Posts Tagged ‘rhetorical stance’

Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

A few years back, I sat down at my kitchen table on an early Saturday morning to begin the arduous process of grading a set of seventh-grade persuasive essays. I had postponed the task for too long and grades were due on Monday. Why did I dread the grading so much?

I knew what to expect. I would see the results of my instruction and significant improvement. I would feel self-validated and be able to give myself a well-earned pat on the back. The essays would sound like miniature versions of me. No doubt my essays would make me look good that week during our department read-around. However, I knew what would be missing in my students’ writing: Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection. No… it was not the fault of the writing prompt. There were several to choose among, and they were intrinsically motivating for my students. There was something else.

As many teachers naturally do, I reflected back to my own successes as a writer. I drifted back to my own junior high experience. Mr. Devlin was an odd teacher with horribly worn black shoes. He was odd, even by English-language arts teacher standards. However, his writing assignment is the only one I’ve saved from my entire K-12 experience.

Mr. Devlin gave us a journal assignment with no rules. No, I’m not advocating this kind of unstructured experience, per se. After all, I’m still assigning those argumentative essays, right? In fact, it was not the assignment that was meaningful at all; it was what I did with it.

My room was my personal sanctuary. I’m dating myself at this point. My room was covered with psychedelic rock-art posters-each painted/printed in luminescent color. Yes, I had a black light. Yes, I had a strobe light. I begged my parents for black-out drapes, but olive-green was their choice. My stereo was bitchin’. I burned incense, even though I hated the smell. It was 1968.

I played the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour albums non-stop. One of the most irritating memories I have is that of my father, a professional musician, saying that the flutes sounded like cheap recorders on Paul’s “The Fool on the Hill.” He said the song was garbage.

I listened-no… I felt the music and I wrote. As I read the journals today, much of the writing is juvenile and prurient—a budding Steinbeck I was not. However, my analysis of lyrics, wanna-be girlfriends, my parents, comments and warnings to Mr. Devlin to hold true to his promise that he wouldn’t read the journals rings true to my age and experience. The journal had what my students’ persuasive essays lacked-an authentic voice. With all of the Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection.

I graded the argumentative essays, and as I expected, most were technically very good. But, I vowed to do things much differently with their next persuasive essay. I was going to Mr. Devlin their writing by allowing my students’ cultures to create their own voices. Music would be the transformative medium. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters. Music was just as influential, just as pervasive, for my students as it was for me. I knew what I was getting into. I hate their hip hop, new R&B, metal, and rap. It really is garbage.

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing writing. Read how teachers can develop a productive writing climate by learning a bit about how the music business operates.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

Teachers can help students practice the elements of Rhetorical Stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form. Learning these elements will enable students to flexibly address any writing assignment with dexterity and flair. Students need to be able to adjust their writing to a wide variety of genre in order to communicate effectively.

Find clear models of the elements of rhetorical stance and share these with your students. Help students to identify each of the elements in the model. Discuss how each interacts with the others. Make sure to use a wide variety of models.

Then, have students mimic the voice, audience, purpose, and form of the model to respond to an engaging writing prompt. Share their creative triumphs and correct shortcomings.

Voice—Some would define voice at that intangible which makes one’s writing unique, personal, and honest. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing style, point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). Students need to practice mimicking other voices to refine their own voices. Additionally, students need to be able to manipulate their voices to best suit the audience, purpose, and form. Choose student models to share that will broaden your students’ understanding of voice and encourage students to mimic these examples and the voices of other writers. Check out another article I have written, titled “How to Develop Voice in Student Writing” for plenty of instructional strategies. Why not introduce a video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. to inspire students to mimic his poetic, emotional, and hopeful voice prior to a relevant quick write?

Audience—Students need to understand that all writing is interactive communication. The other is the writer, himself, as reader and any others with whom the writer shares the work. Students all too frequently learn to write to the teacher as their exclusive audience. This practice tends to de-personalize student writing and limit development of voice. Choose student models to share that use a voice that engages and is particularly appropriate to the audience. Ask students to identify which parts of the writing response specifically address the defined audience and why. Why not select a class of third graders as an audience to encourage controlled vocabulary, brevity, and appropriate word choice?

