A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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This Lesson's Title:

"Lawd! Lawd! Lawd!"

playing with dialects while reviewing dialogue punctuation

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by NNWP Teacher Consultant
Susan Potter during an
AT&T-sponsored in-service class
for teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from the first four pages of this novel.

Check out Flowers for Algernon at Amazon.com.

If you are a Washoe County teacher, click here to search for this book at the county library.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step…before sharing the published model: The teacher will define dialect: Dialect is a regional variety of a language with differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Language spoken by a class or profession; a form of a language spoken by members Dialect is nonstandard spoken language. Anthropological linguists define dialect as the specific form of language used by a community.

A class discussion on stereotypes may be helpful. Stress that just because a character talks with a thick Southern dialect does not mean the character is uneducated, nor does a Hispanic dialect mean the character is in a gang. Using a dialect should not be used as a way to make fun of a character; instead, it should be a way to make a character seem more rich and more real.

Susan Lowell's picture book Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella uses great cowboy dialect.

Ann Rinaldi’s Numbering All the Bones is another example to share from: I heered they be here by end of summer. Doan they ‘low womens and childrens? 'Cause I couldn’t always be wif her.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Ask your students this essential question: What can you do to make your characters pop on the page?

Get a classroom copy of Flowers for Algernon. Read aloud the first three entries (pages 1-4 in my copy). Discuss together as a class how they would create a character description for Charlie Gordon. Look at what he says and how his thoughts are depicted on the page. What kind of man is he? Make a cluster together as a class.

Tell students they will be dedicating a page in their writers notebooks to correctly-punctuated dialogue sentences from characters who use dialects. They will label this page "Dialects and Dialogue." Throughout the year, as they review dialogue punctuation, they will be adding new sentences to this page, and near the end of the year, they will turn one of their favorite dialect sentences into a dialogue scene.

Step two (introducing models of writing):  From Susan Potter, this lesson's author: "One of teachers from my school wrote this poem for the poetry month celebration. I had students highlight the dialect, the community speech."

In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups will certainly look closely at the conventions, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the idea development in the writing too.

  • We're looking for original student samples of dialect in lines in dialogue for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Contact us at publish@writingfix.com for details.

Step three (thinking and pre-writing): The Interactive Button Game on the Student Instructions Page might get your students thinking about different characters who might speak with a different dialect.

On this worksheet, have students practice by writing four sentences using different characters for each sentence, dialogue punctuation, and different dialects. Have student review rules of punctuation using WritingFix's Rules for Dialogue Handout. They might also benefit from having WritingFix's Instead of Said Handout.

Students will be choosing their favorite line of dialect/dialogue and they will be printing it neatly onto a page in their writers notebooks or journals that has been labeled: "Dialects and Dialogue." We suggest you have students draw a small picture to accompany their best line of dialogue. Do this exercise several times throughout the year, each time having students add a new sentence (and picture) to this page. Near year's end, assign students to write a longer story inspired by their best sentence and picture from their page.

When they have a longer story, use the revision tools and publishing suggestions below.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing for the portfolio):   When they are finished revising and have second drafts, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  Their stories might become a longer story, a more detailed piece, or the beginning of a series of pieces about the story they started here.  Students will probably enjoy creating an illustration for this story as they get ready to publish it for their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at publish@writingfix.com if you have questions about getting your students published.


Learn more about author Daniel Keyes by clicking here.

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