Teach English Writing Skills: Adding Voice

Learn English Writing with Voice

Here’s an ESL guided writing activity that uses a story about rafting to help English students learn to write interesting stories by adding voice. In a previous post, I described an activity that shows students how to add voice to a text. This follow up exercise gives ESL students a chance to apply that knowledge.


Step 1 Purpose of Exercise

Students will rewrite and expand a bland passage. They will make it interesting by adding their own (or imaginary) experience to the text.

Step 2 Read

Read the following text.

I was excited about going. It would be the best day of the summer. We were going to go rafting. My mother, father, brother, and sister got to go. They were excited, too. My dad knew a lot about rafting. This would be neat. When we got to the river, it looked big. The water was moving fast. I was scared. It turned out to be fun. We ate sandwiches and drank pop. I wore a life jacket and got wet.

It was the best thing I did all summer.

Step 3 Assess

How would you describe this short story? Possible answers: too short, not many details, lacks words that describe emotion, doesn’t seem real.

Step 4 Show Me

If time permits, you might want to introduce the idea of SHOW ME, DON’T TELL ME. This is a basic concept in writing.

The idea goes like this.

If a character in your story is scared, do not tell the reader SHE WAS SCARED. It is better to describe the fear; SHOW ME the fear. For example:

The river was moving fast and I was starting to think the rafting trip was a bad idea. My heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my throat. Every time the raft approached a rock, I grabbed my life jacket a little harder. When would this horrible trip be over? Would I survive? I closed my eyes and waited.

Step 5 Rewrite and Expand

Rewrite the story with your voice. Show the reader emotions, don’t tell the reader about them. Add details. Describe the places, the people, the boat, the water.


Encourage students to change the story as they want. In the past, students who have written successful stories changed the focus in ways to reflect their own experience:

– put emphasis on the drive to the rafting site (lots of people have funny stories about being stuck in a car for a few hours)

– talk more about the food (lots of people have memories of a special  food while on a picnic or trip)

– what was your best or worst trip? bring parts of that experience to the story.


Students should be able to produce at 2 to 4 paragraphs of text. Teacher feedback could focus on how the student was able to make the story come alive with words and sentences that make the story readable, enjoyable and believable. In other words, add voice to the story.

Related Activities

This lesson is a good follow up for a previous lesson that helps students understand the concept of voice in writing.

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