Identifying Voice

Nov 5, 2008 by

Voice is a difficult concept to teach. It seems that some students “just have it” while others struggle to find it. Voice is the personality behind a writer’s words—it is what makes the writing come alive. While voice cannot be taught step-by-step, there are ways to help students find their voices.

Reading Aloud

There is no better way to introduce and model writing with voice than through read-alouds. Listed below are just a few picture books that are excellent example of writing with voice. Following the list are some mini-lessons that involve read-aloud.

  • “Alexander” books by Judith Viorst
  • Airmail to the Moon by Tom Birdseye
  • Alice the Fairy by David Shannon
  • Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
  • How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
  • Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • My House Has Stars by Megan McDonald
  • My Momma’s Kitchen by Jerdine Nelen
  • The Camel’s Lament by Charles Edward Carryl
  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynn Cherry
  • The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume
  • The River Ran Wild by Lynn Cherry
  • Through Grandpa’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen
  • When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Listening for Voice

As you read aloud, stop occasionally to ask students what voice they hear. Have them try to describe the person behind the voice. Have the class brainstorm a list of voice descriptors. Keep the list posted and add to it throughout the year. Possible voice descriptors include: happy, sad, angry, caring, funny, irritated, shy, silly, boring, rude, forgiving, begging, frightened, friendly, sarcastic, scholarly, loving, courageous, horrifying. Try writing these adjectives on index cards. Have students take turns drawing cards and then try to talk in that voice (angry, silly, whiny, etc.) Try introducing this activity by reading aloud the book How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers.


Puppet Center

Set up a puppet center. Have students use the puppets to act out a story they have read or one they have made up using different voices.

Comparing Voices

Read aloud two picture books by two different authors who write with two entirely different voices (eg.: Cynthia Rylant and Dav Pilkey). Discuss the authors’ styles and the type of voice each uses. Read aloud a third book by one of the authors and have students guess who the author is and state why they think so.


Compare Two Texts

Read aloud two versions of the same story—one without voice and one with voice. For example, tell the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” in a bare bones version. Then read aloud James Marshall’s version. Compare the two stories, discussing what makes Marshall’s version more “voice-filled.”

Greeting Card Center

Place a collection of greeting cards in a center. Have students read the cards and sort them according to the voice they hear: silly, sad, caring, friendly, etc. You may assign the categories or allow students to select their own categories. For example, the first card below has a reflective tone, while the second, a Dr. Seuss card has a much more playful feel. Click on images to enlarge:


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