Inside or Outside? A Minilesson on Quotation Marks and More

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
50 minutes
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Students often have difficulty knowing when to place a punctuation mark within quotation marks or outside them. It's not too surprising, since the rules shift depending on how the dialogue is used, and what is done can vary depending upon the country you're in. In this minilesson, students review the general rules on using quotation marks with other punctuation and work through a sample dialogue, keeping the conventions in mind. They then look closely at their own writing, mark the quotation marks they've used, consider how the conventions of punctuation apply, and make revisions to their work.

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From Theory to Practice

By teaching students how to identify the conventions used in their own writing, self-editing activities help students become more responsible writers. 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 is most effective when student writers "learn through language." 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" (62).

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

  • General rules on quotation marks and enclosing punctuation from your students' writing textbook or a similar resource

  • Student-selected pieces of their own writing

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



Student Objectives

Students will

  • explore conventions for using quotation marks and other punctuation marks in written 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. Go over the general rules on using quotation marks with other punctuation marks. Pay particular attention to the rules governing whether periods, commas, semi-colons, question marks, exclamation points, and so forth go inside or outside the quotation marks.

  2. 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.

  3. Using the guidelines from your textbook, work through the example text to demonstrate how to punctuate the sentences.

  4. Ask students to choose a narrative or another piece of writing that includes dialogue to examine for their use of quotation marks.

  5. Have students go through their papers backwards (that is, from the last word of the text to the first), and underline or circle all the ending punctuation for dialogue.

  6. Once their text is marked, ask them to go through the text again, this time checking the punctuation in the circles to see if the conventions are being used. Ask students to revise as they go, moving or adding punctuation as necessary.

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

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

  9. Collect the highlighted draft with the revised draft.


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 use of quotation marks in the narrative, if you choose to include it, works best as a part of the assessment of the paper itself.