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Thursday, 1 December 2016

When Struggling Readers Thrive, Dreams Come True

Submitted by Denise Litke, Instructional Coach 
ConferenceSummit 15:  When Struggling Readers Thrive Dreams Come True
Where and When:  Calgary, October 27th and 28th, 2016

“How do I teach voice in writing?”  is a common question I have had from teachers.  In fact, it was a question that arose at a recent PLC I was a part of a few weeks ago.  Fortunately, the timing of the Summit 15 Conference was perfect, as 6 + 1 Writing Traits guru Ruth Culham was there and addressed it in one of her writing sessions.  The thing to remember about voice is that it is not only the “personality” of the writer coming through, but also the tone or tenor of the piece, the audience you are writing for, and the mode/purpose of the writing (eg. narrative, expository, or persuasive). 
Here’s an example of how Ruth would do it:

To students - “You are writing a letter to someone who gave you a gift that you 
love!  How would that sound?  Let’s brainstorm some words.”  

Words that might be mentioned are excited, grateful, happy, and/or thankful.  Then students would use a number of those words in their letter.  Including those words alone will create a tone to the writing, as well as, students would have a specific audience they would be writing for.  But Ruth was not done yet.  The next stage to this voice writing piece would go like this: 

You got a gift from someone and three days later it broke.  You are writing a 
letter to the company who made the toy, stating how you feel, and that you want 
them to replace the toy.  How would that sound?  Let’s brainstorm some 

Once again, after the students have come up with some words, they use them in their writing.  Sounds easy, right?  The trick is ensuring we are intentional in our lesson design to provide clarity around what we want students to know, understand and be able to do as well as scaffold student learning; then, the ease of what we want students to know and be able to do flows into our instruction. 

Also, when teaching voice, or any other trait for that matter, consider using picture books as a way to springboard into a writing lesson.  Not only are they strong examples of good writing, but they are also short and fun to read!  A few of my favourites are Voices in the Park by Anthony Brown, One Dark and Dreadful Night by Randy Cecil  (also great for word choice), I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff (a great example of persuasive writing too) and The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka.

            So, the next time you wonder “How can I teach voice in my writing program?” I hope you remember this suggestion and use it to engage your students in their writing journey.  

*For more information around writing, please visit Ruth Culham’s website at www.culhamwriting.com.

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