Tag Archive for Personal Essay

Writing & Voice: Day Four

 

The National Day on Writing has arrived!  Here is our technology driven post on voice.

Ultimately, improving student voice takes practice and modeling.  Nothing is better than having them mix their own voices with that of their peers to create a new and distinctive voice.

Have students complete a style analysis of themselves in order identify their style as authors by using the catchy checklist below or come up with your own.

Checkout the example below:

Stylewatch: It’s a Personal Thing

Be specific and detailed in your responses to the questions below. Your answers must be meaningful.  You can’t just say, “I’m not sure—umm—dashes?”

What types of punctuation marks do you favor in your writing?  Why?
What types of sentences define your voice? Long and involved?  Short and concise? What is the purpose of this sentence structure for you?
What level of language do you use in your writing?  Formal/Informal?   What purpose does this serve?
If you had to emulate one author from this year who would it be and why?  WRITE YOUR RESPONE IN THE STYLE OF THAT AUTHOR.  

Discuss as a class what this means about them, their writing style, etc.  Sort students into groups of three based upon varying style characteristics.  You will want to make sure that your small groups have three different types of student “voices.”

Now, the next step depends on what applications you already use in the classroom. You could use Edmodo or Wallwisher and modify the assignment for use in those programs.  I personally like Schoology the best.  Its resemblance to Facebook is a selling point for students and it’s so neat and tidy in organization that it makes it easy to construct separate discussion threads within the program.  This will take some outside of classroom time to set up this exercise.

Create a schoology account for yourself and have your students sign up for their own, as well.  For each class you create the program will create a code.  When students are creating their accounts they will need that “code” in order to sign up for our class.  When you’ve done all of the grunt work you/your students should see this:

You’ll want to click the discussion thread and create a discussion thread group for each group of three.  This means in each class you’ll probably have 10-15 discussion groups.  You will be given the choice for each group to upload directions as well.

The sky’s the limit.  If you teach AP students, use this exercise for voice in their AP analysis.  If you’re teaching the personal essay, give them a topic and then have them construct the response reply by reply by reply.  Of course, you won’t want to do this for the entirety of any essay, so choose an intro paragraph, a body paragraph, a conclusion, anything.

Since Schoology’s format is similar to the Facebook “wall” function, you can students in small groups reply to each other’s writing.   Have them consider that they can’t alter the line coming before theirs, they simply have to “add” to the previous line using their own writing style to inform the creation of this assignment.  When finished, have students type their replies into a new post for that discussion thread.  See the “dummy” example below.

 

Exercises like this focus on having student collaborate, write, examine each other’s voices and construct a final copy.  Less grading for you, better writing experiences for them.

Writing and Voice: Day Three

Quite often a student asks me why I can’t specifically give them a formula for how to improve their voice as a writer.  Now of course I can talk about style and formatting.  I can even discuss punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice.  But ultimately, the right answer is that there is no right answer.  This is the type of response that drives a teenager insane.  INSANE.  I know this because I’ve watched it happened directly in front of me.

The fact that everyone can have their own style/voice stymies them.  It can’t possibly be true.  It just can’t.  I must be withholding, joking or tricking them.  It’s easy to have them identify the difference in writer’s voice between Hemingway and Fitzgerald but it’s not so simple when they are being asked to come up with their own voice.   I mean, their must be some kind of surefire checklist that gets them an A.  No?

That’s why there’s nothing like This American Life.  Nothing.  It’s one of those radio shows that you don’t just listen to.  It’s an emotional investment every week.  For our purpose today it is also a lesson in teaching students about voice and point of view.  Each week the host, Ira Glass, highlights a topic and then includes anywhere from 2-8 acts from other commentators about that topic.

Some of my favorites include What I learned from Television, Return to Childhood and Notes on Camp.   Transcripts are available for all of the shows along with the audio.  All you have to is select episodes and acts.  (A whole show runs 59 minutes, and not all of it is appropriate for some students.)

What this offers you is the opportunity to provide examples of “stories” all on the same topic but wide ranging in terms of their approach.  It’s great for creating voice in personal essay, college application essays, even for working on how to create meaningful introductions and conclusions in academic writing.

 

Using only the Prologue

Annotating and Discussing

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style, and point of view.
  • Have them discuss his argument, voice, and point of view as a class.

Writing

  • Have them construct an opposing point of view to Glass’s using his voice and style. 
  • Have them add another paragraph to the argument he’s already constructed in the prologue.   

 

Using the Prologue and “Acts”

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style and point of view.
  • After students have annotated and you’ve all discussed as a class, have students write a short piece about This American Life’s theme of the week.
  • Then, have students listen to one of the individual “acts” following along with the transcript while they mark for voice again.
  • As a class discuss/evaluate the speakers voice and the format of the “act.”
  • Now, have students rewrite their piece based on some of the characteristics found in the first “act” you’ve played them.

Repeat with as many acts as you enjoy/have time to use in class.