- The smart and hilarious essay “Nuit of the Living Dead” by David Sedaris
- This brilliant short story by a masterful writer “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” by Karen Russell
- A lovely New Yorker essay by a Hollywood star “Deliverance” by Lena Dunham
- This excerpt of the powerful novel Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
You might like these mentors for teaching…
Voice and style
Detail, imagery, and description
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.
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.