Encouraging Student Voice Through Writing

These simple strategies put students' voice in their writing.

By: Jason D. Dehart


Some students come to class ready to engage and offer their voice, but others wish to go unnoticed and remain silent observers to the educational scene. The following is an assortment of creative writing, image writing, and cross-curricular writing ideas that may encourage young adolescents to become actively involved in their learning.

Creative Writing

To encourage freedom in narrative and deeper thinking, involve students in a What If writing activity. This strategy lends itself to a variety of texts; the example here involves pairing the strategy with the Jack London story "Up the Slide," found in many middle grades textbooks.

In "Up the Slide," the protagonist must overcome several man-versus-nature struggles. Teachers may ask students to imagine the story in an alternative setting and to reapply the narrative and protagonist to a new set of struggles revolving around nature or another type of conflict. Students may also rewrite the narrative from a first-person or third-person point of view, addressing the Common Core point of view standards.

An Open-Ended Narrative activity provides part of a story, then asks students to complete it—like a choose-your-own-adventure story. This open-ended strategy can be applied to other writing genres, such as explanatory or argumentative writing. In that case, teachers provide portions of an already-created brainstorm web, essay outline, or a roughly drafted essay and ask students to use these elements to create a more fully developed writing product.

For the Genre Optional strategy, teachers create a list of writing styles, such as poems, memos, and digital texts, and ask students to reach objectives through the chosen genre. For example, students may use a digital text or poem to teach three to five vocabulary terms related to algebraic equations. Or, they may create a memo to demonstrate their understanding of a scientific process or historical event.

Image Writing

With Single-Image Writing, teachers select an image of a character or setting and ask students to infer to describe or respond to the image. These descriptions and responses can take the shape of a character web, a dialogue, or a paragraph structure.

Multiple-Image Writing requires students to use their cognitive skills to connect images. These images can revolve around an already-identified theme, or teachers can help students construct a narrative or expository response to the image set.

Created-Image Writing requires students to visualize aspects of a single character or story element or create an extensive storyboard design based on the events of a longer text. This storyboard design can emphasize discrete language concepts, or it can be used to demonstrate the overall structure of a typical plot, requiring students to identify and explain which panels in the storyboard relate to the exposition, resolution, and other segments of the plot.

Expanding Writing

When technology tools are available, students can create Informational Websites using digital tools like Blogspot (blogspot.com) or Weebly (weebly.com). Teachers can model this strategy using their own informational websites.

Reading and Responding to a variety of texts across the curriculum is also important. The more students explore a variety of texts, the better prepared they will be for standardized assessments.

Conclusions

Some students are eager to share their thoughts in the classroom; others lack the confidence, interest, or even skill-set to immediately dive into the world of language. These strategies may give them their voice.
Jason D. DeHart, an eighth grade English teacher, is also a student in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
jddehart80@yahoo.com

Published in AMLE Magazine, March 2016.

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