I ask students to write 3 short texts to explain “what happened last night” (a scenario I provide in which the student crashed his/her car and then drove away from the police). They write to a parent, a best friend, and the police, three very different audiences. The scenario is highly engaging to students due to its action elements, making the room hum with pencil scratches.
After 10 minutes, I pull students back together to share. First, we hear the parent versions of the story. I call on 5 students to share. Students laugh as each version is heard; they are still engaged. I then ask, what did these versions have in common? Students note that the content was shared to garner sympathy and to hide blame. For example, “I couldn’t see the pole” reveals a student hiding her own blame, and “my neck really hurts” shifts the focus to possible injury of the student rather than damage to the car.
Next, we hear the friend versions. “I slammed into that pole!” reveals the truth about the event and aims to impress, and “Dude, you’ll never guess what happened,” reveals students’ use of slang, two observations the classes notes in discussion of commonalities.
Finally, we hear the police version. Students notice that the language is now much more formal—no slang, no begging for sympathy. The stories still contain an attempt to hide blame, the main commonality with the parent versions, but students comment that there is a clear difference in how these stories come across to the audience. I have the perfect segue.
I ask students how the observations they just made about how writing changes when audience changes connect to our writing work in class. One student immediately volunteers.
“Audience connects to purpose, and purpose connects to how we write.” Yes.
I introduce tone and style (which should be review from previous years) as how we write for audience; it includes word choice and sentence structure, and it should be appealing to the audience in question and appropriate for the type of writing.
I ask students what they think the tone and style should look like for an expository essay, our current focus.
“No slang.” Right.
“No emotional appeals.” Right.
“Present all information.” That gets into content of the essay, but yes, you should be objective as you explain the topic.
“Didn’t you say to use the vocabulary of whatever we’re writing about?” Yes, we touched on that in the introduction lesson.
Students miss a few key points, so I fill in the gaps. I pull up my PowerPoint as a tool and start with the standard itself, which features very specific instructions. Formal style means no conjunctions and no reference to the self. Students chuckle at this last one when I explain I say it that way because I once had a student who tried to outwit me. When I said not to use “I” in formal essays, the students wrote his name instead. As I point out, “John thinks that schools have too many rules,” sounds weird when John is writing it.
With practice and discussion complete, I ask students to apply their new knowledge and revise their extended metaphor essays for style and tone. They should also check for our other requirements, at least one dash and ample, varied transitions, as our next step will be peer revision; it is important to make sure all requirements are met before we peer revise.