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Your Personality as a Writer: Establishing Voice           

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Notebook Prompt:

This Is My Voice

Writer Donald Murray said, “We must teach ourselves to recognize our own voice. We want to write in a way that is natural for us, that grows out of the way we think, the way we see, the way we care.” 


Use Mr. Koyczan's first line as inspiration.  Begin with "This is my voice..."  


 Notebook Prompt:

What Is Good Writing?

Open up your Writer's Notebook and spend a few minutes thinking and writing about the following: What is good writing? Think about your favorite books, magazine writers, poems, or song lyrics. Reflect on what makes this a piece of good writing.  


So, What is Voice?

We will be splitting into small groups to explore the different links below.  You and your partners will present your webpage to the class, offering a summary and analysis of what you learned.


Defining Voice:

  • Voice is what makes each writer unique.  Check out this article by Steve Peha. 
  • Krysti Sibley has got some ideas for how writers can strengthen their voice.  
  • Vicki Opsata created this handout to both define voice and give writers some tips for developing a unique writing voice.



Your Responses:

Hearing Voices

One of my favorite writing books is by Georgia Heard.  Her book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way is full of ideas for how to find and refine your voice as a writer.  Let's read a few passages from her work together and complete some of her prompts in our Writing Notebook.

  • "Listening to the Corn" on pages 88-89 encourages us to slow down and listen to the world around us.
    • After reading "Listening to the Corn," let's go for a walk.  Find a quite spot and open up your Notebook.  Record what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you smell.  Pay attention to the specific details. 
    • Try to focus on one object - a nearby tree, a lone dandelion in the middle of the baseball diamond, the empty bleachers.  Spend some time describing that object in as much detail as you can.
    • Now give voice to that object.  Use your earlier description to write in the voice of your chosen object.  What would that object care about? What would it see, smell, hear?
    • Try turning this brainstorm into a more polished piece.  Will it become part of a story, a poem, a song lyric?
  • HOMEWORK: Bring in an object that represents who you are to our next class.  Do you have a treasured pair of shoes? A photograph? A work of art? A coffee cup?


Finding Your Voice

We are made up of many layers - layers of memories, events, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and goals. These layers should come through not only in what we choose to write about but also in how we write.  What does your writing say about you? What do you say through your writing?


Let's take some time today to explore our unique writing voices.  We'll begin by reading a short selection from Georgia Heard.  Her chapter title "Layers" asks writers to consider themes that continue to come up in our lives and in our writing.

  • What does your chosen object say about you.  Open your Notebook and take some time to write about the object you have brought to class today.  Why did you chose this object? What does this object say about you?
  • Similarly, think about what you have chosen to write about in the past. Do you notice any patterns? Are there words, images, or themes that continue to come up? Why?
  • Now, take some time to think about those images, objects, themes, and memories that are most important to you. Select one. Use that image, object, theme, or memory as an inspiration for a more polished piece.  Write a short story, a poem, song lyrics, or an essay about your selected topic.

Listening to Other Voices


Writers will often spend time developing a character before ever sitting down to write a story. By developing the character first, writers have time to understand not only what a character looks like, but also what she or he might say, do, or think.  Developing the character first, helps give that character a voice.  Since we're spending some time thinking about how to develop voice, how about we do the same thing.  Let's create a character! 


This activity will help you to flesh out both the physical details of a character as well as the internal thoughts and feelings of your character.  You will be giving voice to a character. You will need to use figurative language and sensory details to create a powerful description of your character.  However, this is not a short story (yet).  Instead, we are creating a character sketch for a character you might use later on.


First you will need to think about a character that you might use later in a short story or play.  Begin to flesh out your character in your Notebook.  Consider the following questions:

  • What does your character look like (hair color and length, height, build, clothing style, eyes, distinguishing physical features)?
  • Is your character human or a fantasy creature?
  • How does your character move? Does he stride confidently across the room or does she slouch in her chair?
  • What does your character sound like?
  • What is the age of your character?
  • What gender is your character?
  • What is your character's name? What does that name say about him or her?
  • What are your character's favorite hobbies?
  • What does your character do most days?
  • Does your character have a catch phrase, something he or she says a lot?
  • Who are the important people in your character's life?
  • What is your character passionate about? What does he or she believe?


