Adding Strong Voice to Your Writing
- Grades: 3–5
As many teachers can attest, assessing student writing can be quite difficult. It is a very subjective task, as writing cannot simply be deemed "right" or "wrong" or even "good" or "bad." There are different traits that we look for when assessing a piece of student writing. Teachers are taught to look for writing that has interesting ideas, clear organization, and, of course, "strong voice." However, many students are not sure how to add voice to their writing and do not have a clear understanding of what strong voice truly sounds like.
In this lesson, students will be exposed to mentor texts with strong voice. They will learn to identify compelling voice in picture books by determining the emotions that are exposed by the author. After recognizing what strong voice sounds like in literature, students will work to improve their own writing.
- Identify examples of strong voice in popular picture books
- Add voice to their writing
- Evaluate and revise their own writing
- Share their writing with their peers
- Name That Emotion Reproducible (PDF)
- Voice Cards Reproducible (PDF)
- Writer's Notebook or notebook paper
- Picture book with strong voice (See my booklist)
- Chart paper and marker
- Plain white 11" x 8.5" paper
- Optional: Glue or tape (see Set Up and Prepare)
- Optional: Paint stirrers, rulers, or other sticks (see Set Up and Prepare)
- Optional: Sticky notes (see Optional Day 2 Extension)
Set Up and Prepare
- Choose a book from the booklist (or one of your own) to read aloud on Day 1 of the lesson.
- Cut the plain white 11" x 8.5" sheets into halves and write a different emotion on each half sheet. Make sure to include emotions experienced by characters in the book you choose to read aloud. You can even get creative and draw faces or emojis on the half sheets to represent the emotions. If you'd like, glue or tape the half sheets onto paint stirrers or rulers to create "moods on a stick."
- Make copies of Name That Emotion Reproducible (PDF) for the class.
- Print and cut out the Voice Cards Reproducible (PDF) for Day 3 of the lesson.
Days 1 and 2: Identifying Strong Voice in Picture Books
Step 1: Explain to students that writing is more interesting and fun to read is when it has what is called voice: personality, color, and emotion.
Step 2: Ask students to tell you what they think it means for writing to have voice.
Step 3: Make a list of the characteristics of writing that indicate strong voice. I tell my students that you can tell if writing has voice if
- it shows the writer's personality
- it sounds different from everyone else's
- it contains feelings and emotions
- the words come to life
- it comes from the heart
Step 4: Emphasize the idea that words can be used to capture strong emotion. Tell the class that you will be reading aloud a story that you believe has "lots of voice." Explain that there are many emotions that are captured in the story, which you want the students to listen for as you read the book.
Step 5: Pass out the half sheets of paper with the names of different emotions that are captured in the story. As you read, ask students to hold up their assigned emotion if they hear it expressed in the story.
Step 6: Read the story aloud, pausing at times to talk about why students have held up different emotions and what part of the story captured the emotion. (I read aloud The Memory String by Eve Bunting for this activity, but you can use any other story that has strong voice and emotion.)
Step 7: Follow up the read-aloud with a discussion about why this story had such strong voice and how the author achieved this. Make sure that your students understand that adding emotion is one way to add more voice to a story.
|Reading partners look for examples of strong voice in their book.|
Optional Day 2 Extension: Make copies of the Name That Emotion (PDF) worksheet for each student. Pre-select a variety of picture books with strong voice and emotion. Have students read one of the books aloud with a partner. As they read, have them highlight the emotions on the worksheet that the author reveals through the characters in the book. Have each partnership put a sticky note on one of the pages and label it with the emotion they feel is captured by the words on that page. After all students have finished reading, ask each group to read aloud the page that they marked and share the captured emotion with the class.
Day 3: Name That Voice!
Step 1: Now that students understand how authors use emotion to add voice to their writing, it's time for your students to try it out for themselves! Pass out a Voice Card (PDF) to each student. Make sure that students do not show the emotion on their Voice Card to their classmates. (Take a Voice Card for yourself as well so that you can model the activity for your students.)
