A parent’s guide to punctuation: speech marks and paragraphs

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If you’re currently wondering how to help your child with speech punctuation and paragraphs, you’re not alone! Take a look at our short guides below to see what each term means and how they work.

Speech marks

In written text, when someone says something and we’re replicating exactly what they say (direct speech), we use speech marks. These are also known as inverted commas or quotation marks. This punctuation shows us which bit of text was spoken and which wasn’t.

“I’m hungry!” said Omar.

In this example, the spoken words are “I’m hungry!”, and are therefore shown with speech marks. The punctuation that goes with that statement also goes inside the speech marks.

“What’s that?” asked Jen. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a UFO!” suggested Fred.

The reporting clause (‘said Omar’, ‘asked Jen’, ‘suggested Fred’) shows us who spoke the words. This can come at the start of the line, the end, or we can break the speech up and put it in the middle.

Meg asked, “What’s for dinner?” “Oh dear,” sighed Mum. “I knew I’d forgotten something!”

Notice that when the reporting clause comes at the beginning or in the middle of the line, it’s separated by a comma. When there’s a new speaker, the speech starts on a new line.

Speech is always started with a capital letter, even when it comes after the reporting clause (see example 4). Indirect speech is used when we tell someone the gist of what was said, without writing out the comment in full.

Jonathan said he was excited.

With indirect speech, no speech punctuation is required.


Paragraphs are used to organise writing. A paragraph is a group of one or more sentences that are separated from other groups of text with a line between them and/or an indent to the left.

Paragraphs are used in fiction and non-fiction. In fiction writing, a new paragraph is needed when we change the person, place, time or topic. In non-fiction, paragraphs are usually split by topics.

In school, children often use story maps or story mountains to help them plan their work. These help them to organise the structure of their writing — and introduce them to how paragraphs work.

You can also use this technique at home. For example, at the start of the map or mountain, children can set the scene (the introduction). They’ll then proceed to build suspense until the action happens. Finally, they’ll resolve the issue the character faced.

Working in this way helps children to identify what the main topic sentences for each paragraph will be (a sentence that lets us know what that paragraph is about).

Explore punctuation with DoodleEnglish

And there we have it — the ultimate parents’ guide to speech punctuations and paragraphs! If you found these tips helpful, be sure to check out our parents’ guide to phonics.

Or, for a fun journey through grammar, reading, writing and spelling, download the DoodleEnglish app to discover a world of interactive exercises, educational games and virtual rewards!

Or discover Doodle for schools

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