Purpose—My comprehensive essay curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, uses eight key writing direction words (describe, explain, discuss, compare-contrast, analyze, persuade, justify, and evaluate) as the action words of each writing prompt in leveled writing strategy worksheets. These same writing direction words are used on a rotating basis (eight times each) as the purpose components in the 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes. Check out the attached example of a Rhetorical Stance Quick Write and use to guide your instruction in the elements of rhetorical stance. Why not have your students describe the ideal world that they hope to live in as adults?

Form—Although the academic essay becomes the predominate form of composition beginning in the intermediate elementary years and continuing through college, facility in other writing forms is certainly necessary to develop voice, writing fluency, and writing dexterity. Additionally, writing practice using a variety of forms will improve reading comprehension across a wide variety of genres. Use a wide variety of form, from anecdotes to classified ads to help students adjust their writing form and voice to the purpose of the writing and their audience. Why not mimic the rhetorical style, including the parallel “I have a dream” refrains from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a two minute speech?

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at

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How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

Some teachers would argue that a writer’s voice is so individualized that it must be discovered.

For the uninitiated, the immunity idol is a small, hidden object that fits with the theme of the Survivor location. It is hidden near the tribal camps, or in more recent seasons it has been hidden on Exile Island. If secured by a player, the immunity idol will prevent that contestant from hearing the host’s immortal words, “The tribe has spoken,” which removes the player from further competition.

Survivor players are banished to Exile Island by the other survivors. In fact, some contestants have been sent to the island multiple times. These Robinson Crusoes have no assistance from Fridays, but, with much effort and/or luck, are able to discover clues that will lead them to find the immunity idol.

Constructivists would argue that the only clues provided to developing writers should be widespread reading and unencumbered writing practice. After a journey of self-discovery, the squishy concept of voice may emerge some day for some writing survivors.

The debate hinges somewhat on our definitions of voice. Constructivists tend to adopt a narrow definition that voice is what makes one’s writing unique and personal; the intangibles that demonstrate an honest commitment to its writing.

I take a different view. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing what old-time Strunkers called style, as well as point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). I think that discovering voice should be the result of a guided journey. By the way, the clues on Survivor are quite direct and relevant to the quest; they are not needles in haystacks.

As a reading specialist, I would agree that widespread reading does help students recognize voice; however, I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes. The voice that a student uses to convince a peer to do a favor, should not be the same voice that a student uses to convince a police officer to issue a warning, rather than a speeding ticket.

Here are a few suggestions to teach voice:

  1. Read short passages from writers with diverse voices out loud. Have students identify characteristic diction and intonation (the sound of the writing). Hemingway, King, Jr., Rowling, Shakespeare, and passages from Isaiah are useful. Then, have students mimic the voices of these writers on a topic of teacher or student choice.
  2. Have students practice manipulating the other elements of rhetorical stance (audience, purpose, and form) regularly. Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes, used as bell-ringers, are particularly useful.
  3. Provide word lists, such as strong verbs and feeling words, for students to incorporate into their writing.
  4. Teach students to use poetic elements, such as metaphor, in their narrative and personal writing.
  5. Have students re-write endings of stories or news articles.
  6. Have students re-write third person stories into first person stories.
  7. Have students re-write fairy tales from another point of view, for example, from the wolf’s perspective, rather than that of the pig’s in Three Little Pigs.
  8. Have students identify and re-write the tone of readings. Poetry is a great source for clearly-identifiable tone.
  9. Teach different grammatical sentence openers. Encourage students to avoid “to-be” verbs.
  10. Teach inappropriate writing style and post examples for future student reference. For example, post generic words such as stuff and things and help students brainstorm specific alternatives. Perhaps create a “dead-word or phrase cemetery on a bulletin board.
  11. Have students write essays on controversial and relevant topics to identify divergent points of view, writer commitment to the topic, and sense of audience.
  12. Post a “graffiti board” to encourage students to share their voices.
  13. Have students read their own writing out loud and have their peers identify the elements I define as voice.

Find essay strategy worksheets, rhetorical stance quick writes, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

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Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection

Educators often talk about the reading-writing connection. Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:

  • Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability.
  • Good writers were read to as children.
  • Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency.
  • Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.

Teaching reading and writing strategies concurrently certainly does allow teachers to “kill two birds with one stone.” Now this is not to say that reading or writing instruction should always be taught in tandem. There are certainly important lessons and skill development exclusive to each field. However, the following twelve tips to teach the reading-writing connection will enhance students’ facility in both disciplines.

1. Teach the Author-Reader Relationship

Both reading and writing involve interactive relationships between author and reader. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author. Now, it’s true that the author is not speaking directly to the reader; however, readers understand best when they pretend that this is so. Unlike reading, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers, while they write, is vitally important.

