Does your narrative writing unit require students to include dialogue? You can spend an entire day, week, or even semester teaching students how to write concise and effective dialogue with correct punctuation. It’s a difficult concept to master, especially for young writers. I have found that sticking to the basics works best. The rules listed in this post will provide your students with enough structure to write dialogue without feeling overwhelmed. 

Dialogue Rules for Students
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Basic Dialogue Writing | Rules and Tips for Students

The rules and tips listed below should be enough to get students started with writing dialogue. You can also use them to create your own dialogue rules anchor chart, or you can download the free template linked below. 

As students get more comfortable with the format and structure of writing dialogue, they may want to explore things like action beats, different types of punctuation, and internal monologues. For now, let’s stick to the basics. 

1. Use quotation marks before and after the speaker’s exact words. 

Bianca admitted, “I stole the last piece of candy.”

2. Use a comma to separate the speaker from the quote. Identifying the speaker of a quote is called a dialogue tag. It helps readers identify the speaker. A dialogue tag can also convey emotion, tone, and the context of the conversation

Yolanda stated, “I love my new puppy.”

“I’m really hungry,” Jason groaned.

3. When dialogue ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation point, put the punctuation inside the quotation marks.

“Can we have spaghetti for dinner?” Juan asked.

“Surprise!” shouted Molly.

4. Start a new paragraph when switching speakers.

Writing Dialogue Practice Activities

“​​This was a great way to practice/reinforce writing dialogue before writing our narratives. This was created in an easy to follow along format, so it was very student led. Thanks!” -Wenona G.  

Dialogue Tips

1. Find synonyms for said. 

Have students look through books or use a thesaurus to find and record synonyms that you can use in place of ‘said’ when writing dialogue. 

Create an anchor chart with words to replace ‘said’ that students can reference when writing dialogue. Use the list below to get started.  

Let students know they can make ‘said’ more interesting by adding extra description with an adjective or adverb. 

“See you next summer,” he said as the bus drove away. 

“I’m scared of the dark!” Carla said anxiously. 

2. Don’t forget body language and expressions. 

Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, so don’t forget to include clear descriptions of body language, gestures, and facial expressions. 

Fatima crossed her arms and said, “I don’t want to go to that restaurant.”

3. Avoid names as much as possible. 

People rarely address each other by name when having a conversation.

Click the button below to download the FREE Dialogue Rules Anchor Chart.

Click here to download the FREE dialogue rules anchor chart! 

Free Dialogue Rules Anchor Chart
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4. Mix dialogue with narration. 

Adding dialogue to break up long blocks of narration keeps readers interested in your story. Dialogue brings your characters to life and keeps the plot moving. 

5. Dialogue needs a purpose. 

Avoid small talk between characters. Only include conversations that are necessary to move the story forward. Cutting out needless words and phrases keeps the reader engaged without altering the storyline.

Click here to see a detailed lesson plan for teaching students how to write dialogue. It includes ideas for an anticipatory activity, guided instruction, mentor texts, and more! 

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