I always did well on essay tests. Just put everything you know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then you get the paper back from the teacher and she’s written just one word across the top of the page, “vague.” I thought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d write underneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’d return it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her, “cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day . . . “hazy” . . . “muddy” . . .
Example: You are Jerry Spinelli , author of the delightful novel, Stargirl . Design a three-part advertising campaign that will assist you and your publisher to convince one of the major movie studios to buy the movie rights and make a feature film based on the book.
“ We must teach ourselves to recognize our own voice. We want to write in a way that is natural for us, that grows out of the way we think, the way we see, the way we care. But to make that voice effective we must develop it, extending our natural voice through the experience of writing on different subjects for different audiences, of using our voice as we perform many writing tasks.”
Greeting Cards: Collect a variety of birthday cards, and have students sort them: romantic, sarcastic, sincere, cute, sentimental, etc.
Voice In, Voice Out: Give students a piece of text that lacks voice (instruction manual, textbook, memo, etc.) and invite them to add as much voice as possible. Read the two versions aloud and discuss the differences. Try it the other way, too—have students remove the voice from a strong piece of writing.
New Voices, New Choices: Have students write the first sentence of a letter (on the same topic) for five different audiences.
Put this prompt on the board: “Write about a moment when you were unbelievably scared.”
As a class, discuss possible ways to approach the topic.
When everyone seems ready to begin writing, tell them that the words scare, frighten, fright, fear, fearful, afraid, spook, startle, terror, terrorize, terrify, panic, cold sweat, shock, surprise, dread, turn pale, hair stand on end, blood run cold, and teeth chatter are all off limits.
After students have time to write, debrief the experience. What did they discover? How did this activity make them more (or less) creative in their word choice?
“ Assessment is not the private property of teachers. Kids can learn to evaluate their own writing. They must take part in this . . . it is central to the growth of writing. Even before they write, they need to know about what makes writing strong or effective. And they need to know the criteria by which their own writing will be judged.”