Are your students' research reports weak in the trait of voice? Sure, they are restating the facts they have learned in their own words, and combining information gathered from several sources, as you have guided them to do. However, do the final drafts often can lack that quality of writing that keeps the reader (usually the teacher and other students!) truly engaged? Even when children are excited about the topic they are researching, their enthusiasm doesn't always come through in their writing. How, then, can teachers help students breathe life, and VOICE, into their research writing?
The trait of Voice is that quality of writing that makes the text interesting and grabs the reader's attention. When writing is strong in the trait of Voice the reader makes a connection to the text, and wants to keep reading. Voice is a"deep text trait", meaning that it usually takes a major revision to turn a "voiceless" piece of writing into one that the reader doesn't want to put down. One craft move that students can use to improve the voice in their pieces as they revise or draft is writing from a different point of view.
An engaging piece of writing pulls the reader into the piece and helps the reader make a connection. Judy Allen does this in her series of Backyard Books. The titles in this series include Are You a Snail?, Are you a Bee?, Are you a Butterfly?, Are you a Dragonfly?, Are you a Grasshopper?, Are you a Ladybug?, and Are you a Spider?
She writes in what might be considered the second person. As the title suggests, she asks the reader, "Are you a snail? If you are, your life began in an egg like one of these." Allen continues to provide factual information in this style. For example, rather than writing that one of a snail's predators is a fox, she writes, "Watch out for foxes. Foxes are dangerous. Hungry foxes eat snails, and they don't mind the slime either." The narrator is talking directly to the reader, asking questions and explaining what one's life would be like as a snail.
After sharing this mentor text, have students write a draft in this format, telling their audience what life would be like if they were indeed that creature. For a Social Studies report, they might write what to expect if you were a child living in colonial times. A great mentor text for this might be a title from the If you Lived... series.
Students could also try to turn the facts they have collected into a first person account. The teacher could model this by turning research notes into a narrative that might sound like this, "I am a snail. When I go out at night, I always watch out for those hungry foxes..."
This craft move could be used when researching a famous person. For example, a report on the life of Susan B. Anthony written in the first person might include, "I knew I had to do more than talk about women's right to vote. I had to do something! That is why my sisters and several of our friends dared to vote in the presidential election that year, even though it was illegal to do so."
The answer to how to help students add voice to their research writing may be found in trying a new point of view. This craft move is sure to breathe life, and voice, into the standard research report!