Character Clash: A Minilesson on Paragraphing and Dialogue

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
50 minutes
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After a brief review of paragraphing conventions in dialogue, students select a piece of their own writing that contains dialogue. They go through the piece, highlighting the speech of each character in a different color. They then go through the piece again looking for and correcting "character clashes" that occur when two speakers are highlighted in the same paragraph.

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From Theory to Practice

By teaching students how to identify the conventions used in their own writing, self-editing activities such as this paragraphing lesson help students become more responsible writers by learning through their own language. The power is shifted from the "correcting" teacher to the writers, who are able to make their own corrections.

Constance Weaver argues in Grammar for Teachers (1979), "There seems to be little value in marking students' papers with 'corrections,' little value in teaching the conventions of mechanics apart from actual writing, and even less value in teaching grammar in order to instill these conventions" (64). Instead, learning about grammar, conventions, and text structures (such as paragraphing) is most effective when student writers "learn through language" (see the information on Literacy Engagements for more details).

Jeff Wilhelm concurs in his brief "Undoing the Great Grammatical Scam!" (2001). Wilhelm explains, "If we want students to use language more correctly in their own writing and speaking, then we must teach them to do so in that meaning-producing situation that will co-produce and support that learning. What we need is the contextualized learning of correct language use" (62). This lesson plan accomplishes that goal.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Materials and Technology

  • Colorful highlighters and/or markers—each student will need several different colors to choose from

  • Student-selected pieces of writing

  • Overhead or computer-projected example of narrative for class demonstration

  • Word processing program or HTML editor and computers (optional)




  • Before this lesson, students will have written a text of some sort that includes dialogue. You might use the lesson plan A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words: From Images to Detailed Narrative.

  • If students are to use word processing programs or HTML editors, you might prepare a sheet that explains how to change font colors in the program.

  • If desired, test the Dialogue Tags guide on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • explore paragraphing conventions for dialogue.

  • examine their own writing closely using a self-editing activity.

  • work toward their own empowerment as writers by correcting their own writing.

Instruction & Activities

  1. If students need a review of the use of dialogue tags in narrative writing, use the Dialogue Tags guide to outline the way that tags are used and suggest possible revision strategies students can try after this activity.

  2. Distribute the Character Clash Instructions (or share the sheet using an overhead).

  3. Read an overhead or computer-projected copy of the dialogue example with your class. Alternately, you can use a student example (with the student's permission, of course) or a passage from a book you've read recently as a class.

  4. Using the instruction sheet, work through the example text to demonstrate how to complete the activity.

  5. Ask students to choose a narrative or another piece of writing that includes dialogue to examine for paragraphing conventions.

  6. Allow students to work at their own pace, using the instructions and their own text.

  7. Circulate through the room, helping any students who have questions or comments.

  8. Collect the highlighted draft with the revised draft.


For ideas for other ways to help students to improve their use of dialogue and to easily see the shift in speakers that will need to be represented by paragraphing in their writing, see the collaborative activities described in the essay "Collaborating to Write Dialogue" from the National Writing Project Report.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Kidwatching provides the perfect assessment for this activity. As you circulate throught the room, note which students understand the concepts and which need more practice. Provide on-the-spot help for any students who need more examples or instruction.

  • More formal assessment of the paragraphing of the narrative, if you choose to include it, works best as a part of the assessment of the paper itself.
Colleen Johnson
K-12 Teacher
Great lesson to use as a baseline. Thank you so much.
Colleen Johnson
K-12 Teacher
Great lesson to use as a baseline. Thank you so much.
Colleen Johnson
K-12 Teacher
Great lesson to use as a baseline. Thank you so much.

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