If you have spent time working with students on their narrative writing, you understand dialogue can cause angst amongst the most seasoned educators.
I love to use the term "Dialogue-a-rhea."
Pointless, rambling, conversation is the result of not being observant. As humans, we talk so much, we often neglect what our conversations consist of. Have you ever sat back and listened to other people in the room? It is often surprising what falls from their mouths.
Try this tonight as writing homework and I am positive your students will approach their narrative dialogue with a better understanding of conversation.
Use the attached handout. Read the directions to the class. Notice it says they are to find a place to sit and observe people. This could be at home, at practice, at the park, a game, or anywhere else people are present.
The goal is to listen, intently, for one minute. Have the students write down the entire conversation. Notice the second column. It asks the student to reflect on what they heard. What emotions did they feel when listening? Was the conversation sad? Happy? Funny? If we can engage the reader's emotions with our narrative dialogue they are more likely to enjoy what we have to say.
Look at the below example:
"He's crazy," she announced.
"Not crazy, just different," her mom said.
"Did you see my room?"
"The exterminator will be here in the morning."
"Did you hear?" she asked.
"No." I said.
"It doesn't matter anyway. It's over."
These two conversations are quite different, yet both of them have the reader wanting more. What happened? What's over?" This is how real conversations sound. By having your students listen to the world around them they will come back with ideas waiting to fly to the paper.
The next day in class ask for some volunteers to share the homework. (I would preview the examples before reading in front of the class. You never know what kids will come up with.)
Point out intriguing examples. What makes them interesting? Where do you think the conversation is going? What was the possible setting? How could what we learned be applied to our own writing?
If you teach personal narrative, this tool can improve the quality of what you see. Instead of a narrative listing events, the story now connects the reader and the author. Here is a link to an anchor paper you can use with your class. It comes from my narrative lesson entitled A Small Moment in Time. Notice how an entire narrative takes place in the matter of a couple minutes. The simple dialogue and character's observations create a situation most readers can relate to.
I hope this conversation homework helps your students.
Thank you for your time and keep writing!
The Page Writer