Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

I love school visits.

Yesterday, Friend-husband invited me to help him teach some writing classes. Friend-husband is a retired elementary school teacher. He does some part time work at the school where he used to teach. Yesterday, he was teaching some writing classes to free up teachers for meetings. He was asked to teach about the writer’s voice. Voice may be my favorite writing topic. Why? Because you can talk about almost any subject if you do it in a character’s voice.

I like to think of voice as the storyteller. Having a great story is not enough. You also need a great storyteller. You need a strong voice. Voice gives the piece personality, uniqueness, and emotion. To understand voice, open any book and read just a few paragraphs. Who is the storyteller? After reading a few paragraphs do you have a sense of the storyteller’s personality? Does the storyteller have unique qualities? Are you aware of their thoughts and feelings?

Put another way, voice is the door into the character’s head. In good writing you can you get inside a character’s head and get a sense of what makes them tick? You see things from their point of view.

After Friend-husband and I discussed voice with the kids, I read them a few paragraphs from my story Grudge Rock. In Grudge Rock, Walker is upset at Jake for tripping him in a basketball game at recess. We invited the students to rewrite the beginning of the story in Jake’s voice. Here are a couple of examples. First is my story, in Walker’s voice.

Jake’s legs got tangled up with mine and I went flying. I could have scored. Jake grabbed the basketball as it popped out of my arms. He did a fancy shot and swish, just as the bell rang. I scraped my knee. It hurt like crazy. I picked a pebble out of my raw skin and stuck it in my pocket. Everyone cheered for Jake and headed back to class. No one noticed me sprawled on the blacktop holding my knee. 

I thought about my knee all afternoon. I even dreamed about it at night. The pebble was back in my pocket when I limped out the front door and headed for school.
Jake and Chris were talking in front of the school. Jake used to walk with me, but not today. Jake used to be my friend, but not any more. I didn’t want to talk, so I slipped in the side door, and stuck my tongue out at them when they weren’t looking.

Here are some examples of Jake’s voice as written by the students. The first group are sixth graders.

I grabbed the ball and won the game. Chris asked me to walk him to school. I was a hero. I don’t know why but Walker was grumpy all day. I tried to talk to him but he just walked by.

At recess today I was playing basketball with my best friend, Walker. Then when we were about to score we tripped and the ball came flying out of his hands. I caught the ball, did an amazing shot and scored at the last second to win the game. Everyone cheered and Walker was on the ground and nobody noticed but me. WaLker was tough but he stayed down. We had to hurry to class so I left him.

My legs got tangled up with Walker’s. Walker fell and the ball popped out of his hands. Luckily, I caught it! I did one of my best tricks and…BOOM! I made an awesome basket right when the bell rang! Everyone cheered for me! Walker ignored me and limped the rest of the day, and I don’t know why.

Today I was playing basketball. I saw that Walker was going to score a basket so I tripped him and got the ball and shot it in. I’ve always hated that loser, Walker. When we were going back to class I noticed Walker on the ground, but I thought he could get up on his own. The next day, I walked with Chris instead of Walker because I would look bad being by him. He was my friend till he tried to steal my glory. When we were at school I noticed that he stuck his tongue at me so when he wasn’t watching I stuck my tongue at him.

Walker ran right into me. We both fell to the ground but I got right up again. As Walker was laying on the ground I got the ball from him and did a few allstar moves and swoosh, the ball went right in! Everyone cheered for me. It was like I was a celebrity for the rest of the day. The next morning I got up and walked outside. I looked around for Walker, but he wasn’t there. So I walked to school with Chris. We talked about school, then I saw Walker jog by. I told Chris that I wanted to talk to him, but Chris told me not to go. I felt bad but I didn’t see him again. It was like he was avoiding me. Oh well.

Here are some examples from the fourth grade.

I got my legs tangled up with this other kid. The ball popped out of his arms. I reach out, grab it, and do my fancy double dribble shot. If I was a millimeter off I wouldn’t have made it. The bell rang as I made the winning shot. As we walked back to class everyone was cheering for me. They put me up on their shoulders. I was so popular…

My legs got tangled up with Walker’s. As the basketball popped out of his arms I grabbed it. I did a fancy shot and right as the bell range, swoosh it went through the hoop. My whole team cheered for me. When we walked back to class I noticed that Walkers wasn’t there… I wish I had caught Walker and said sorry.

I was right by my friend, Walker playing basketball. I’m the one who should have had the ball. I pushed Walker away and did a fancy shot for my girlfriend Jaimeo. Then the bell rang. My ball went in. I scored the winning shot! Then everyone crowded around me and I couldn’t see Walker. I hope I didn’t hurt him…

Today my legs got tangled with my friend as he shot. I twisted and turned and made an amazing shot, right as the buzzer happened. I broke up with my friend Walker and didn’t walk with him to school. I would sneakily peek behind me and just barely see Walker stick his tongue back in his mouth.

We forgot to collect the papers from the fifth grade, but they were just as fun. If you have questions about voice, maybe you could ask your kids.

And by the way, Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

Linda Garner


Shari said...

Those are great examples. It makes me miss teaching. And in answer to your question. No, no I'm not.

Carla said...

How fun...I love the examples and thinking of voice as a storyteller.