Tag Archive for Voice

Weekend Culture: Room for Debate

Yesterday’s post focused on The New York Times’ Room for Debate.  This past Wednesday, the topic of focus included 15 experts, a large number for any NYT debate.  The difference?  They were all high school seniors. Titled How the Future looks from High School, the Times asked these students how they saw their future.

Since this is a topic that directly relates to our students, consider using this “debate” in the same manner as yesterday but with some tweaks.  This is their opportunity to work on personal narratives and opening lines/hooks.

  • Have them read, annotate and create a list of observations from the Times post.
  • Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
  • Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
    • Ask them to come up with an engaging first line.  This is never as easy as it seems.  Try some of the following first:
      • List your top three favorite food memories.
      • Describe a reoccurring dream.
      • What is you most vivid memory from kindergarten?
      • Describe a guilty (and appropriate) pleasure.

The hardest thing will be for them to take this “snippets” and understand that everything/anything they see as important is largely reflective of their personalities and their future plans.

Once responses have been created, add one final step.  Have students “respond” to the “responses.”  You’ll notice that on the actual Room for Debate page it asks, “We hope readers, from high school seniors to senior citizens, will respond in comments: What are the pressures on students at your high school? What are 18-year-olds in your hometown expecting from their careers?”  If you choose to, have students respond to one of the teens who posted their future plan.

If this is too impractical, consider having them post their original response for your class in Schoology or Edmodo.  See our Favorites page for help with these applications.

  • Create a thread for this discussion and have students post their responses.
  • Require students to read and comment on two of the original posts.
  • Ask that they respond, not with simple “thumbs up” language.  Instead they should consider their response as a reflection that demonstrates understanding and thoughtful evaluation without critique.

Weekend Tech: Tweets are #funny

Twitter is funny.  Actually, The Onion’s tweets are funny.  And idislikestephen, and monkeysee, and David Pell, and…you get the point.  I troll Twitter looking for my humorous “tweet” fix on a semi-regular basis.  I’m not sure it’s as bad as my coffee problem, but it’s a habit.

The New York Times ran a story this past Sunday entitled Writer’s New Form: Tweet-Up Comedy.  It’s a great read about how writers for late night talk shows use Twitter as their testing ground for zingers.  It is entirely possible, after reading it, that I spent several hours on Twitter scouring these types of tweets while snorting in an incredibly unattractive way. Read more

Weekend Tech: Occupy Wall Street

Yesterday we offered Transcendentalism and image analysis in conjunction with with the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Today we examine All the King’s Men and satire.  See our ideas below!

Teaching All the King’s Men & Huey Long with Occupy Wall Street

Willie Stark makes multiple speeches throughout All the King’s Men, but most of them deal with being a regular, small town, average joe.  Examining Huey Long, Willie Stark’s flesh and blood counterpart, is where Occupy Wall Street comparisons become more direct.

These two clips have shades of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Both suggest a certain level of dissatisfaction with current government.  It would be easy to use Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog Primer about Occupy Wall Street, as well as his Q & A witth anthropologist David Graeber from 10/3/11, to give students a basis for linking Huey Long to today.  Even just using the Q&A on its own is a great way to incorporate media literacy into the classroom. See our other post on the NBA lockout and Q&As.

 

Teaching Satire with Occupy Wall Street

As I said on Saturday, The Onion has been on fire this week with humorous tweets about Occupy Wall Street.  All of them can easily be used to discuss satire, voice, diction, syntax and argument.  We like tweets and using them in the classroom as “hooks” or quick diction/syntax analysis.  See our post about tweets remembering Steve Jobs from several weeks ago.

 

The cover of The New Yorker is also a great resource for both teaching satire and image analysis.  See their recent cover on the “occupation.”

And while it isn’t satire, I would be remiss not to mention this list from what else but The New Yorker.  John Cassidy hosts the blog Rational Irrationality and his list of “Top-Ten Unlikely Occupy Wall Street Supporters” links to great arguments from big names about the movements.  It’s useful once again for point of view, voice and argument analysis.

If all of this isn’t enough for you, checkout The New York Times Learning Network’s extensive Occupy Wall Street post with classroom resources.  You can’t go wrong!

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.

Writing & Voice: Day Two

Sometimes I forget that students struggle to understand the reasoning behind teaching literature.  Sure, they are very good at understanding plot, but how much of that is a result of sparknotes?  And yes, they are very good at seeing blatant symbols; what else is The Scarlet Letter to most them but a visible discussion about human sin and failing?  Where they struggle is in understanding how texts serve as professional models of writing.  And I struggle to teach them the importance of mimicking good writers in their essays and journals, paragraphs and reflections.

Creating student voice begins by having them blend their own ideas with the style of authors they’ve read.  Finding pieces that are accessible to students is a good place to start.  50 Essays: A Portable Anthology is a wonderful resource if you’re already using it for your classes.  If not, David Sedaris and Amy Tan, both of whom have featured essays in the anthology have works available online.