Step 2: Tell students that they have been assigned an emotion that they will need to portray through writing. Look at your own card and model for your students how to complete the activity. Follow the steps below:
- Peek at your card without showing it to your class. (You may want to choose your word ahead of time so that you can pre-plan your writing.)
- Write a short paragraph in which you reveal your assigned emotion. Tell students that the word on their card CANNOT be used in the paragraph. Students must reveal the emotion solely through the thoughts, words, or actions of the characters or narrator in their short stories.
- Write your paragraph in front of the class. For example, if you have the word NERVOUS, you might write:
My hands were so sweaty I could barely hold the microphone in my hand. Butterflies were bouncing off the walls of my stomach, and my knees were shaking. As the announcer called my name, I watched the curtain slowly rise to reveal the hundreds of people in the audience. I was blinded by the brightness of a spotlight shining down on me. "You can do this," I whispered to myself.
- After reading your paragraph to your class, have students guess the emotion that you were trying to reveal through your writing. You may need to do a couple of examples to make sure that students understand the task. It's also important that you show that this is not a synonym exercise. The goal is NOT to replace the emotion word with cognates. Instead, the goal is to show that emotion through thoughts and actions.
Step 3: Send students back to their desks with their Voice Card. In their Writer's Notebook or on notebook paper, have them write their own paragraph to reveal the emotion they have been assigned.
Step 4: Once all students are finished, have students read their paragraphs aloud to the class and ask their classmates to guess the emotion. (Optional: You could use the Mood Faces from the lesson on Day 1 for this activity.)
Step 5: Follow up the sharing with a discussion that relates this activity to voice. Explain to students that expressing emotion in writing is one way to add more voice to a story.
Day 4: Revisit and Revise
Step 1: Now that students understand how to improve their writing by adding more voice to their stories or essays, they will revisit an entry in their Writer's Notebook (or any piece of writing that they have already published) to find places where they can add more voice, emotion, or point of view.
Step 2: Using sticky notes, students will find places where they can add more emotion to a scene, add more exciting dialogue, or add a character's actions to reveal a certain attitude or mood. I have my students use sticky notes because there is not usually room to write in an existing story. The sticky notes can be placed in the story where the emotions will be inserted.
Step 3: Give students an entire writing period (or two) to make improvements to their existing piece of writing. Tell them that they will be sharing it with a group of peers tomorrow in class who will be looking for examples of strong voice in their piece of writing.
|A proud author shares her revised story with classmates.|
Day 5: Sharing Your Voice
Step 1: Ask students to get out their Name That Emotion (PDF) worksheet.
Step 2: Explain to students that they will meet in small groups where they will listen to fellow authors in the class read aloud their improved stories. While listening to their classmates read their stories aloud, students will underline or highlight the emotions on the Name That Emotion (PDF) worksheet that they feel the author has clearly revealed in his or her writing.
Step 3: After each author reads his or her story, the other students in the group should share the emotions they heard and refer to the specific words in the author's story that made the emotions so clear.
End this sharing time with a group meeting where you challenge your students to continue using emotions to add voice to their writing from this point on!
In my weekly newsletter, I always explain to parents what we are working on in each subject area. Since my students' writing will be assessed according the "6+1 Traits of Writing," I make sure that I provide parents with a clear definition of voice so that they are able to understand the rubrics that come home with their children and how I assess their child's writing.
- All students are expected to write a paragraph depicting their assigned emotion and to share it with their classmates.
- All students are expected to make revisions to a previously published story or entry from their Writer's Notebook.
- Can my students identify voice in writing?
- Are my students beginning to add more voice to their own writing?
- Which students will need more one-on-one assistance?
Teachers often use checklists to assess student writing. Now that students are familiar with voice, an important trait of writing, they can expect that you will look for it on all future writing assignments. You may even create your own rubric that can be used to assess your students' ability to add authentic voice to their writing by scoring their paper on a five-point scale. See the booklist for professional books that include checklists and rubrics for the "6+1 Traits of Writing."