Adding Strong Voice to Your Writing

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Days 1 and 2: Identifying Strong Voice in Picture Books [Use a variety from your school's library- Gather these in advance.]
Pre-writing Activity:
  1. Ask students to tell you what they think it means for writing to have voice. Record these on the board or use chart paper. At the end compliment students for guessing some of the characteristics of good voice.
  2. Explain to students that writing is much more exciting to read when the author took time to put sensory images in their writing and used emotions that are unique to themselves. This is known as having a strong voice in writing. Voice is often thought of as the writer's personality shining through.
  3. Review the list of the characteristics of writing that the students found. Compare their list to the one below [have this underneath or write it on the board now] Tell them this is the list that that characterizes a strong voice in writing. Ask them to write the list in their notebooks. 
  4. You know a piece of writing has a strong voice if:
    • It shows the writer's personality
    • It sounds different from everyone else's
    • It contains feelings and emotions
    • It contains sensory images
    • The words come to life
    • It comes from the heart
  5. Explain that words can be used to capture strong emotion. Tell them that you will read a picture book aloud and find the authors voice together as a group and then they will work with a partner to find the author's voice in a picture book. It is up to them to to find the emotions the author captured in the story.
Listening Activity:
  1. Demonstrate strong voice by reading aloud a picture book with strong voice: Example Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes: American Poet

  2. Ask students to stick their hand in the air as soon as they hear the author's voice come through. Encourage them to look at their list of characteristics as they listen.
  3. Stop when a student sticks their hand up and ask what part they thought showed the author's voice best. Do this for all hands that go up. Discuss pros and cons about each passage chosen by the student as showing voice. Make sure to refer to the list of characteristics often.
  4. Follow up the read-aloud with a discussion of how the author achieved making the story have strong emotions. What were the verbs used? What sensory images did the authors use? Make sure they understand that by adding emotions to writing the author adds more voice to his/her writing.
During Activity:
  1. Have students get together with a partner [pre-selected] and to choose a picture book.
  2. Use the name that emotion reproducible worksheet and use a highlighter to mark the emotions that the author used in the book.
  3. Partners should look through the book for example of sensory images and write them down.
  4. Finally use the emotion words above and have each partnership put a sticky note on one of the pages and label it with the emotion they feel is captured by the words on that page.  After all students have finished reading, ask each group to read aloud the page that they marked and share the captured emotion with the class.
After Activity:Day 3
  1. Students now understand how authors use emotion to add voice to their writing. It's time for your students to try it out for themselves!  Pass out a Voice Cards Reproducible to each student.  Make sure that students do not show the emotion on their Voice Card to their classmates. (Take a Voice Card for yourself as well so that you can model the activity for your students.)
  2. Tell students that they have been assigned an emotion that they will need to portray through writing.  Look at your own card and model for your students how to complete the activity. Follow the steps below:
      • Peek at your card without showing it to your class. (You may want to choose your word ahead of time so that you can pre-plan your writing.)
      • Write a short paragraph in which you reveal your assigned emotion. Tell students that the word on their card CANNOT be used in the paragraph. Students must reveal the emotion solely through the thoughts, words, or actions of the characters or narrator in their short stories.
      • Write your paragraph in front of the class.  For example, if you have the word NERVOUS, you might write:
        • My hands were so sweaty I could barely hold the microphone in my hand. Butterflies were bouncing off the walls of my stomach, and my knees were shaking. As the announcer called my name, I watched the curtain slowly rise to reveal the hundreds of people in the audience.  I was blinded by the brightness of a spotlight shining down on me.  "You can do this," I whispered to myself. 
      • After reading your paragraph to your class, have students guess the emotion that you were trying to reveal through your writing. You may need to do a couple of examples to make sure that students understand the task. It's also important that you show that this is not a synonym exercise. The goal is NOT to replace the emotion word with cognates. Instead, the goal is to show that emotion through thoughts and actions.
  3. Send students back to their desks with their Voice Card. In their Writer's Notebook or on notebook paper, have them write their own paragraph to reveal the emotion they have been assigned.
  4. Once all students are finished, have students read their paragraphs aloud to the class and ask their classmates to guess the emotion.  (You could use the Mood Faces from the lesson on Day 1 for this activity.)
  5.  Follow up the sharing with a discussion that relates this activity to voice. Explain to students that expressing emotion in writing is one way to add more voice to a story.


After Activity: Day 4
  1. Now that students understand how to improve their writing by adding more voice to their stories or essays, they will revisit an entry in their Writing Territories (or any piece of writing that they have already published) to find places where they can add more voice, emotion, or point of view.
  2. Using sticky notes, students will find places where they can add more emotion to a scene, add more exciting dialogue, or add a character's actions to reveal a certain attitude or mood.  (I have my students use sticky notes because there is not usually room to write in an existing story.  The sticky notes can be placed in the story where the emotions will be inserted.)
  3. Give students an entire writing period (or two) to make improvements to their existing piece of writing. Tell them that they will be sharing it with a group of peers tomorrow in class who will be looking for examples of strong voice in their piece of writing.
After Activity: Day 5

1: Ask students to get out their Name That Emotion (PDF) worksheet. 

2: Explain to students that they will meet in small groups where they will listen to fellow authors in the class read aloud their improved stories.  While listening to their classmates read their stories aloud, students will underline or highlight the emotions on the Name That Emotion (PDF) worksheet that they feel the author has clearly revealed in his or her writing.

3: After each author reads his or her story, the other students in the group should share the emotions they heard and refer to the specific words in the author's story that made the emotions so clear.

End this sharing time with a group meeting where you challenge your students to continue using emotions to add voice to their writing from this point on!