But first, congratulations to my writing pal (and Co-SCBWI RA), Patricia M. Newman on her new picture book, NUGGET ON THE FLIGHT DECK, (Walker 2009), an adventure story packed with words and phrases straight off an aircraft carrier–and a perfect example of Voice.
Try this easy lesson for students of any age: List the Air Force vocabulary (and definitions) featured in Newman's book. Choose two volunteers. Direct them to try to use as many phrases as possible in a conversation in front of the class.
Ask the class what they noticed about each student as they acted out the conversation.
Did the tone of their voices change when they used the phrases? Did they stand differently?
Ask the two students how it felt to speak that way. Did they use their normal voices? Or did the words make them want to add an accent or different voice? Now have each student write a dialog between Newman's characters, or between the student and a character who might use this same vocabulary in speaking. Compare the two voices.
Another one of my favorite assignments during the holidays not only teaches Voice, but brings generations together. How? Have your students interview a grandparent or relative or older friend of the family–preferably someone with at least two decades or more between them. Tell them to plan to spend at least 30 minutes with him/her. If possible, have a ape recorder or video camera handy.
1. Ask a grandparent or relative/friend to choose one of the following topics: (The best topics are those that will bring back vivid memories.) A childhood prank; any games played back then that are not played now; special holiday customs; the most magical holiday memory; weather: a winter when they were snowed in? a drought when times were hard; How they learned to drive; an unusual family nickname and how they got it.
2. Ask the grandparent or relative/friend to retell the story as if it was happening right then, including sensory details they remember, and any unusual phrases or slang used during that era. If possible, record the interview–or at least part of it. If not, try to write it down just as the relative/friend tells it. In his/her voice–not yours.
3. Polish and include the slang/phrases in dialog in the story. Add any other details to smooth out the story. Share with the class. Compare the voices.
And speaking of voices, it's time for me to pbic and get back to my manuscript! : )