One of the most frustrating things for writing teachers is reading papers that simply lack style. When all of the research has been completed and incorporated into the paper correctly and all of the sentences are structured well, but the paper lacks some pizazz, it can be boring to grade. Similarly, when you know a student has a great personality, but that isn't showing up in his or her writing, it can be upsetting to know that your students can do so, much better. If you are searching for ways to help your students find their voices, try stepping back from the analytical papers. When they write about themselves, students' voices often shine through.
Who are You?
One of the most difficult questions for students to answer is: "Who are you?" Of course, they can give you their name, age, date of birth, and all sorts of other pertinent biographical information. However, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty stuff about what motivates them and makes them tick, this can be a difficult question to answer. Have your students explore who they are and what makes them unique. In doing this, through writing, students will start to see their personalities differently and, hopefully, be able to add a little flair to their writing. Furthermore, you can have students take on different, silly personalities in their writing. If they were an animal, who would they be? If they were a book, who would they be? Doing this can help your students break their comfort zones and think about their personalities differently.
Writing letters is a great way for students to explore their writing passion. Have them write to a famous person they've always admired, and then the one they absolutely hate. Explore how their language changes between the two letters. Have them write to a family member, or a teacher. Talk about what differences in language they see as their audience change. When students know their audiences, it is much easier for them to add the kind of personality their audience wants to see. When you have them write a paper, then, have them define who they are writing it for before they even start. Then, reference the letters they wrote to give them an idea of what voice to use.
What Matters to You?
When students write about what matters most to them, they will often give you the best writing you've ever seen. Passionate responses are usually well-written responses, and you'll get those when you ask questions that hit home. At the very least, when students have something to say about a given topic, it can be easier for them to get their ideas down, then work on their writing style.
Get the Words on Paper, Then Edit Them
The most valuable lesson students can learn is to write first, and edit later. Often, students think that, if the words don't come out perfectly the first time, then they shouldn't even write them down. More dangerously, students sometimes think that whatever comes out on the page the first time, is the end result of paper writing. To help with this, have students write nonstop for five minutes about their topics. If they can get their ideas down on paper, that's 90% of the battle. After that, have them refine these ideas into a really strong introductory paragraph. This can help them realize that, once they have the ideas down, the rest is just fine tuning. Once they have this concept mastered, it's easy for them to start adding their own personal voices to their papers.