 

Give students a non-fiction text to read.  Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and David Sedaris “Us and Them” or “Let it Snow” are perfect for this type of an exercise.  They’re also enjoyable to read for both students and teachers.

These non-fiction pieces are great for classroom discussion since they examine the idea of family.  Have students focus on identifying:

  1. Phrasing and word choice that contribute to author voice
  2. Punctuation that helps to uncover author voice
  3. Details and storylines that create intimate conversations between author and reader.
  4. Engaging elements in the introductory paragraphs and reflection in the concluding paragraphs.

After your class has made a list of unique author characteristics, ask students to write, employing the characteristics of either Sedaris or Tan.  This can be a perfect way to practice learning voice for personal narratives or college application essays.

Beginning Assignment

Mimic David Sedaris’ style as respond to the prompt below. Your response should be one paragraph of 8 or more sentences

Discuss your favorite food related memory from elementary school.

Include:

  • Sensory descriptions
  • Witnesses-Who saw this occur?
  • Exaggeration-but only if it’s funny

 

 

Since creating good voice in student writing means “throwing out” bland sentences, know in advance that this paragraph will probably only manufacture 1 or 2 meaningful sentences.  Use the revision exercise below to work with those sentences.

 

Revision Assignment

  1. Choose the best two sentences from your food memory written in Sedaris’ style.
  2. Reread the Sedaris story (or give them a second story) in order to remember his writing style.
  3. Revise your best two sentences in order to completely create the “Sedaris effect.”

 

You can use this type of exercise multiple times and even ramp up the level of difficulty or change the outcome.  If you prefer argumentative or analytical writing, choose columnists like Maureen Dowd or Charles Krauthammer.  Instead of writing about the personal, have them write about research topics or current events mimicking the style of newspaper columnists.

Writing & Voice: Day One

 

I spent a large part of this weekend reading Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot.  I knew that I should grade papers, plan lessons, write college recommendations.  I just couldn’t.  The writing was so good, so immensely satisfying that it felt like I was doing something secretive and illegal.  Good writing makes us lose track of time, dog-ear pages and double underline meaningful sections.  As teachers, good writing is easier to identify than to teach.   Students need so much practice and feedback that quite often we find ourselves spent.

Every post this week will focus on how to improve voice in student writing.  It seems an appropriate way to celebrate The National Day on Writing this Thursday and a good way to provide some new approaches to teaching voice.  Jim Burke posted a tweet this past week that commented, “October is the cruelest month” and he’s not kidding.  There is something about October that reminds me just how hard it is to teach writing.   They aren’t quite ready to have individual writing breakthroughs, yet, and they are so busy with putting things in the “right” order that voice is an afterthought.

This weekend I was reminded that good writing is voice.  It is what makes students “fall in love” with an author, character, story, or setting.  It is what makes them take out their books when they finish an assignment early and read quietly.  It is what makes me, their teacher, linger over their own writing when they get it right.   So this week we’ll start with engaging non-fiction writers with loads of voice (Tan, Sedaris, Dowd, Krauthammer to name a few), work on short exercises that practice that voice, and even talk about collaborative assignments the combine multiple voices into one piece of writing.

Now, back to. . . reading.

Weekend Tech: NBA Lockout

Nothing makes me pay attention like the headline “Federal Mediator to Step into NBA Lockout.”  It’s a giant train wreck unfolding.  There is something ironic in the fact that the NBA is tweeting about their own demise.

 

The idea of giving students a current topic to read/write over isn’t a new one.  Everyone uses this idea.  But this weekend we’ll up the stakes a little bit by looking at some different types of online sources to teach rhetorical appeals and voice.

Examining Headlines

One of the easiest ways to talk about rhetorical appeals or voice is to look at smaller sections of text.  Practicing with smaller sections ensures that students don’t get overwhelmed in a sea of text and then quit.  Headlines are great for a mini lesson.  Have students write about the word choice in some/all of the headlines below.  At the very least you can have them practice some solid synonyms for tone.  You can see from the range below that they range from the practical, to the apathetic, to the angry.

NBA lockout: Owners, players can’t solve issues fans wish they had

Tracee Hamilton, The Washington Post

 

NBA lockout: Sound and Fury signifying, nothing

Mike Wise, The Washington Post

 

NBA Benefits Plan Typical…For Millionaire Ballplayers

Maxwell Murphy, The Wall Street Journal

 

NBA Lockout? Wake us when it’s over

Patrick Hruby, The Washington Times

 

NBA Lockout Presses Small-Business Owners

Emily Maltby and Sarah E Needleman, The Wall Street Journal

 

Necessity Dictates Fewer Games, but Sanity Makes a Case, Too

Richard Sandomir, The New York Times

 

NBA Players Should accept pay cut, get back to work

Bill Plaschke, The LA Times