________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 10. . . .November 8, 2013


The Write Voice: Using Rich Prompts to Help Student Writing Come Alive.

Lisa Donohue.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2011.
126 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-268-5.

Subject Headings:
Composition (Language arts)-Study and teaching (Elementary).
Written communication-Study and teaching (Elementary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Elementary).

Professional: Elementary/Middle School

Review by David Ward.

**** /4



Lisa Donahue’s The Write Voice is an excellent resource for classroom teachers in elementary schools. Her writing is inviting, personable, and practitioner-based. From a personal standpoint, I found it delightful to read a text for teachers on the subject of voice. Of all the components of writing and the teaching of writing, I often feel that we overlook the significance of voice. It’s common to have children explore plot and character and setting through various activities. But grappling, playing with voice is truly an exercise in delving deeply into the craft of writing. It’s a personal, up close, find-yourself kind of experience. Donohue says:

When we talk about “voice”, we mean the personality that writing takes on. When writing has voice, readers are able to gain an insight into the author’s thoughts. We are able to hear the author reading, talking, sharing his or her words with us. The writing seems to come alive in our minds. When a piece of writing has voice, it is able to share a mood, create a mental image, or stir up an emotional response within a reader. It allows readers to connect with the text, to feel like they are a part of the conversation – as if the author were speaking directly to them. (p. 7)

     The Write Voice is all about empowering young writers to find their own unique writing voices and supporting teachers in teaching voice in the classroom. The chapters are broken up into manageable, teaching/learning bites. Chapter one and two take on the definition of voice and voice building strategies. The following chapters explore emotional cues, sensory statements, wordsmithing, perspective, character development, personalization and style.

      One of the most poignant features of the text is the inclusion of real students’ writing and engagement with the concept of voice. Spread throughout the text are examples of students’ writing voices changing over time as they work through voice-building strategies. The author cleverly ties the strategies she uses to teach voice into the student examples in a way that demonstrates the children’s learning before and after. Donohue says:

From the student samples I present here, we can clearly see that the writers have applied the strategies to build voice in their writing. The samples show how the students have learned to include emotional cues, sensory statements, and creative wordsmithing. (p. 9)

     At the end of every chapter, the author provides “rich prompts” for teachers to use with each of the strategies. For example, one of the rich prompts for perspective in chapter six reads as follows:

I had spent every day of the last three years of my life dreaming about the day I would have a dog. Now, my mother stood before me, holding a box containing my new pet. My heart stopped. The creature inside the box moved, and it was clear that this was not the pet I had hoped for.

     Students use the prompt and continue the writing, demonstrating their exploration of perspective.

     In the final chapter, “Voices in minutes a day”, the author presents ways of integrating time for practicing students’ writing voice. She discusses building a “collaborative community of writers” and the importance of peer and teacher feedback. She also discusses assessment of student writing and goal setting for young writers.

This hands-on text could easily be the centerpiece for writing units in the Language Arts classroom. Teachers and students alike will find the writing accessible and easy to follow.

Highly Recommended.

David Ward is an assistant professor of literacy and a children’s author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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