Active or Passive Voice? Improving extended response writing

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As many Year 12 students begin their Christmas holiday break, they will organise their class work into study notes. Those students who have begun their final year of school with the Area of Study – Discovery should be looking to improve on results from the first assessment task. In the case of Moss Vale High, the task was an analytical essay based on their understanding of the prescribed text and one related text of their own choosing.

Advanced students are studying Frank Hurley: the man who made history, while Standard students read Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries.

In a previous post, I discussed the different aspects of discovery to be found in The Triffids Wide Open Road music video. That post remains incomplete as I was asked to write a sample essay response for The Motorcycle Diaries and chose Wide Open Road as related material.

Students are sometimes unsure of how to write up their notes, and particularly unwilling to ‘let go’ of the rich detail. This means that their writing can become descriptive rather than analytical.

It is important to remember that 40 minutes is the allotted time for each section or response in the HSC exam. Students will have to make decisions about which information and ideas from a text suit the question and DARE to leave some things out of their response.

When re-working a draft, aim to look beyond a simple spelling correction or sentence change. Perhaps your response would be much stronger if you tighten your expression into an active voice, and add more detail that will support to your argument.

One way to make your response more powerful is by developing your skills in nominalisation. According to Wikipedia,

nominalisation is the use of a verb, an adjective, or an adverb as the head of a noun phrase, with or without morphological transformation.

You can complete some nominalisation activities  and then apply this understanding to your draft. The University of New England has produced a straightforward explanation of active/passive voice and nominalisation with examples.

If you are unhappy with your own writing, consider re-working one of these sample responses Cambridge Checkpoints HSC. Remember, it is important to have your own understanding rather than expect to memorise a pre-prepared response.

For teachers, it could be helpful to introduce these ideas to students in junior years so that their written expression can be developed ahead of NAPLAN testing or senior school. These worksheets provide a sample introduction for Tim Winton’s Lockie Leonard: human torpedo which is a popular text studied in Stage 4 and were developed by Queensland’s Department of Education, Training and Employment in 2010.

Nominalisation – transforming verbs into nouns

Other useful strategies can be found at SMART Teaching Strategies: Nominalisation or NAPLAN Teaching Strategies: Skills Focus – Identifying and Using Active and Passive Voice

* image from http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au with activities from NAPLAN 2011 Teaching Strategies: Identifying patterns and syllables in words

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One response to “Active or Passive Voice? Improving extended response writing

  1. Pingback: Re-discovering the Drafting Process | Multimodal Me·

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