My students hate to write and it shows.  Those happy little writers in elementary school making their first board books have been sucked up into the morass of testing and spit back out as writing curmudgeons.  They have lost their voice when it comes to putting ideas down on paper.

As a junior English teacher, my students are faced with SATs, ACTs, and college reference letters along with their regular school papers.  They need to write fast and often and most importantly, well.  We start with a refresher of the 6 traits and build on ideas using textual evidence.  The National Writing Project C3WP site is chocked full of ideas and resources on how to teach evidence based writing.  The units are designed to be used with minimal prep and there are options built within the units.    What I particularly like about C3WP materials is that I can focus on specific skills outside of my curriculum then when students are actually writing essays for me, I am gathering true summative assessment data.  Check ‘em out!



What is missing from these units are the traits and in particular, voice.  This is where my writers’ notebooks come into focus:  as a playground for writing.  Now that we are in the season of pumpkin spiced everything, I wanted to share my two favorite fall minilessons for voice.


Life and Death of a Pumpkin:

A word of warning with this one:  you will need to develop a 2 second “coughing fit” at the beginning of this lesson to mask the first few words of the narrator.  I do not show the video but only the audio of this little gem to allow my students to try and figure out what is being MURDERED.  After they have listened and we’ve discussed what the author of this video did, my students create their own life and death story using an inanimate object of their choice.  This is a tried and true lesson that gets results.


Photo from YouTube

Jim Gaffigan’s Take on Fall:

This video short shares Gaffigan’s anecdote on being a leaf during its untimely death each fall.   I enjoy the anecdote and the story structure so I get a two-fer out of this video..  I ask my student writers to write about the death of a leaf; the melting of a snowflake; or the evaporation of a rain drop on a summer day.  My goal is for students to mirror story structure while assuming a different voice.


Photo from YouTube 

If videos don’t do the trick for improving voice, the picture book  I am the Dog, I am the Cat is a simple story of everyday events told from the voice of either a pet dog or pet cat.

cat and dog

photo from Amazon


The more kids practice voice, the more natural theirs will eventually sound.  And this goes back to my original thought; kids need a strong voice to do well on standardized test essays and college applications.  While the minilessons take some time from most of our curriculum, in the long run, they serve students well.

Cheryl Stahle is a contributing blogger for WVCTE.  She teaches at Parkersburg High School and is the Co-Director of the Central West Virginia Writing Project based out of Marshall University and the Vice President of the Marshall chapter of the International Association for Reading.  She is a not so regular tweeter @msstahleclass.  Besides teaching American Literature, her other classroom goal is to teach 1970s classic rock to her students.  She eagerly anticipates the opening of Bohemian Rhapsody on November 2 and will at the premiere singing along!

WVCTE is wondering how this might work in your classroom?    How do you teach voice?  Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!


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