Now it is time to interview your character!  Pair up with another person in the room.  You are going to interview your partner, but your partner must answer as the character he or she just created.  As an interviewer, you job is to help your partner better understand his or her character.  Ask questions that will get your partner thinking about more details for their character.


Questions you might consider asking:

  1. What is your job?
  2. What do you do for fun?
  3. What is your greatest weakness? Your greatest strength?
  4. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your life?
  5. Why should I trust you?
  6. What do you like about yourself? What do you dislike?
  7. What is your goal in life?


Next, you will begin writing the main part of your character sketch. Your character sketch will be divided into two main parts.  First you will need to write between 1-2 paragraphs about your character from an outsider's objective perspective.  You can only write about what an outside observer might see.  This means that you cannot write about what a character is thinking or feeling.  Instead, you will need to describe the character's physical traits (appearance, stature, height, etc.), the setting, and the action that your character is engaged in.  Imagine your character is performing some action, maybe putting on lipstick or raking leaves.  Place your character in a setting.  Then, describe what the character looks like and what they are doing.  You do not want to give a list of specific details; instead, you need to be as descriptive as possible. 


Slowly, Sarah lowers herself onto the scratched wood of the kitchen stool, gummy with years of polish.  Her knees creak into the stillness of the room as she pulls the stool and her body closer to the kitchen counter.  Without really reading the pages of the worn, traditional German cookbook in front of her, Sarah lets her fingers gently trail over the edges of the yellowed pages as she absently flips through the book.  She quickly comes to a dog-eared page.  The recipe on the page is lightly stained with the remnants of recipes gone by.   At last she looks directly at the page, noticing the faint hand-written notes scrawled in German into the margins of the recipe for roulauden. She reaches up to her face and quickly pushes a stray strand of salt and pepper hair back into the tight bun at the nape of her neck.  Without a moment of hesitation, she grabs the small yellow onion and begins to thinly slice it just as her mother’s recipe directs her.


The second portion of your character sketch will be written from the perspective of the main character.  This means that you will need to get into your character's head.  You will need to write between 2-3 well crafted paragraphs that describe in vivid detail what your character is thinking and feeling.  You will rewrite your Outside Perspective paragraph in first person. This portion of the character sketch should include the main character speaking.   Imagine what the character is thinking about in the scene that you describe in the Outside Perspective portion of the character sketch and re-write that scene from the character's point of view.


               It is hard to believe that she is gone.  Mother.  The heart and soul of this family. Although I suppose that it is equally as unbelievable to think that she made it this long.  One hundred and three years old.  A living legend.  She carried with her the history of many lifetimes. All of it now rests in the nearly frozen ground of Liebehaus Cemetery, with no one to hear her sing or laugh, or listen to her stories of the old country.

            “Why didn’t I pay more attention to her directions!?” I yell out to the empty kitchen.  She was always cooking, and now I can’t even remember all those directions she repeated to me for making Dad’s favorite German dish: roulauden.  “Why didn’t I listen?”

            I slump in my stool pulled close to the kitchen counter, alone and crushed.  But it is in that moment that I hear a voice, her voice.  It is as if I feel her near me, with me. “Mom?”

I am possessed by her.  Brushing the strand of away from my face with my pinkie finger as she would have done, I grab a small onion and begin to slice, as if I knew what to do.  But I don’t.  She does.  She is my guide, leading me, trying to connect me.  But connect me to what?



 As our lessons on voice come to a close, you should have a number of potential creative pieces in your Notebook.  Through this lesson, you have:

  1. written your a Notebook entry (and contributed online) about what constitutes good writing,
  2. reviewed an article on voice and presented your analysis with a group,
  3. observed an object and written in the voice of that object,
  4. written a reflection on an object or theme that represents you and created a piece of writing that represents your voice, and
  5. created a character sketch written in both the 3rd person and 1st person voice for a potential story.


