Voice: A hard trait to define
“Teaching voice is easier than I thought,” a fourth grade teacher recently said after watching a modeled lesson. I knew exactly what he meant. Voice is the hardest trait to define, but even very young writers recognize it when they see it.
I introduce voice through art, and begin with picture books by Jan Brett. I show students several full-page spreads and ask them what they notice about her art. Here are some of the most common answers:
She incorporates lots of details.
Her work is framed – usually by borders.
She often paints animals and seems drawn to nature.
She provides little “windows” – glimpse of what has happened and what will happen.
I tell students that Jan Brett has a very distinctive artistic voice. That’s what makes her work so instantly recognizable.
I then show them the work of Eric Carle and ask, “What can you tell me about his voice?” Students suggest:
His work is whimsical – more imaginary than realistic.
His shapes are large, bright, bold.
He does not include a realistic background – though sometimes fills the page with colorful shapes.
You can see his brush strokes in some of his work.
Eric Carle has an equally distinctive voice, but one that’s very different from Jan Brett’s. I then test students by holding up artwork by one of these two illustrators and asking, “Whose work is this?” They don’t hesitate to identify the artist.
“These illustrators have their own artistic voices,” I tell students. “You have a distinct writer’s voice. If you are a bubbly person, chances are your writing voice is bubbly too. Or perhaps you’re a fairly serious person in which case your writing voice might be serious. Voices can be humorous, angry, laid back – and there is a place in the writing world for all these voices.”
I invite students to write with attention to voice – showing their unique style.
“Your voice is unique as your thumb print ,” I tell them. "Put your thumbprint on this piece."