Teaching Students to Maintain a Personal Voice in Writing

By Trent Lorcher

Out of all the writing traits, voice presents the biggest challenge for students and teachers. Not anymore!

How Do You Teach Voice in Writing?

After teaching students how to write for an audience and with a purpose and how to effectively evaluate point of view, I felt good about myself once again. I called my mom and told her what a smart son she had. Then I realized my students had no idea how to effectively maintain a personal voice while writing. In shock, I called my mom, advised her to give me up for adoption, and cancelled the appointment with my time management advisor. I was too busy.

I had work to do. I had to teach my student's not to turn in dozens of bland assignments. Here's what I came up with.

Explain Voice to Students

When I began teaching, I had no idea how to teach voice. I wasn't even sure what it was. I asked several colleagues "How do you teach voice in writing?" I'll summarize their answers: "Voice, you either have it or you don't. You can't really teach it." Translation: "I don't know what it is either."

Here's what I teach now:

  • Each writer has a distinct personality.
  • Each writer has passions, opinions, prejudices, and information.
  • Words should capture the writer's personality.
  • Writers with strong voice capture the reader's attention with individuality, liveliness, and energy.
  • Strong voice makes the writer's purpose clear.
  • Strong voice helps readers experience the emotions of the writer and understand the writer's ideas.
  • Careful word choice, punctuation, paragraphing, and style help strengthen a writer's voice.

Activity

  • Show students two sample passages. You can find two of your own or use some of mine as examples: Memorable Moments from the 2007 NBA Finals and Reflections: What I Should Have Known About Essay Writing.
  • Read the first sample passage and ask the following questions: Does the author convey his or her voice? How does the reader know? What can be inferred about the author of this piece
  • Write the student responses on the board
  • Read the second passage and ask the same questions.
  • Discuss how these two passages, written by the same brilliant author, have two distinct voices with two different purposes: the first to entertain; the second to inform or persuade.

Effective Voice in Student Writing

  • If helping students with revision, instruct students to read their draft (rough or final).
  • Ask: Who is your intended audience? What voice would be most effective?
  • Discuss that when you determine the most appropriate voice for your purpose, write with that voice.
  • Remind students that knowing the audience is the key to finding your voice.
  • If using this assignment for revision, have students read their rough draft and change sentences, words, or phrases that do not convey their chosen voice.
  • Divide students in to groups of 3-4.
  • Instruct each student to read his or her draft to the group.
  • Listeners should identify passages that should be changed.
  • Instruct students to work individually on revision.
  • After revising, instruct students to reconvene and read their final draft.
  • Each group should choose the best revision and share it with the class.