The Voice by Kia Penso is a rare and beautiful bird. Part creative nonfiction, part slice-of-life, it is a bit like a prose haiku in that within an extremely compact space it shines a light upon a small moment in time and renders it extraordinary.
Set in Washington D.C., Penso acts as an observer to a series of events that play out before her on a busy city street. Like all the best creative nonfiction, she sets the stage for a gripping story to unfold. Complete with a cast of characters, conflict and tension, and a surprise twist ending, an entire world is presented to the reader in a mere three paragraphs.
This piece and its accompanying lesson plans fulfill English State Content Standards dealing with literary response and analysis and writing applications. The Voice is a wonderful vehicle for teaching creative nonfiction or inspiring student journaling. It is appropriate for all middle school and high school students.
LESSON PLAN SUGGESTIONS
1. ELEMENTS OF LITERATURE
Creative nonfiction deals with factual events and applies aspects of storytelling to create compelling narratives. Kia Penso’s piece deals with real events, but she relays these events with all the skill of a master storyteller. In fact, her piece contains all the elements of a good story, including the following: narrative voice, setting, exposition, main and supporting characters, conflict and tension, resolution, imagery, and irony. If your students are not familiar with these terms, discuss them as a class or have students look up their meaning. If your students are already familiar with these concepts have them read the The Voice and then practice identifying these elements within the story.
2. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. In three short paragraphs Kia Penso tells a very powerful and compelling story about something she witnessed on a city street. What is your personal reaction to this piece of writing?
2. Good creative or narrative nonfiction reads like a story rather than an essay or article. Which character did you like best? What did you think of the surprise ending?
3. Kia Penso acts as a 1st person narrator in this piece, but she is more of an observer than an actor in the events she describes. What do you think of her as a narrator/ observer? Can you describe her style?
4. What do you think of Penso as a “character” in this story. What do you think of her actions or lack of actions?
5. Irony is when something turns out to be the opposite of what you expect to happen. Point to the irony in this story. What aspects make it ironic?
6. Do you know any one who is blind? Do you know the polite way to assist a blind person? What do you think it is, if you don’t know for sure. Place yourself in the blind woman’s shoes for a moment.
7. If you had to assign a theme to this story what would it be?
3. ESSAY PROMPT
Write an essay that analyzes the stylistic devices used by Penso to make this an exemplary piece of creative nonfiction. You must have a firm grasp of the genre creative nonfiction and other elements of literature.
4. CREATIVE NONFICTION PROMPT
Observe a scene in a public place. Do not interact with anyone or anything, just sit back and observe. You may choose to watch just one person or observe the actions of an entire group. (Hopefully something interesting will happen!)When you replay the scene in your writing, treat it like a story. Describe the setting, the characters, the conflict or tension present, and if possible a resolution. Write in the first person and describe your own thoughts and feelings as well.
5. JOURNALING PROMPT
Journals are places where you record your thoughts and feels, relay the stories and events of your life, and sometimes capture small snippets of things that amuse or otherwise move you. Write about a “slice of life” moment that you’ve experienced. Pick an event you’ve witnessed that surprised or pleased you for some reason. Make it special by writing about it as if it were a story.
CALIFORNIA STATE CONTENT STANDARDS
Structural Features of Literature
3.1 Analyze characteristics of subgenres that are used in poetry, prose, plays, novels, short stories, and essays.
Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.2 Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or
comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.
3.3 Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, and the author’s style achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes.
2.1 Write fictional, autobiographical, or biographical narratives:
a. Narrate a sequence of events and communicate their significance to the audience.
b. Locate scenes and incidents in specific places.
c. Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene and
the specific actions, movements, gestures, and feelings of the characters; use interior
monologue to depict the characters’ feelings.
d. Pace the presentation of actions to accommodate temporal, spatial, and dramatic mood
e. Make effective use of descriptions of appearance, images, shifting perspectives, and