Six students crowd around a wooden, kidney shaped table. Each is excited to share a story that they have been working on for the past few writing blocks. As the children begin to read their stories aloud proudly I begin to close my eyes. One robust child turns to me and inquires, “Ms. Freedman, why are you sitting there with your eyes closed?” I thought about the imponderable question with a simple answer for that observant child, “I want to hear the voice in the story, and if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough I will be able to feel it.” Of course this brought mumbles of perplexity around the table as the children were wondering what I meant by voice, who was I trying to hear, how do you feel a story, and can you actually put voice in writing. I seized the moment and explained to them that voice in narrative writing comes from the characters in the story. Voice creates a lens for the reader to experience the story in this genre (Mariconda, n.d.).
Another student pipes up, “Well what about expository writing? Is that voice the same?” It was at this juncture I realized how misunderstood voice is in writing because the answer here is no. Explaining that voice in informative text connects the author to the reader and is different from the narrative voice in many ways, substantially that in the narrative voice the reader is experiencing a story though the lens of characters and in an expository voice the reader is hearing the author’s voice directly and might experience a call to action, is challenging to do especially when your audience is ten years old. The writer of informative text might wear many hats depending on the topic of the piece; however in both voices style and tone affect the writing. This followed into a conversation about the importance of audience when thinking about what voice to use. How we relay information is based on who is at the receiving end. The audience should guide the tone and style of the writing, giving the words on the page purpose. The concept of voice was best explained to these curious ten year olds as an invitation into a story. Within the first few sentences of any genre of writing, the voice will either end the reader’s relationship with the written piece, inspire confidence or doubt in the reader, or cause an emotion to stir up in the back of the reader’s mind(Mariconda, n.d.). Of course one student then had to ask about open response writing, and all I could say was that is like finding your academic voice. I left these students feeling a bit perplexed about voice and challenged them to think of their audience when developing their own voice. It takes years to weave the craft of voice through writing. As the students walked away all I could hear was silence and deep thoughts.
Similar to what I tell my students, Lee (2011) supports the notion that writing can be messy. Finding one’s voice is a journey that could take many drafts in order to produce the best possible piece for the intended audience. The structure and clarity of the written paper has to be clear enough for readers to follow. Using graphic organizers, Venn diagrams, mind maps, or even old fashioned notecards might help the author piece the argument together and if the writer is suffering from writer’s block then they need to give themselves the freedom to take a break and come back to the work later (Lee, 2011, p.108). Looking at the writing with fresh eyes can sometimes offer a new perspective.
Authors need to develop their own unique voice in their writing so when the reader closes his or her eyes he or she can feel what the author is saying. The readers are moved, carried, inspired, or transformed in some way. Reflecting back to the conversation with my students and combining my new formed thoughts after reading the article by Monica Lee (2011), I would tell my students that they are in control of their own writing; their voice can only come from them so keep digging deep and thinking critically about the work. After all, they are the authority (Lee, 2011, p.111) of their own written words.
Lee, M. (2011). Finding voice: Appreciating the Audience. In T. Rocco, T. Hatcher, & Associates (Eds.), The Handbook of Scholarly Writing and Publishing (pp. 102-114). California: Jossey-Bass.
Mariconda, B. (n.d.) Teaching voice in writing. Retrieved from
About the Author: Rayna Freedman is beginning her 15th year at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, MA. She has taught grades 3-5 and is an ITS. She is also embarking on her doctorate through Northeastern as she hopes to change the field of education some day. Rayna is a member of the MassCUE Board of Directosr and has been presenting at the annual conference since 2010. She serves on the DESE Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards Panel and was the North Attleboro Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year in 2011.
For more articles by Ms. Freedman, she is published in Early Childhood Education Today 12th and 13th edition, Building Teachers: A Constructivist Approach to Introducing Education 2nd edition, and Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education 7th edition.