Year 3 – Teaching direct speech


The following lesson illustrates one way in which you can teach children about direct speech within the context of a Literacy lesson. The rules for writing direct speech remain the same however it is taught, but remember to make the lesson purposeful and relevant to your class in order to provide a contextualised approach to teaching grammar. This Year 3 class have been reading the book The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry as part of their rainforest theme. They have already explored a number of non-fiction texts to gather facts and information to contribute to their own leaflets and persuasive posters. They have discussed the moral and ethical dilemmas associated with rainforests and researched the Amazon rainforest as part of their ongoing topic. The class have visited the local botanical gardens and a speaker from a local ecology group has provided further information. To ensure that pupils have something to say in their narratives and understand how a character feels and acts, several drama strategies may be used to provide pupils with a convenient vehicle through which to convey speech; this can be recorded in their own narratives using the written conventions of speech. Because speech can be incorporated into most narratives, you can adapt this lesson to reflect the topic that underpins your teaching for that year group. For example, you may be finding out about a particular period in history or exploring the life of a famous person. When children are writing a story about this, they will more than likely need to include some form of conversation in order to distinguish it from a biography or other form of literary non-fiction.

Learning objectives for the lesson

  • To be able to use punctuation in direct speech correctly.
  • To be able to choose appropriate verbs and adverbials to describe how the character is speaking.
  • To use dialogue effectively to convey meaning. 

Lesson opener

Conscience alley

Ask the children to sit facing each other in two lines, each with a strip of sugar paper and a felt pen. Briefly recap on the story of The Great Kapok Tree and ask children in one of the lines to act as the woodcutter’s employers and the children in the other line to take on the role of one of the rainforest animals. They must decide what they would say to the woodcutter so as to persuade him whether or not to cut down the trees. Explain to the children that they are to take part in a ‘Conscience Alley’. As the woodcutter, you will walk through the middle of both lines whilst one by one the children give their reasons for and against cutting down the trees. When you reach the end of the lines, you can make your decision.

For example:

You won’t get paid if you do not finish the job. (Employer)


Where will we live if you cut down the trees? (Snake)

Then ask the children to write what they have said on the piece of coloured paper, using speech punctuation.

Main lesson

Having established groups for the main teaching session, explain that they are going to continue to write the next part of the rainforest story. To ensure children have a purpose for their writing you may want to tell them that you have misplaced your copy of The Great Kapok Tree or that the last few pages are damaged and you were due to read this story to the children in Reception or Year 1. Tell the children that they are going to write the end of the story so that you don’t have to disappoint the younger children.

Model writing the opening sentences of the next part of the story on the interactive whiteboard so as to ensure that all children are familiar with the use of direct speech and how to punctuate this correctly. Children can use mini-whiteboards or classroom tablets to write suggestions for dialogue that would be appropriate for the story. Use this time to assess whether the children are using punctuation correctly and address any misconceptions.

Practical application

Children can write the ending to the story using effective dialogue to add meaning to the text. Remind them of the learning objectives and ensure that you have provided scaffolds such as writing frames, microphones, prompts and examples of speech to ensure that all children can achieve. During the starter activity and the shared writing you will have identified those children requiring further support when using direct speech and these may form a guided group. What about those children for whom direct speech poses no difficulties? An effective way in which to continue to develop their use of direct speech is to place envelopes on their tables with a further challenge included. For example, ask them to include a conversation between three characters or try splitting the direct speech into parts.


Explain to the children that you have written the ending of the story but have forgotten how to write direct speech. Hand out some pre-prepared sentences relating to the story with all punctuation missing. Make sure that you differentiate accordingly. Ask the children to work in pairs to ‘correct’ the sentences using a marker pen and collect these to include on your working wall.

Assessment (measuring achievement)

Assessment for learning

Do not assume that all children will begin this lesson with the same degree of understanding about the use of direct speech.

Ask key questions to determine how much children know:

Why have you put the speech marks there?

Can you think of an alternative to ‘said’?

How do we know when the character is speaking?

Where do I include the exclamation mark?

What does this tell us about the character?

Ask children to identify speech during shared or guided reading sessions. Encourage them to change their voice when characters are speaking. Are they aware that speech marks indicate that someone is speaking? Do they change their voice according to the adverb or verb used to describe how the character is speaking? Use a wide variety of books that include speech, for example, Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen, Billy’s Bucket by Kes Gray and Garry Parsons, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and just about anything by Roald Dahl.

Use drama sessions to ask children to verbalise their thoughts whilst in character and then write them down on sticky notes using the conventions of direct speech.

Assessment at the point of learning

You will need to assess learning throughout the lesson so that you are able to provide the correct amount of challenge for all learners.

Take full advantage of mini-whiteboards to allow children to demonstrate what they know. They may be able to use inverted commas correctly, but have they remembered to include the full stop or question mark within the speech marks?

Encourage other adults working within the classroom to make a note of children who are having difficulties and address this immediately with the child, exploring misconceptions and modelling correct use of speech punctuation.

Ask children to explain why they have used specific verbs or adverbs to describe how a character is speaking. Do they understand why they need to include speech marks? Are they beginning a new line for a different speaker? How can you make this explicit in your teaching?

Assessment of learning

Have the children achieved the objective of the lesson and how do you know?

During the plenary, are children still making the same mistakes or have they moved on during the course of the lesson?

Are they enclosing the speaker’s exact words within speech marks?

Do they start each piece of speech with a capital letter?

Have they used a comma in the correct place when direct speech comes after the name of the speaker?

Have they started a new line for each speaker?

Furthermore, does the inclusion of dialogue in the text contribute to the overall effect of the writing? If children are simply including speech in order to fulfil a ‘checklist’ of criteria, they may not understand how it can fundamentally change a piece of writing and add to the tone, atmosphere and mood. When marking work, make comments explicit and refer directly to the learning objectives so that learners are aware of their success and how they can continue to move forward.


Some children may have a limited understanding of punctuation and so this will need consolidating prior to teaching speech marks. Use punctuation fans and bingo games to provide opportunities for children to become familiar with different types of punctuation.

Some children may benefit from a more visual approach and so try large speech bubble templates to write speech before adding it to text. Children who prefer an auditory approach may benefit from watching short film clips and identifying the speech within this context.

The use of drama to reinforce conventions of written speech will often support pupils for whom English is as an additional language as it provides opportunities for pupils to be more aware of their language use and orally rehearse their thoughts before committing them to paper.

For more lesson inspiration and for the theory behind how to develop good lessons, see the Lessons in Teaching Series.