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A Writing Lesson on Voice

Today I did a writing lesson on voice with my students. Each of the members of my Professional Learning Community (PLC) decided to choose a trait from the 6 +1 Traits of Writing and teach a lesson as a way to become more familiar with the traits. I chose voice because I find that while it is the easiest of all the traits to identify it is the hardest to teach.

The lesson I used came from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) http://www.nwrel.org. NWREL is the developer of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing. Although I am very familiar with the 6 traits and have used them with my students and in my work with teachers over the years, I do not rely on the 6 rubrics to determine my writing program. At the same time, I find that the language of the 6 traits can help children assess their writing and those of their classmates. Of course, it’s not necessary to use this particular language but it is important to develop terminology with your students so that when you talk about the hallmarks of a good piece of writing the children know what you’re talking about. Then, they can begin to identify these in their own and others’ writing.

In this lesson, called Adding Voice, the children listened to a short passage about a child’s experience rafting during a family vacation. The story could be said to have no voice. The children and I looked at the voice rubric so that they would know what criteria we would be using to assess this piece of writing. We agreed that a piece of writing that takes the audience into consideration and has a purpose – a reason for being written – would have voice. Also, a story with lots of details means that the writer is willing to take a risk to reveal himself. This, we said, is also important. Then, the children worked with a partner to add voice to this voiceless piece of writing. As the children worked I walked around and talked to them about their stories. I found that most of the pieces lacked enough details to make the story come alive for the reader.

I am planning to do this lesson again with another piece of writing, or perhaps even with the same one, but this time we’ll work together to add voice to the story. I want to continue working with the children to help them develop their voices. Part of me wonders whether they’re ready to take this leap. I wonder if I could have done a similar lesson at the beginning of the school year? Probably not. Timing is critical.

I was excited that the children were engaged during our whole group discussion and when they were working with their partners. This activity went well because there was a clear focus and easy to follow directions. I think the children learned some important things about how writing that can sound flat and boring can be revived so that it has more voice.