Quick tips for grammar: inverted commas

The 2014 National Curriculum requires children to start using inverted commas to indicate direct speech from Year 3 onward. This work should then continue throughout Year 4 so that children are able to accurately use the full range of punctuation when writing dialogue. Here are a few quick tips for teaching the use of inverted commas.

Create a speech progression

Writing dialogue correctly with all the punctuation in the right place and a new line for each speaker is challenging, and that’s without the demands of asking children to have interesting, engaging dialogue with a variety of synonyms for ‘said’. The 2014 National Curriculum recognises the challenge of speech, which is why both Y3 and Y4 have objectives relating to speech (see National Curriculum Appendix 2). As a teacher, year group, school have a clear idea about how children will progress through the writing of speech. I like to think:

  • Identify speech in texts
  • Write in speech bubbles
  • Use inverted commas
  • Use inverted commas and the correct punctuation with the reporting clause before the speech
  • Use inverted commas and the correct punctuation with the reporting clause after the speech
  • Use inverted commas and the correct punctuation with the speech broken by the reporting clause
  • Write dialogue punctuated correctly with a new line for each new speaker

I’ve made a handy classroom prompt for punctuating the three patterns of direct speech which you can find on the Resources Page. This is free to download and is handy if you need to remind yourself where the commas and capitals go in each pattern of direct speech.

speech marks

Reading into writing

Quality texts are always great for providing a model of What A Good One Looks Like (WAGOLL). Use real texts as models of how to use speech marks and how to use the punctuation conventions of dialogue.

Provide copies of texts so that children can identify the spoken words in texts. Allow them to text-mark with highlighters and then encourage them to write sentences including direct speech using the structure of the sentences they have text-marked.

Speech bubbles

Speech bubbles are an essential pre-cursor to adding inverted commas around spoken words. Consider removing the text from some comic strips for children to add-in.

Make good use of blank comic strips in English and other areas of the curriculum so that children can retell (and create) narratives which include speech.

Capture a conversation between two children and ask the rest of the class to write it in speech bubbles. To begin with you will need to limit this to one response per child, so consider a simple question and answer response the first time you try this. Eventually, you will be able to replicate this sort of activity with inverted commas.

Learn the rules

I’m not a fan of rote learning but the rules of punctuating dialogue need to be learnt and applied. Rather than drilling them, why not use the Primary English patterns of direct speech posters and examples from high quality texts to create a class set of rules for direct speech (or success criteria). These could then be displayed in the classroom and referred to by the children whilst writing and evaluating their work.

Get dramatic

We’ve already thought about capturing conversations and writing them using speech bubbles. Once the children are confident at adding speech bubbles consider working with playscripts. Allocate roles, encourage children to read and then deliver their lines and as a final activity take the play and transform it into dialogue.


We’ve all seen the air  ” ” symbol made when quoting something said by another. Encourage children to use this when deciding where to add inverted commas to mark direct speech.

Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English Education

If you liked this post, try this one about Capital Letters and Full Stops.

All content on the Primary English website is owned by Rachel Clarke and is protected by copyright.

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