Strategy: Write Aloud

2. Teach Prior Knowledge

What people already know is an essential component of good reading and writing. Content knowledge is equally important as is skill acquisition to read and write well. Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50-50 interaction. In other words, about half of one’s understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading by way of experience and knowledge. However, some disclaimers are important to mention here.  Although prior knowledge is important, it can also be irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete which may well confuse readers or misinform writers. Of course, the teacher has the responsibility to fill gaps with appropriate content.

Strategy: KWHL

3. Teach Sensory Descriptions

Both readers and writers make meaning through their sensory experiences. Recognizing sensory references in text improves understanding of detail, allusions, and word choice. Good readers apply all of their senses to the reading to better grasp what and how the author wishes to communicate. They listen to what the author is saying to them. For example, good readers try to feel what the characters feel, visualize the changing settings, and hear how the author uses dialog. Applying the five senses in writing produces memorable “show me,” rather than “tell me” writing.

Strategy: Interactive Reading

4. Teach Genre Characteristics

All reading and writing genres serve their own purposes, follow their own rules, and have their own unique characteristics. Knowing the text structure of each genre helps readers predict and analyze what the author will say and has said. For example, because a reader understands the format and rules of a persuasive essay, the reader knows to look for the thesis in the introduction, knows to look for the evidence that backs up the topic sentence in each body paragraph, and knows to look for the specific strategies that are utilized in the conclusion paragraphs. Writing form is an important component of rhetorical stance. Knowing each genre (domain) also helps writers include the most appropriate support details and evidence. For example, persuasive essays often use a counterpoint argument as evidence.

Strategy: Rhetorical Stance

5. Teach Structural Organization

Readers recognize main idea, anticipate plot development or line of argumentation, make inferences, and draw conclusions based upon the structural characteristics of the reading genre. For example, readers expect  the headline and introductory paragraph(s) of a newspaper article to follow the structural characteristics of that genre. For example, since news articles include Who, What, Where, When, and How at the beginning, the informed reader knows to look for these components. Similarly, writers apply their knowledge of specific structural characteristics for each writing genre. For example, knowing the characteristics of these plot elements: problem, conflict; rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution will help the writer craft a complete narrative.

Strategy: Numerical Hierarchies

6. Teach Problem Solving Strategies

Good readers and writers act like detectives, looking for clues to understand and solve a case. In a persuasive essay, the reader should detect how a thesis is argued, how the variety of evidence is presented, and if the conclusions are justified in light of the evidence. In a narrative, the writer needs to clearly state the basic problem of the story and how that problem leads to a conflict. Through the elements of plot, the writer must deal with this conflict and resolve it to the reader’s satisfaction.

Strategy: Evidence

7. Teach Coherency and Unity

For both reading and writing, the object is to make sense of the content. Recognizing the author’s rhetorical organization, grammatical patterns, transition words, and use of writing techniques such as repetition, parallelism, and summary will facilitate comprehension. Knowing how the author communicates helps the reader understand what is being communicated. Applying an organizational pattern appropriate to the writing content and effective writing techniques will help the reader understand the content of the communication. Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic. For example, readers need to train themselves to look for irrelevant (off the point) details. Similarly, writers need to ensure that their writing stays on point and does not wander into tangential “birdwalking.”

Strategies: Coherency and Unity



8. Teach Sentence Structure Variety

Good readers are adept at parsing both good and bad sentence structure. They consciously work at identifying sentence subjects and their actions. They apply their knowledge of grammar to build comprehension. For example, they recognize misplaced pronouns and dangling participles, such as in “The boy watched the dog beg at the table and his sister fed it” and are able to understand what the author means, in spite of the poor writing. Good writing maintains the reader’s attention through interesting content, inviting writing style, effective word choice, and sentence variety. Knowing how to use different sentence structures allows the writer to say what the writer wants to say in the way the writer wants to say it. Most professional writers plan 50% of their sentences to follow the subject-verb-complement grammatical sentence structure and 50% to follow other varied sentence structures. No one is taught, convinced, or entertained when bored.

Strategy: Grammatical Sentence Openers

9. Teach Precise Word Choice

Understanding the nuances to word meanings lets the reader understand precisely what the author means. Knowing semantic variations helps the reader understand why authors use the words that they do and helps the reader “read between the lines,” i.e., to infer what the author implies. When writers use words with precision, coherency is improved. There is no ambiguity and the reader can follow the author’s intended train of thought.

