Voice Lessons: Helping Students Find Their Writerly Voices

Mentor Texts

You might like these mentors for teaching…

Voice and style

Personal narrative

Detail, imagery, and description

Literary analysis

Writing dialog

What I like about the mentors…

  • All four of these mentor texts have one thing in common — strong and unique voices that reach through the page.
  • Each mentor is vastly different from the other, but all rely on fresh and vivid details and descriptions.
  • They are all thought provoking on some level.

So, how do you find your voice if you didn’t know you were supposed to be looking for it?

The problem isn’t that students don’t have a voice, it’s that they don’t realize they’re not communicating their unique and individual personalities on paper. My students tend to fall into the trap of the academic writing style or what I like to call “sounding smart and using big words” because I think they think that’s what I want. 

Helping students find their own writerly voice is worthwhile and rewarding. A strong and unique voice and style moves points on rubrics–separating the good essays from the great, the interesting from the intriguing, and the satisfactory from the sophisticated. But helping students develop voice isn’t all about the rubric and the score, it’s about empowering young adults to explore, create, and craft original and thoughtful writing that they can be proud of and to use their voices to express themselves and their ideas for the many years ahead of them. 

For me, voice is a strong indicator of a strong and creative thinker. I wonder if by simply allowing students to tap into their own unique voices, no matter the assignment, we get higher quality writing as a result. I’ve blogged before about some approaches I like to use to elevate student writing using repetition and narrative, and both of these activities encourage students to be intentional in their craft and approach. And Kelly has also written about teaching voice on the Moving Writers blog, which you can check out here.

But my motto for finding your writerly voice boils down to the 3 Ps: personality, passion, and persistence.

How to write a

  1. Write with personality.

I remember my mentor telling me that great student essays are conversational but not a conversation. I love this descriptor for students. Giving students permission to write in the voice in which they speak, describe, and tell stories is half the battle. Too often students are afraid to break out of formulaic structures, afraid of the perceived right way and the wrong way to write, and they are afraid of plain old failure.

Here’s one lesson to spark students’ curiosity about writing with personality:

  • Tell students they’re looking for the ways the writer conveys his or her unique voice.
  • Have them identify a short, interesting, and engaging passage from the mentor text of your choice.
  • Ask students what would sound similar or different if they were the ones narrating the passage. (For example, if my students were studying Holden Caulfield, they would probably say they’d never in a million years talk so much or use the word “phony.”)
  • Have students then write the passage in their own original voices, taking care to match the writer’s craft moves.

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The #writingwithmentors Tweet-a-thon — Let’s Do This!

WWM Tweetathon

Thursday is the day we begin our Tweet-a-thon, leading  up to the publication of Writing With Mentors on September 3! (You can download a sample and pre-order on Heinemann’s site!)

A little fuzzy on the rules of the game? Need a refresher? Here’s the deal:

Rules of the Tweet-a-Thon:

  • Between August 20 and September 3, tweet a link to a potential mentor text along with a teaching idea or focus. Here are a couple of examples:

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  • Don’t forget to use the hashtag #writingwithmentors
  • For each and every tweet, you will be entered to win one of three copies of Writing With Mentors. Winners will be chosen at random on September 3.
  • We will pull your tweets into blog posts — a one-stop shop for a daily list of hot-off-the-press mentor texts. We’ll also pull your mentor texts into our ever-growing Mentor Text Dropbox so that you can find them again whenever you need them.

How Will You Find Great Mentor Texts?

Writing With Mentors has an entire chapter dedicated to finding current, engaging mentor texts that will help you teach anything you need to teach or want to teach about writing!

Want to see? Get ready, it’s sneak peek time!

Like you, we do not have time to scour the Internet from top-to-bottom in the hopes of landing on good, relevant writing. So, we share our no-fail, go-to sources for mentor texts that win every time.

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After we find a mentor text that has potential, we ask it a series of questions. You have seen some of these before here, but we have also included them in handy chart form in Writing With Mentors so that you can grab it and use it quickly!

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Are you ready to get loads of fresh, new mentor texts? Ready to share your findings with the Twitter-verse? Ready to win your very own copy of Writing With Mentors?

Email us your questions, or find us on Facebook or Twitter (@rebekahodell1, @allisonmarchett) before the fun begins!  Start Tweeting on Thursday!