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Direct Speech

What is direct speech?

Direct speech is a sentence where the exact words spoken by somebody are recorded in inverted commas (also known as speech marks). Inverted commas are used to show which written words are spoken by the character and other punctuation is used to help the reader understand when each character starts and stops speaking. Usually, the spoken words are accompanied by a reporting clause which contains a speech verb and reveals the identity of the speaker.

Direct speech example

How to punctuate direct speech

To punctuate direct speech, follow these simple rules:

  1. Start a new line for each new speaker. This helps the reader to keep track of who is speaking.

  2. Add a pair of inverted commas around the words spoken by the character. The first pair of inverted commas should go before the first spoken word and the second pair should go after the punctuation which follows the last spoken word.

  3. Begin the spoken words with a capital letter.

  4. Add closing punctuation to follow the last spoken word. This could be a comma, full stop, exclamation mark, question mark or even an ellipsis if the character's thoughts trail off.

  5. Use a comma to separate the direct speech and reporting clause.

Our KS2 English Journey scheme based on the beautifully illustrated book by Aaron Becker, is a fantastic way to introduce children to direct speech punctuation.

Children tend to find rules three and four the most difficult so make sure you explicitly teach the following:

a. If the reporting clause comes before the spoken words , add a comma to separate the clause from the direct speech and a full stop within the inverted commas to indicate the end of the sentence. For example, Isa suggested, "Let's get a closer look."

b. If the reporting clause comes after the direct speech, add a comma (or other appropriate punctuation) within the inverted commas to indicate that the sentence continues and a full stop after the reporting clause to indicate the end of the sentence. For example, "Let's get a closer look," Isa suggested.

c. If the reporting clause comes in the middle of the direct speech, add a comma within the inverted commas for the first piece of speech, a comma after the reporting clause before the second piece of speech and a full stop following the reporting clause to indicate the end of the sentence. For example, "Let's get a closer look," Isa suggested, "I want to know where the tunnel leads."

An example of how to punctuate direct speech

When do we use direct speech?

Direct speech is used in narratives to reveal more about the thoughts, motivations and personalities of the characters, and to let new characters introduce themselves.

Using dialogue between characters is also a quick and engaging way to move on the plot of a story. For example, an instruction from a character is a useful plot device as it can prompt another character to act or move to another time or location (e.g. "Lock the door.","Go to the tower.", "Recover the diamond.").

Questions can let characters explain where they have been or what they have been doing offstage ("Why are you late?', "Where have you been?, "Why are you doing this?).

Statements can tell you more about a character's surroundings ("It's a beautiful day.", " That door wasn't there before.") or where they stand on a particular issue ("I don't agree.", "This is a risky plan.").

Inspire your children to write effective dialogue for an adventure story with our KS2 One Thousand and One Arabian Nights scheme.

Examples of how to use direct speech

Misconceptions when punctuating direct speech

Understanding and applying the rules for direct speech is no mean feat. Here are the top five misconceptions that children may have as they learn how to punctuate direct speech.

  1. Children do not know to include punctuation inside the inverted commas.

  2. Children do not know when to use a comma instead of a full stop inside the inverted commas.

  3. Children incorrectly position inverted commas around the beginning and end of a full sentence rather than around the spoken words.

  4. Children do not apply the new speaker, new line convention.

  5. Children capitalise the first word in a reporting clause that comes in the middle or at the end of the speech sentence. This often accompanies a misuse of a full stop as closing punctuation inside the inverted commas.

Addressing these misconceptions needs careful and explicit teaching. Here are five top tips for teaching children how to punctuate direct speech in KS2.

  1. Make sure to provide children with variety of examples which use different sentences structures.

  2. Encourage children to find different speech sentences in their reading books and explore the similarities and differences between them.

  3. Provide examples of incorrectly punctuated speech sentences and ask children to spot and correct the errors (identifying errors in given texts is so much less daunting than jumping straight into applying the rules within your own writing).

  4. Give children focused editing time either as a discrete activity where children to add punctuation to unpunctuated text or where they spot and correct direct speech punctuation during independent writing.