Now it is time to polish two of those writing pieces.



  • TWO POLISHED PIECES - Select two pieces from your Writer's Notebook to revise and turn in for a grade. The two pieces you select should showcase your unique writing voice. See grading rubric below.
  • USE OF NOTEBOOK - Turn in your notebook for review.  Your notebook should have a minimum of five entries from our study of voice.  See notebook grading rubric below.
  • PARTICIPATION ON CLASS WEB PAGE - You have added at least two pieces to our class website as a blog and have provided thoughtful, specific feedback to at least two of your classmate's on their work. 



Each of your two polished pieces will be graded using the  following rubric.




10 points


8 points


6 points


4 points


A single controlling point or theme is evident with an awareness of the format of the mode of writing.  A distinct and controlling idea/theme drives the piece of writing.

Apparent point made about a single topic or theme with sufficient awareness of mode of writing.

No coherent point or theme to piece but evidence of a specific topic.

Minimal evidence of a topic.


The presence of ideas developed through anecdotes, details, and vivid descriptions.  Substantial, specific and illustrative content demonstrating strong development of vivid imagery and sophisticated ideas.  The piece is full of concrete imagery.

Sufficiently developed content with adequate elaboration or explanation.

Limited content with inadequate elaboration or explanation.

Superficial and/or minimal content.


Sophisticated arrangement of content with evident and/or subtle transitions between ideas. Regardless of the format of the piece (poem, story, essay, etc.), it is obvious that the student thought about how to organize ideas.

Functional arrangement of content that sustains a logical order with some evidence of transitions.

Confused or inconsistent arrangement of content without attempts at transitions.

Minimal control of content arrangement.


It’s all about the voice!  The student creates a clear and unique voice through precise, illustrative use of a variety of words and sentence structures.  The writer's voice and tone appropriate to audience.

Generic/cliché use of a variety of words and sentence structures that may or may not create writer's voice and tone appropriate to audience.

Limited word choice and control of sentence structures that inhibit voice and tone.

Minimal variety in word choice and minimal control of sentence structures.


Evident control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage and sentence formation.

Sufficient control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.

Limited control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.

Minimal control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, and sentence formation.



You have been using your Notebook to brainstorm ideas for your more polished writing pieces.  Your Notebook will be checked during our next class period.  I will be looking for the following: 


  • An initial entry on "What Makes Good Writing."  This entry will be at least 2-3 paragraphs which identify a piece of exemplary writing and the qualities that make it a good piece of writing.
  • An entry that describes the physical traits of an object.  This entry can be written in paragraph form or a list.  Following this initial observation, this entry will include a brainstorm which rewrites the initial observation from a first-person point of view, imaging yourself in the place of the observed object.
  • A third entry will contain a paragraph or a list describing an object that represents you and why.
  • A fourth entry will contain a paragraph or a list for a character sketch, including physical details for a character you have created for a later story.  This entry should also include an observation of the character written in third-person and 2-3 paragraphs written from the character’s own voice.
  • Finally, a fifth entry will be a paragraph or list of the qualities of your shadow-self. This entry is an observation of your alter ego.


Each of the five entries is worth five points, making the Notebook worth 25 points.  I am not looking at how well you wrote; we’re not worried about grammar and mechanics in our Notebooks.  Instead, I am interested in seeing how you have used your Notebook; I should see various brainstorms and potential drafts for more polished pieces.





By the close of our week, you have added at least two pieces to as blog posts to our class website.  Additionally, you've used the "Comments" section to provide thoughtful, specific feedback to at least two of your classmates on their work.  You will receive 5 points for each of your blog posts and requesting specific feedback for your work.  You will also receive 5 points for each of the two comments that you provide to your fellow classmates.  You will receive 20 points total for your web page participation.



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