As I was planning with Carrie Eneix for a lesson involving voice, the two of us realized that we weren’t really sure what “voice” meant.
I researched online and realized that many other people have struggled to define voice to students and explain how to use it in writing (see links to articles about voice at the bottom of this post).
Here is the definition used in the lesson is:
An author’s distinctive use of language to express his or her persona.
After researching, I added this definition, too:
Another way of describing voice is that it is the narrator’s personality as established through the
choices they make in his/her writing.
Then, Carrie suggested that we also add a formula like this:
Diction + Syntax + Imagery + Other Literary Devices = Voice (author’s personality)
We combined these definitions with a bell ringer activity, a lesson analyzing voice in a piece of literature, and a practice writing exercise.
Students are given two paragraphs (lyrics from Kanye West and Carrie Underwood songs) and asked to annotate for diction, imagery and syntax in each (see bottom of post for a handout for students and Power Point for the bell ringer).
The class discusses what they annotated, and then answer the question:
What is the author’s personality? How do you know?
Afterward, the teacher models how to write a thesis statement stating the author’s voice for paragraph one (Carrie Underwood’s lyrics). Students are asked “What evidence do you have to support this statement of voice?”
Then, in groups, students write a thesis statement about voice for the Kanye West paragraph and find two pieces of evidence to support (diction, syntax, etc.).
After this activity, the teacher models finding a word from paragraph one with connotative and denotative meaning. Then, students have to define the connotative and denotative meaning for a word in paragraph two. Two good choices are “storm cloud” and “cold wind.”
Analyzing Voice in Literature Lesson
After the bell ringer activity, students read and annotate a text for elements of voice: diction, imagery, and other literary elements. Then, they fill out a graphic organizer with this information (see bottom of post). This leads to the following Check Your Understanding (CYU):
- Describe the voice of the narrator. Then, explain how the writer’s diction, imagery and other literary elements create this voice.
- Begin with a clear thesis (what do you think the voice of the piece is?)
- Include multiple direct quotes
- Include transitions and a concluding statement
This CYU will be used as a formative assessment to gauge how well students are able to identify and articulate the elements that create voice in a narrative.
Using Voice in Writing
Another goal of the unit is to have students write a reflective narrative. Therefore, exploring the voice of others as a model is important, but they also need to practice creating voice in writing for themselves. In order to do this, an extension activity was created as follows:
WRITING PRACTICE: Imagine you’re in a stopped elevator and you have been for three hours. You are hungry, thirsty, and you have to go to the bathroom, when you get a call from your agent telling you that you have just missed an appointment with a major recording executive. Write one paragraph in the voice of Kanye, Beyonce, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Eminem or some another popular recording artist. Be sure to use diction, imagery and syntax appropriate to your character.
To make the connection between students’ final reflective narrative and the lesson, students might be asked the following question:
What voice do you want to use for your reflective narrative? How will you use diction, syntax and imagery to portray this voice?
This can be a class discussion topic so that students can share ideas on how to establish voice.
Resources for the lesson:
- Voice Bell Ringer Presentation
- Voice Bell Ringer Handout
- Analyzing Literature to Establish Voice Graphic Organizer
Additional links about voice:
- “A Writer’s Voice,” Jayne Pupek– This blog post discusses the definition of voice and gives explanations for the literary elements that create it
- “Teaching Students to Create a Personal Voice in Writing,” Trent Lorcher– This post from Bright Education that gives tips for explaining voice to students and strengthening voice in writing
- “The Voice of the Storyteller,” Constance Hale– This post from The New York Times blog describes how grammatical functions and perspective can help to develop voice.