When I was teaching school, many of my second graders struggled with placing quotation marks in their writing. This first surprised and then puzzled me. I thought it was relatively obvious to discern which the spoken words were when I read. I didn’t have time to stop and figure this out. 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.
A tactile activity or a skit could help clear up some of this confusion
Let’s use the version of the Little Red Hen story, as it is chock-full of spoken words:
Little Red Hen had seed.
“Who will help me work?” said Little Red Hen.
“Not I,” said Pig.
“Not I,” said Cat.
“Not I,” said Duck.
“We want to play,” said they.
Then Little Red Hen had wheat.
“What can I do with this?” said Little Red Hen.
“I will get help. I will call Duck, Cat, and Pig,” she said.
Little Red Hen ran to Duck, Pig, and Cat.
“I have wheat. Who will help me?” asked Little Red Hen.
“Will you, Pig?” asked Little Red Hen.
“No, not I,” said he.
“Will you, Cat?” asked Little Red Hen.
“No, not I,” said he.
“Will you, Duck?” asked Little Red Hen.
“No, not I,” said Duck. “We are busy.”
So Little Red Hen did the work. Little Red Hen made bread.
“That smells good!” said Duck, Cat, and Pig.
“Is that for us?”
“NO! Stop!” said Little Red Hen.
“I did the work. You did the play. So I will eat this bread.”
And so she did.
What you will need for this activity:
Four children to act it out. If four children are not available to you, let the child be the Little Red Hen and you speak the parts of the Duck, Pig, and Cat.
The above story without any quotation marks in it written on chart paper. You will supply the quotation marks with the child.
How to play:
1. Read the story to the child first. Ask them to identify the characters in the story. They would say, “Little Red Hen, Duck, Pig, and Cat.” Then tell them they will act the part of the Little Red Hen, and you will be the other characters.
2. Review the story, this time with the child looking at the words with you. You will read the first line: Little Red Hen had seed. Next let them know it is their turn to speak. Underline with them the words they will speak: Who will help me work?
3. Talk your way through the story, reading together, and talking about the words actually spoken by each of you, and then underlining the spoken words with your marker. Use one color for the words spoken by Little Red Hen and another color for the other characters. Doing this will provide a color-coded text and will highlight the spoken words.
4. When you get through the story this way, tell the child you will act out the play again, just reading the words that are underlined. Doing this activity will show them visually the spoken words and as they see the words, they will also hear themselves and you speaking those words.
5. Next, add quotation marks. Explain to the child that we use quotation marks to surround the words someone has said. A quote is a faithful repetition of the words someone spoke. Quotation marks tell the reader instantly that you are reading exactly what that character said. Insert quotation marks around Who will help me work? Have the child identify the next words that are spoken and let them insert the quotation marks. Continue like this until you have punctuated the whole story.
6. This activity will not only help the child understand what quotation marks mean, but it will help them in reading other text. Best of all, their writing will reflect their understanding of how to use correct punctuation with conversation.