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Lesson Plan

Choosing Clear and Varied Dialogue Tags: A Minilesson

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Choosing Clear and Varied Dialogue Tags: A Minilesson

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 50 minutes
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Instruction & Activities


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • understand dialogue's purpose in literature and their own writing.

  • be able to give examples of dialogue tags.

  • become more aware of the use and abuse of common tags (e.g., said).

  • write or revise a story using dialogue tags.

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Instruction & Activities

  1. Read the picture book that you’ve chosen aloud. Explain that you are sharing the story to talk about how an author tells a story. Ask students to pay particular attention to the things that the characters say in the story.

  2. Use the Dialogue Tags Interactive to define dialogue and dialogue tags and their purpose in stories. Encourage students to share details that they remember from the story.

  3. Draw a chart on the board with one column for character names and another for their dialogue tags.

  4. Read the picture book again, while students listen for dialogue tags.

  5. Pause when a tag is identified to add the tag and the character whose speech it describes to the chart. At the end of the reading, you should have a list of all the tags used in the story in the order in which they appeared.

  6. Discuss the range of dialogue tags used in the text and what the tags communicate about the characters and situations in the story. For instance, the tags describing Yertle’s speech in Yertle the Turtle progress from “said,” “cried,” and “snapped” early in the story to “shouted,” “howled,” and “snorted” at the end. Discuss how the dialogue tags tell readers about the character of Yertle as they become progressively stronger and angrier.

  7. Read the excerpt from Summer of the Monkeys (or the passage that you’ve chosen), noting the dialogue tags on the overhead. Students will likely notice the difference between the range of dialogue tags Seuss uses in Yertle the Turtle and the rather simple tags in this excerpt.

  8. Distribute copies of the Dialogue Tags handout.

  9. Customize the handout for your class by inviting students to share additional tags. Add these tags to the chart and encourage students to write the words on their copies of the handout.

  10. Go through the excerpt from Summer of the Monkeys, adding alternative dialogue tags that would fit the conversation, using the lines to the right of the passage. Reinforce the tips and instruction from the Dialogue Tags Interactive as you work.

  11. Once the tags in the passage have been revised, reread passages from the original and the revised version so that students can hear the differences.

  12. Answer any questions students have about using dialogue tags then ask students to choose a piece of writing from their writer’s notebook or another piece of writing that they are working on.

  13. Ask students to identify the dialogue in the pieces that they’ve chosen and to consider the dialogue tags that they’ve used, revising to strengthen the dialogue using the examples from the stories and from the Dialogue Tags handout.

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  • If desired, invite students from the class to share narratives they've written which include dialogue among the characters. Ask students to pay attention to the dialogue in the stories and discuss how the stories might be revised, based on the text structures explored in this minilesson.

  • Extend the minilesson by having students choose a picture book from the classroom library and collect all the dialogue tags. Once the data has been collected, share the lists and create a word wall of possible dialogue tags that students can refer to as they write their own stories.

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  • Listen for students to add ideas from the story or from their own readings as you compile examples and revise the excerpt.

  • Monitor students progress as they revise their own writing. Look for use of dialogue tags as they work, offering support and positive feedback.

  • More formal assessment of the use of dialogue tags, if you choose to include it, works best as a part of the assessment of the narratives that students write.

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