Helping Student Writers Find Their Voice In Personal Narratives

Writers must be readers –avid readers. They must also carry within them an enduring love of words and remain keenly interested in how other writers write as well as noticing what they write.

For these reasons I scour book shops for books about writing and writers. It is where I found, ‘Writing The Memoir’ by Judith Barrington. A book which aims to provide a practical guide to the challenges and dilemmas in crafting a writer's own true stories. 

In the book, the author makes the point that in order for the reader to care about what you make of your life, there has to be an engaging voice embedded in the writing –a voice that captures a personality and breathes life into the words. The author further states that memoir requires that the reader feels spoken to. A sense that a conversation is taking place becomes central to the success of the writing.

This is such pertinent advice for those of us who teach writing.  It is a reminder that voice remains a critical element of effective writing. Sometimes voice in writing is referred to as 'personality on paper.' So our planning and teaching should always attempt to hold true to this ideal.

To support the teaching of voice, it is a valuable exercise to undertake some research and rummaging through any available book collection for examples of writing where a sense of voice is apparent. And as young writers tell stories from their lives; their personal narratives, their life slices, their memoir moments, we should remain ever vigilant in looking for the emergence of voice in their writing as well.

Below, I have listed some titles I have used to encourage student writers to write in ways that make the reader feel as if they are part of a personal conversation. This work doesn't require the reading of the entire book, but rather the strategic identification and sharing of places in the text where a strong sense of voice is evidenced.

Marshfield Dreams, Ralph Fletcher

Land's Edge, Tim Winton

Knots In My Yo-Yo String, Jerry Spinelli

When I Was Your Age- Original Stories About Growing Up, Edited by Amy Ehrlich

Inside Out & Back Again, Thanha Lai

Half A Creature From The Sea-A Life In Stories, David Almond

The Sad Book, Michael Rosen

Sister Heart, Sally Morgan


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