Playing with Voices

My first unit of the year with my sixth graders is on the Six Traits of Writing. Since I teach my students for three years in a row, this sets a great foundation for their middle school writing career. We develop a common language and have a lot of fun with it. I highly recommend Ruth Culham's Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for Middle School if you're looking to get started.

This week we discussed voice and how that affects our writing. However, I was having a difficult explaining exactly what I meant by voice. But as with most of my best lessons, I had a great idea ten minutes before class was to begin.

We started by watching this video:

I love this video because of the reactions of all of the people. We talked about how people react when they're being helped and when they help others. Our school's theme for the year is "Love Does," and this video prompted some great discussion on what that looks and feels like.

But we still needed to play with voice. I gave them a very simple Google Doc through Google Classroom so that each student had his/her own copy. I started by asking them to pretend they were a five-year-old in the scene of the video. Then I gave them five minutes to write about that perspective. It was easy for them to do without even discussing what it means to have the voice of a five-year-old.

Then we debriefed, and that's where the awesome stuff happened. When I asked how they developed the voice of a five-year-old, they said things like, "I created short sentences," "I used simple vocabulary," and "I repeated the same things over and over again." Hmmm... that's interesting. Those are some of the same problems I see in their writing.

Next, we did the same thing from the voice of a 14-year-old. They began to identify that this meant they should bring in longer sentences and a more complex vocabulary (not to mention Instagram). They were having so much fun that I decided to put a twist on it: we added a column and decided to change the gender voice. Giggles of excitement filled the room.

As we continued to progress, students continued to identify how their sentence structure and vocabulary changes their voice. This perfectly reinforced my plea to some of them to increase the maturity of their sentences. Not only that, but they had fun doing it.

When we debriefed at the end of the lesson, one of my students exclaimed, "Wait a minute? This was just a scheme to get us to understand voice?!" Muhahaha. These are the moments that make me feel like a successful teacher. And now that I go back into Google Classroom, I see comments on the assignment from sixth grade boys saying, "FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN!" and "this was hilarious." They left the classroom understanding voice and excited about their writing. They were mad that they didn't have enough time to all share their writing in class. That's an #eduwin in my book.