College Essay Writing Workshop Part 2

Introduction: Finding Your Voice

10 minutes


  • Before we talk about what makes a good essay, we are going to complete a writing exercise that has nothing (and everything!) to do with personal statements.
  • You have a unique voice, and a personal statement offers a valuable opportunity to showcase it.

Discuss the concept of voice

  • Note that this is one of the most important things you will discuss in this workshop.
  • Talk about the elements of a speaking voice (tone, volume, word choice, etc.)
  • Ask what makes a “writing voice.” Answers should include:
    • Word choice
    • Images
    • Details
    • Sentence structure

Voice exercise

  • Ask student to take out something to write with. They will each need 1 or 2 blank sheets of paper or a laptop/tablet.
  • Explain the rules:
    • This is a journaling activity.
    • Think about your morning (THIS MORNING – not “mornings” in general.)
    • What happened to you from the moment you opened your eyes? What did you see, hear, smell, feel. (Not “breakfast,” but “vanilla Dannon yogurt that I ate in the car with a plastic spoon.”
    • Write as fast as you can.
    • Don’t try to be creative. Just write.
    • Don’t worry about making sense.
    • No crossing out or correcting what you write. JUST WRITE!
    • Don’t think about writing in full sentences. Just scribble down whatever comes to mind – images, fragments, sights, smells, tastes, sounds, textures, memories, associations.
    • Do not pick up your pen. If you get stuck, keep going. List whatever comes to mind when you recall that moment/experience.
  • Allow 10 minutes for this activity. If students stop writing, gently encourage them to continue. There are no right or wrong answers. The goal is to not think too hard. Just write.
  • At the 10-minute point, say STOP. Everyone should finish the thought they are on, then put down their pens.

Find the great details

  • Say: Before we talk about what you’ve written, I want you to go back through it.
  • Say: Circle 2-3 great details from your journaling. The idea is to find fresh images, ideas or bits of language – each one could be one word or an entire chunk of text. These details should be things that differentiate the writer in some way (experience, word choice, etc.)
  • Allow 5 minutes.
  • Conclude by asking volunteers to share one great detail each.
    • Go around the room quickly.
    • If time and interest allow, go around a second time.
    • Praise their choices. This is the quality of detail you want to see in their writing for the rest of the workshop.

Note to instructor: This concept will come up again in Step 4 (Free Write for Details)