they said (point to the capital letter). Bring their attention to the period, explaining that the period marks the end of what the person said, and it goes inside the quotation marks. For the second sentence, there is no longer a comma after the quote because of the question mark. As well, the sentence ends with a period.
- Now we will add quotations to the story. Read the first line and ask the children if there are any spoken words in the sentence. (There are not.) Go to the next line and ask the same question. Insert quotation marks around Who will help me work? Have the children identify the next words that are spoken and let them insert the quotation marks. Continue like this until you have punctuated the whole story.
This activity will not only help the children understand what quotation marks mean, but it will help them in reading other texts. Best of all, their writing will reflect their understanding of how to use correct punctuation with conversation.
For this lesson, we will use comic strips to help children understand the connection between speech bubbles and quotation marks.
What You Will Need
- Chart Paper or Whiteboard
- Marker/Dry Erase Marker
- Writing Paper & Pencils
- Comic strips from newspapers or online. You will need copies of each strip corresponding to the number of speakers in the comic strip. Preferably, find comics that have super easy words.
For each comic strip, write a brief story on your chart paper or whiteboard. Use the same words that are used in the dialogue in the comic strip but add surrounding words. Here is an example from a Peanuts® comic strip:
How to Teach
- Act it Out
- Select your first pair or group of actors. If the comic strip you have selected for them has two speakers, you will need two children; if the strip has three speakers, you will need three children. Give each child a copy of the comic strip you have chosen and assign them parts. Let them practice the parts until they are ready. Of course, they don’t have to quote the comic strip exactly!
- Have the actors read or say the content of the comic strip in front of the class.
- Transition to Print
- Share with your students that in a comic strip, little speech bubbles are floating around that show what each person is saying. We don’t have any other words at all, just what each person says.
- Now direct their attention to the chart paper on which you have written the little story. Read it to them, following the line of text with your finger or pointing stick.
- Ask the children if they see anything that might signal to the reader what each person is saying. Point out the quotation marks and suggest they are like parts of the speech bubble as seen in the comic strip. “In fact,” (use a marker for this part of the activity) “we can just draw the speech bubbles right in the story!”
- Tell the children that having speech bubbles inside a story would be really messy and distracting, so we have replaced them with little marks on either side of the words spoken by each person.
- Take it Further
Follow up with these three hands-on enrichment activities to reinforce and solidify your child’s understanding of this tricky concept.
- Give the children a new comic strip and have them turn it into a story like you did on the chart paper. They would use the words from the comic strip, using quotation marks in place of the speech bubbles. The students might enjoy working in pairs on this activity.
- Have the children start with a typed story and, working with a partner, turn it into a comic strip that uses speech bubbles.
- Have the children work with a friend and write an original comic strip/story which they will illustrate AND write in story form. Thus, they will practice both quotation marks and speech bubbles. Let them share their work with the class.
Quotation marks and the concept of spoken words in writing have the potential to be stumbling blocks for young students. By utilizing hands-on, engaging activities that help your child SEE what is happening, they will quickly and easily grasp this challenging concept. Try it today and see the difference!
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions; we are here to support you in your educational journey!