  5. Offer children the opportunity to read and perform their dialogue (as this can really help child get to grips with why punctuation is so important for the reader).

An example highlighting misconceptions when punctuating direct speech

Teaching progression in direct speech - Year 3

Direct speech is introduced in the Year 3 English Curriculum. Here, children should be taught the correct terminology for 'inverted commas' and given opportunities to practise forming these correctly (during your regular handwriting sessions can work well). When children can identify and create inverted commas, they are ready to apply these to speech - adding opening and closing inverted commas around spoken words.

An engaging, hands-on activity to help children understand where to position the inverted commas in a speech sentence is to ask children to write speech sentences on whiteboards and add macaroni around the spoken words to represent the opening and closing inverted commas. This activity can be extended to include speech and a reporting clause to consolidate understanding and to address the misconception that inverted commmas are used at the beginning and end of the sentence, rather than at the beginning and end of the spoken words.

Introduce your children to direct speech with our magical Year 3 The Snowman scheme which provides children with the foundations for punctuating direct speech.

Using macaroni to punctuate direct speech

Teaching progression in direct speech - Year 4

 

In Year 4, the focus should be mastering all of the punctuation required to indicate direct speech. This includes the use of a comma to separate the reporting clause from the piece of speech as well as using punctuation within inverted commas: The conductor shouted, “Sit down!”. Children will need plenty of modelled examples as to when to use the different punctuation marks inside inverted commas to get to grips with when to use a comma, full stop and other punctuation.

By the end of Year 4, children should be able to choose more precise speech verbs for their reporting clause, using verbs such as growled, snarled, whispered, mumbled to let the reader know more about the speaker's personality or mood.

One way to help chidren understand the rules of punctuating direct speech is to use a text message template to show an exchange of dialogue between characters. This helps children understand that the speech for each character starts on a new line. It is also helpful for reinforcing the learning point from Year 3, that only the spoken words should be included within the opening and closing inverted commas. Children can use the speech given in the model as the basis for writing their own dialogue between the two characters, constructing their own reporting clauses using appropriate speech verbs and adverbs.

Why not use the our KS2 English Journey scheme or our Text to Speech FreeBee to give children an opportunity to practise using direct speech in their writing?

Using text messages to teach direct speech

Teaching progression in direct speech - Year 5

In Year 5, children should be able to vary the structure of their speech sentences, positioning the reporting clause at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the spoken words. Here, children should consider the impact of these choices on pace and intensity. Children should be taught that the reporting clause can reveal a lot about how the words are spoken and the character of the speaker and start to experiment with adding additional clauses to add further contextual detail.

As children become more proficient with the direct speech punctuation and sentence structure, the focus of teaching should shift to encouraging children to write coherent and effective dialogue which conveys character and/or advances the action of the story.

Inspire your children to write effective dialogue for an adventure story with our KS2 One Thousand and One Arabian Nights scheme.

An example of using effective dialogue in narrative writing

Teaching progression in direct speech - Year 6

By Year 6, children should be able to vary the structure of their speech sentences and extend these to provide the reader with extra details about the speaker or their environment. Children should continue to write dialogue which conveys character and/or advances the action of the story,. The focus of teaching should shift to ensure that the children can integrate dialogue well into their narratives and that they know how to strike a balance between dialogue and description to produce an enjoyable or gripping experience for the reader.

In additon, children should also be taught how and when to use the structures associated with formal and informal speech to help set the tone of their piece or to contextualise their writing within a certain time period. To do this, use texts which allow you to explore a variety of speech conventions used by different characters such as those by Arthur Conan Doyale (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) or Charles Dickens (e.g. Scrooge, the Artful Dodger).  

 

LESSON PACK One Thousand and One Arabian Nights

Direct speech lesson pack example

FREE Speech Verbs and Adverbs Word Mat

Direct speech - speech verbs and adverbs word mat

LESSON PACK Journey

Direct speech - Journey Lesson Pack

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Direct Speech Punctuation Sheet