We continue to climb the staircase of complexity and add another element to successful writing today. We are focusing on dialogue and its ability to develop experiences, events and/or characters (W.9-10.3b). By the end of the class period, students will produce a coherent piece of writing using effective dialogue that is appropriate to the purpose and audience (W.9-10.4).
First, I distribute a copy of this punctuating guide for each student (L.9-10.3a). I found it this year on the Teacherweb.com website and it is a great source for students. I instruct them to put it in the resource section of their notebook. It should be review for students so we spend just three-five minutes reviewing it.
Next, I explain to students that dialogue does four things (W.9-10.3b):
1. Advances the plot.
2. Creates suspense/tension
3. Reveals motivation
4. Builds characterization.
To see these four elements of dialogue in writing, I display this excerpt from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and I read it aloud.
'I forgot,' Lennie said softly. 'I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.'
'O.K.—O.K. I’ll tell ya again. I ain’t got nothing to do. Might jus’ as well spen’ all my time tell’n you things and then you forget ‘em, and I tell you again.'
'Tried and tried,' said Lennie, 'but it didn’t do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George.'
'The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you ever can remember is them rabbits. O.K.! Now you listen and this time you got to remember so we don’t get in no trouble. You remember settin’ in that gutter on Howard street and watchin’ that blackboard?'
Lennies’s face broke into a delighted smile. 'Why sure, George, I remember that…but…what’d we do then? I remember some girls come by and you says…you say…'
'The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?'
'Oh, sure, George, I remember that now.' His hands went quickly into his side coat pockets. He said gently, 'George…I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.' He looked down at the ground in despair.
'You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ‘em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?'
Lennie grinned with relief.
Then, we discuss how this excerpt does each of those four things. After reading the excerpt, we understand George and Lenny and certainly George's responsibility toward Lenny. The small amount of suspense about what is going on with the rabbits is developed by the dialogue.
During student work time, I distribute the Dialogue assignment for students. I was given this assignment during a National Writing Project Workshop. As students are working, I will circulate the room and observe students writing. I will help students who are struggling.
For the remainder of the class, I ask students to trade their writing with a neighbor. I give the students these student instructions for sharing dialogue (SL.9-10.1). When finished, I explain to students that I'm not collecting their writing. Rather, I want them to put it in their notebook as unfinished writing and they might finish it later in the semester.