The exercises presented in this unit are aimed at enabling students to recognize voice in the materials that they read and to find and choose appropriate voices for their writing. Most of the lessons are suggested for use with students from grade 5 through high school. The teacher should decide which of the suggested reading materials are appropriate at each level.
Voice lets the reader immediately identify what he or she will need to do to get anything out of what is to be read. We as teachers know by the title or by that first sentence whether we can sit back in an easy chair or whether we will have to pore over a piece of writing with a note pad and pen. Our children don’t have that skill. The ability to recognize voice will enable students to know what they have to do in reading various materials and to understand the radically different approaches required.
If children are able to choose a voice when they write they will be better able to write about themselves and their world in a meaningful and expressive way. As will be explained, voice includes the style of writing and the audience with whom the writer means to communicate.
While even the poorest students know when they are about to be told a story by the tone and voice of the piece (they all perk up at “Once upon a time,’ and if it’s not overdone, “My children at home . . .”) they too quickly give up when they believe that the writing isn’t going to be fun (personal, anecdotal, or a story). They feel frustrated or stupid because they haven’t been taught that different types of materials do require different approaches and different amounts of effort to understand.
The student that knows what different written works will require of him or her will be able to experience less frustration because he/she will be able to 1) allot the needed time, 2) select the correct working environment and 3) have the correct supplies such as pencils, paper, highlighters, dictionary, and possibly a textbook or other book for cross references. We taught ourselves these tricks probably as late as in college. But the task can be usefully learned from an early age.
No matter how active reading is, creating original responses or pieces is more so. And since we learn best from what we do or are active participants in, each of the lessons below will have an active component of discussing issues, writing things from lists to essays, and acting.
The topics will all be inspired by and and based on the single theme of “the city”. With each assignment students will be required to use an assigned voice that is appropriate to the specific issue or theme that is to be written about. The theme is the city because our students live in New Haven and are fascinated by and fearful of it. It is one of those few subjects that keep them interested and talking. It is in many ways the center of their lives. The vehicle to get through the readings and the writing assignments is to focus on the voice so that students can better understand the intentions of writers and choose what they themselves want to say in their own writings.