Strategies: Vocabulary Ladders and Semantic Spectrums

10. Teach Style, Voice, Point of View, Tone, and Mood

Good readers recognize how an author’s writing style and voice (personality) help shape the way in which the text communicates. For example, if the style is informal and the voice is flippant, the author may use hyperbole or understatement as rhetorical devices. Recognizing whether the author uses omniscient or limited point of view in the first, second, or third person will help the reader understand who knows what, and from what perspective in the reading. Identifying the tone of helps the reader understand how something is being said. For example, if the tone is sarcastic, the reader must be alert for clues that the author is saying one thing, but meaning another. Identifying the mood of a literary work will enable the reader to see how the plot and characters shape the feeling of the writing. For example, knowing that the mood of a poem is dark allows the reader to identify the contrasting symbolism of a “shining light.” In addition to applying the writing tools described above, good writers need to be aware of errors in writing style that do not match the rules and format of certain forms of writing, such as the formal essay.

Strategy: Writing Style Errors

11. Teach Inferences

Both reading and writing is interpretive. Readers infer meaning, make interpretations, or draw logical conclusions from textual clues provided by the author. Writers imply, or suggest, rather than overtly state certain ideas or actions to build interest, create intentional ambiguity, develop suspense, or re-direct the reader.

Strategy: Inference Categories

12. Teach Metacognition and Critical Thinking

Reading and writing are thinking activities. Just decoding words does not make a good reader. Similarly, just spelling correctly, using appropriate vocabulary, and applying fitting structure to paragraphs does not make a good writer. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses as a reader or writer helps one identify or apply the best strategies to communicate. Knowing how to organize thought through chronology, cause-effect, problem-solution, or reasons-evidence rhetorical patterns assists both reader and writer to recognize and apply reasoning strategies. Knowing higher order questioning strategies, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation helps the reader and writer see beyond the obvious and explore issues in depth.

Strategies: Self-Questioning and Reasoning Errors


Reasoning Errors

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.




Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, eight complete writing process essays, 438 essay e-comment editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.TES

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How to Teach the Writing Domains (Genres)

Students need to understand the natures and peculiarities of the many different forms of writing. As students are first exposed to the imaginative/narrative domain (genre) of writing via story books, movies, and storytelling, they tend to organize all writing with a beginning, middle, and an end. While certainly appropriate for many forms of writing such as stories and letters, these forms cannot be applied to expository tasks such as essays or reports.

Teaching the P.A.W.S. writing model can help students understand the characteristics and components of the different domains of writing (genres) and their respective forms. P.A.W.S. stands for purpose, audience, writing organization, and subject. These are key elements of what is known as rhetorical stance. Knowing this information will help developing writers “play by the rules of the game” for each form of writing and also improve writing coherency. Additionally, students become better readers as they understand the purpose of the text and its intended audience. Knowing the organization of the writing and the manner in which the author chooses to develop the subject of that writing will boost reading comprehension, writing unity,  and retention. Truly, there is a reading-writing connection.

Start by telling students that every written work has a purpose, an intended audience, a subject, and a writing method of organization. You may wish to add on voice to your explanation by referencing the content of a related article, titled How to Develop Voice in Student Writing. For example, point out a magazine or newspaper advertisement. Brainstorm its purpose (to sell the product or service), its audience (who is the market), the writer’s organization (how the ad is presented to get the reader’s attention and, or course, the sale), and the subject (what exactly is being sold).

Inform students that there are two basic types of writing: expository and non-expository. The former is factually-based and attempts to understand, explain, or convince with the focus on an argument or a claim. The latter is fictional and attempts to entertain, tell a story, or describe with the focus on a controlling idea or topic.

Next, share that the expository domains (genres) of writing are practical or informative. Cite a few examples of their forms from the diagram and ask students to categorize them as being either practical or informative, in terms of purpose and design. Repeat with analytical and persuasive.

You may wish to have students read an example for each of the domains.

Then, explain that the non-expository domains (genres) of writing are sensory and descriptive. Again, reference the examples of the forms within this domain on the diagram and ask students to categorize them as being either sensory or descriptive, in terms of purpose and design. Repeat with imaginative and narrative. Again, you may wish to have students read an example for each of the domains.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find eight complete writing process essays, 40 essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments software with this wonderful product.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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