Dialogue

As the threat of moderation looms ever closer it has been a frantic post SATS period in year 6. However this week we still managed to find a way to use some comics to help develop several skills and produce high quality work. Good quality dialogue was lacking in books for both classes, so it was decided that we would be re-writing comic strips and then turning them into written dialogue in their books.

For those who don’t know I have the luxury of working with Jon Biddle, who is brilliant at making these tasks highly enjoyable and highly effective. His decision to use Calvin and Hobbes as a resource was instrumental in capturing the children’s attention in the first lesson and setting them up to succeed for the week. We used three different strips from Calvin and Hobbes that all showed situations the children could easily relate to. Most of the words were erased on the strips and the children had to go through and fill in the speech bubbles with what they thought the characters may be saying at that point, which allowed for lots of discussion about body language and facial expression.

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After completing several of the strips from Calvin and Hobbes, both classes moved on to a blanked out strip from either Rollergirl or Mr Wolf’s Class. Again their first task was to fill in the dialogue with what they thought the characters would be saying. However this time the images had much less action and required the pupils to really think carefully about how they might react and speak in the situation themselves. Having filled in multiple comic strips across the week the classes then explored how to turn these speech bubbles into written dialogue, similar to what they may use in a story. To ensure a successful transition the rules of punctuating speech were recapped and the process was modeled using real text examples to support it.

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For their first attempt at applying the skill both classes used a comic about Calvin and Hobbes sledging down a hill with disastrous consequences. Most found the task difficult at first because they were unsure how to communicate the contrasting manner of the characters, as well as ensuring their delivery was described in enough depth. Following this task the children then chose either their Rollergirl work or the extract from Mr Wolf’s Class and attempted to convert this into written dialogue. Having practice at it the day before allowed them to see where they had gone wrong or address any misconceptions that had arisen. Both of these texts required a greater focus on facial expression, body language and character thoughts, which meant their knowledge of when to use inverted commas was tested more than the previous day. They also needed to use the dialogue effectively to help progress the story because the actions performed didn’t help with this as much as the previous strip when Calvin and Hobbes were sledging down a hill and crashing spectacularly into the snow.

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By the end of the week it was easy to see how much improvement had been made by the children in regards to the quality of their dialogue, how they used dialogue to progress the action and also the detail they used to describe the interaction between characters. Most had moved on from simply saying ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ and started to use more informative language such as ‘exclaimed’ or ‘explained’ as well as using short phrases to explain the exchange. Some of the best examples of these were ‘instead of replying to her fathers words she gave him a glare and looked round to see if anyone had heard’ and ‘a girl muttered underneath her breath … although not everybody could hear her.’ Previously character reactions were often more simplistic and would have probably sounded more like ‘she looked sad’ or ‘she said it quietly.’

Adding this level of description to dialogue had previously been a big weakness for the year group, which often meant they found it hard to use dialogue as a tool to support or further action in their work. Instead dialogue was often used for very basic conversations where characters just seemed to spend their time asking how each other were and saying okay a lot but never actually doing anything or talking about anything relevant. Using comics in this manner has highlighted how easily you can spot gaps in children’s understanding of the rules of speech along with providing ample opportunities to develop their writing of it. The success of it has already informed us that it should be taught in this manner earlier next year in order to improve an often troublesome area as early as possible.

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