Students need to be taught how to use formal language in report writing. You can add a little bit of variety and a little bit of fun to report writing if you treat it more like “formal voice.” After all, there are degrees of formality…

The term “voice” is used in the “Six Traits of Effective Writing” model. We want students to know that they are learning to write with voice and not that we are taking away their voice. Students who love to write sometimes feel they are losing their voice when they learn that they must use formal language in report writing.

Some Get It… Some Don’t Want To!

Many students naturally understand the correct voice, tone, and style for report writing. They have read a lot of this kind of writing and they understand the style. They more easily see the difference between styles of writing and can easily imitate them. For some, it is the writing voice they naturally hear in their head when they write.

Other students hear a different voice in their head when they write. It’s a more colloquial voice and they don’t want to change it.  They don’t want to write in “that boring style.” Some of these students don’t really understand “formal voice” and some seem to rebel against “formal voice.”

Direct Instruction in Formal Voice for Report Writing: Three is the Magic Number for Comparison

Teaching report writing voice with a comparison of two is a mistake. There is not just:

1. Report Writing Voice

2. Non-Report Writing Voice

1. Right

2. Wrong

1. Formal

2. Not Formal

1. On

2. Off

There is a range to formality and three is the magic number for comparison. We can take a lesson from storytelling (and character development) that when you want to show comparison, three is the magic number.

Notice in these three fairy tales, comparison is a prominent theme:

• Goldilocks and the Three Bears
• The Three Little Pigs
• Three Billy Goats Gruff

The list goes on and on…

Ideas for Teaching Formal Voice through Comparison and Using the Rule of Three

It’s becoming easier and easier to find three different samples on a particular subject designed for three different audiences and which contain three different voices. It is a little bit of work, but well worth it when teaching “voice” in writing. (Many of the ideas below are kid created and you don’t have to do a thing.)

• Have students write about an experience or describe something from three different age perspectives. This works even if they just write a sentence or a paragraph from these three different age perspectives. It doesn’t have to be a long piece of writing for students to engage in using different voices.

• Read about a historical figure or event from three different sources designed for three different audiences. (Ex. Encyclopedia, text book, student generated from the internet.)

• Show three different news sources reporting the same news story. These days there are quite a few news sources to choose from and they range from stoic to downright wacky at times.

• Use three different video learning sources with different styles and/or designed for different audiences. Examples:
1. A documentary.
2. A kid’s educational video series (Standard Deviants etc.)
3. A cartoon type or one of those nutty science guys. (Beckman’s World etc.)

More Ideas for Teaching Formal Voice in Report Writing

Have students:

• Find a model (or models) for a voice they want to communicate in their report writing. (A television news anchorperson etc.) Have them write a paragraph describing what they observe in the voice, tone, and style of that person. Have them read their paragraph in their newfound voice.

• Role play in small groups reading samples of writing using a voice they want to have in their report writing.

• Have an imaginary panel of advisors hanging over their shoulder advising them as they write and edit. This panel of advisors will all have British accents and encourage writing in the utmost formal manner.

• Teachers, can you do a proper British accent? If so, kids identify with this as being formal and fun!

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