Genre & Author’s Purpose

A lot of things frustrated me as a teacher, such as how students would ignore the word wall and fail vocabulary tests until I made it an integral part of my teaching (see my Vocabulary Word Wall post from Monday for details), but nothing made me crazier than having students not know basic vocabulary for genre and author’s purpose. Then one year it hit me, it was my fault. I realized that I taught multiple genres, but never addressed the subject as a whole; I taught author’s purpose on occasion, but it was largely a one off unit. I decided that I was going to change all of that and created two new reference areas in my classroom, right next to our word wall.

My ultimate goal was to do with genre and author’s purpose what I’d done with vocabulary: make it an explicit and integral part of every lesson involving text. After discussing the vocabulary and adding it to our word wall, my students and I would turn our attention to genre and author’s purpose. By this point we’d already been skimming the text to find the vocabulary words and read the sentences they appeared in, but we took one more look back at the various text features. Based on the vocabulary, example sentences we’d read, images, and other textual clues we’d seen thus far we would make a prediction as to the genre and the author’s purpose for the text. We’d write the title of the selection on two small shapes (pre-cut calendar shapes work great), attach one to the appropriate genre poster, and the other to the correct section of our author’s purpose pie. We’d then proceed with our lesson and, after we’d thoroughly studied the text, return to our predictions and adjust it if needed.

The students quickly became comfortable with the names of various genres and sometimes engaged in quite heated debates over distinctions such as if a text was historical or realistic fiction. The words persuade, entertain, and inform also became commonplace and the discussions over where to place a particular text could sometimes only be ended by placing it on the line between two sections. The real test came that first spring when standardized testing rolled around. I knew my students could determine genre and author’s purpose as a group, but would they be able to apply their knowledge as individuals, and in a testing situation? I needn’t have worried, they all did great, and their scores rose tremendously on all areas of the test.

I wish I could tell you where I found the genre posters. I know that I downloaded them for free from some location on the internet, but have forgotten where over the years. The only one that I know for sure is the humor poster, which I designed myself to add to my set. All of the posters can be downloaded via the buttons on the above (they are letter sized PDF files). I highly recommend using a cold laminator to protect your posters. The cold lamination lasts much longer than the hot and is not nearly as prone to peeling. The author’s purpose poster is something I made by hand. I used a piece of poster board and then traced around a laundry basket to make the circle. Then, using what little bit of geometry knowledge I have, I measured the diameter, found the center point, and divided the circle into three sections. The letters were stickers I bought at Walmart, or some other similar store. I hung everything on my classroom wall and the fun began.

It really is amazing how small differences can make such a big outcome in student learning. The new vocabulary, genre, and author’s purpose posters and supplies cost less than $25 for the year (and most were reusable), and the discussions only added about ten minutes total to my teaching time. Such a small investment for such huge gains!