For students to fully understand what is meant by voice in a piece of writing it is important for them to be able to identify, create and define voice. As a class it is a good idea to create a chart or list discussing what voice is in writing. Using examples from texts have students identify the strength of voice in a piece of writing before strategies of how to use voice. I enjoyed the chart on page 129 of “What is Voice” and the descriptions that the author put together. Some of these points such as the heartbeat of the writer, the fingerprint, connection, vision, pulse, power, or spirit would be excellent additions to the class created chart.
Books that emphasize voice:
Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan. Excellent resource to show the different voices in one story.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra. A humours story that could be used as a hook into a voice unit.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. A look into different perspectives that a writer can put a reader into.
Strategies for Teaching Voice:
- Provide a Safety Net– Ensure that writers are comfortable in their environment to take the step to using voice in their writing. To encourage students to feel comfortable writing in voice have them first practice writing in the voice of someone or something else. Bring in an object that means something to them on the first day of the unit, have the students write five sentences in the voice of the object to get familiar with this trait.
- Respond to Student’s Word with Unabashed Enthusiasm– A powerful, meaningful compliment may affect a student’s writing so much that they take big forward steps with their writing. A confidence booster is all some students may need to feel like they are improving with their work and becoming a better writer.
- Reward Risk– It is important to notice the risks that students take with their work that they complete. If a student takes time to create a piece of writing that is outside their comfort zone or express details about themselves, reward it. It is similar to the point above how they need to feel confident with their skills in order to continue taking bigger better risks.
- Remind Students to Tell the Truth– This is not always the literal truth- especially while writing. This more refers to the students’ truths that they hold themselves. While writing an opinion piece ensure that students are not candy-coating their work. They should feel free to express their own thoughts in their work and be confident with their writing.
- Look to the Topic– Give your students a list of self-exploratory questions that they should ask themselves while writing. These questions can aid students in finding a topic that they would want to write about. Because we know that students write better when they enjoy the topic they are writing about.
- Make Sure the Writers KNOW the Topic– students should have all the information they need about a topic before composing a piece about it. If a student has all the needed information they will begin writing with confidence in what they are writing and in turn, produce a better piece of writing. Students should attend a work shop with a teacher on how to properly research a topic and how to gather the important information.
- Make Sure Students Know Their Audience, Too– In order for student to be aware that there is an audience that they write for, have them practice writing for different purposed. Practice writing a formal letter to the Prime Minister or a story for a kinder garden student. The practice gained will help remind them of the audience they regularly write for.
- Read Aloud- And Play the Voice Game– Have students read through various samples of writing. In groups have them discuss who they think the author is and why. Is it firstly a male or female writer, how do you know? What are they trying to get across by using that type of voice in their writing?
- Think Beyond Books– Voice is present in so many things besides books. Have students explore their classroom and home and see what students can find that has voice in it. Have students bring one example of voice in packaging or a note that is not found in a book to class and share their examples.
- Go for Contrast– Students that do not understand what voice in writing should look at some comparisons between writing with and without voice, it may then become clear. Write a short paragraph with strong voice about a specific topic, compare it to the dictionary definition of the same topic and have students see and hear the difference lack of voice makes.
- Have Students Read Aloud Too– This is a good opportunity in the school year to incorporate readers theatre. Students can practice changing their own voice to become a character. Doing a unit on readers theatre at the same time in drama class may help students to better understand the technique of using voice in their writing. Have students practice readers theatre with many different scripts to expose them to many different types of characters and the different styles of voice there are.
- Write Letters- Have students choose a person to write a letter to and who it is going to be from. Students will write in voice from one character to another character. Voice should be very present in these pieces of writing. A test to ensure that voice is present would be to have students pair up and read each other’s writing out loud to their partner. If voice is strong in the writing it should be present while one student reads it out loud.
- Try Some Improv- This would be a good activity to engage students-especially if you are in the middle of a voice unit and students are struggling to be engaged with the topic. Have a student stand in front of the class and show an image of a character that they all know (movie or book character). The student should talk in the voice of the character for 10 seconds. The class should respond with what techniques the acting student used to become the character on the board (accent changed, different vocabulary, change in pitch).
- Encourage Writers to Write the Way They Speak- I do not one hundred percent agree with this point of teaching writing. Yes, I do agree (using myself as an example) become more formal while writing than how I speak. I do not think this is bad though. There are certain types of writing that allow voice to be very present and types that do not. If students are always encouraged to write as if they were speaking to their friends, writing and vocabulary may become sloppy and all the traits that we once worked on become lost.
- Model the Power of Detail- A simple demonstration of how to quickly enhance a piece of writing by adding detail can show students how to improve their own writing. Have students read a detail-free piece of writing. Then ask them what they thought in their head while reading, if they could relate to the experience they would have thoughts. These thoughts can be added, for example in a humours way, adding voice and detail to the writing.
- Take the Voice Out- Start by showing your class an example or a student example of a piece of writing that has very strong voice. With the assistance of your students take out all parts of speech that are the voice of the story. Quickly the engaging story will become bland and lacking the exciting details that drew in the readers in the beginning. Students will be able to see the difference between the writing with and without voice.
- Write Dialogue- Once students become more confident with using strong voice in their writing have them practice writing dialogue. It can either be in partners to create a short skit or individually a short monologue. Both should show how they use voice to create different characters and develop them quickly by the text they give them.
- Show Writers how to Personalize a Topic- It may not always be plausible for students to choose their own topics for every writing assignment they have to complete in a school year. So it is important to teach students how to personalize any topic to become engaging enough for them to write a good piece on. Show them several example of how you would personally take a topic and transform it into a topic that you are passionate about and could write 10 pages on.