For many teachers, voice can be an elusive trait to teach. What is it? How do you teach it?
Voice shows how the writer “feels” about the topic. And for young writers, voice can be a powerful ingredient in their pictures and early writing. Encouraging them to add feeling and emotion into their ideas isn’t difficult if you provide explicit instruction. Here is a scaffold of strategies to implement:
Draw feelings first.
- Using picture book illustrations, point out the pictorial details that indicate emotion. Focus specifically on character facial expressions.
- Teach students to indicate character voice within their own writings/drawings with an emphasis on drawing eyes, mouths, and even eyebrows. Students who draw with more details will become students who write with more detail. It is worth taking the time to teach students how to depict voice visually.
- Carolyn Kaplan and Agnes Jarosz team-teach their kindergarten writer’s workshop at Rosa G. Maddock School (Burbank, IL). They had their students draw feelings. Can you tell who is happy, mad, scared, and suprised?
Encourage their written attempts.
- Eventually students will include a literal statement of feeling words right into their pieces–I was mad. We were happy. They were sad.
- As young writers attempt to convey voice, they often resort to the “feeling mark”…the exclamation mark. And they tend to stack 14 of them in a row to show strong emotion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Other students pick up on the use of all-capital letters in your read alouds. They noticed you SHOUTING those words when you read. They, too, sometimes want to SHOUT words in their writing, so they imitate that technique.
- And still others begin to underline or bold words that are emphasized. Because of their limited vocabulary, primary students rely on these voice-filled conventions to convey emotion.
- As students attempt to elevate the voice, they often do so by stacking really, really, really or very, very, very. These are also signs of a developing voice. Young writers want to express their intense emotions but lack the vocabulary to make it more concise. Be sure to celebrate these small beginnings…then teach them to stretch their synonyms.
Broaden their vocabulary.
- Broaden the pool of feeling words students know. Their vocabulary of emotions should extend beyond happy, sad, and mad. Do this by reading mentor texts (e.g., Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems; The Feelings Book, Todd Parr; The Monster at the End of this Book, Jon Stone; Today I Feel Silly, Jamie Lee Curtis) that include abundant voice vocabulary.
- Incorporate those feelings words within the everyday language of your classroom, like within your normal morning routines. Offering synonyms for overused emotion words will increase your students’ vocabularies and provide more voice options for their own writing.