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! 

Vocabulary Word Wall

Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level A
Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level B

As discussed in pervious posts, I spend a lot of time on vocabulary instruction. Besides the CCSS academic vocabulary units I work through with my students, I also do a lot of content and reading specific vocabulary work. One of my favorite middle school curriculums to teach is National Geographic Cengage’s Inside curriculum. The students and I all find the reading selections interesting, and it pairs well with topics they cover in other classes, especially science and social studies. The only complaint I have is that it needs a lot of supplementation in the areas of grammar and vocabulary instruction. This entire blog is filled with the grammar activities I use to supplement various curricula with, but today I want to focus specifically on vocabulary supplementation.

Most teachers have some form of word wall in their classroom, and I am no exception. I was never happy with mine though, it seemed largely decorative and my students generally ignored it; until I started making it an integral part of our lessons, that is.  I started by expanding the word wall from a small bulletin board to the largest one I had (in one classroom I had entire wall made of bulletin board panels–that one was great for this!), and even using the wall around the board. I then divided it into sections, one for each of the major parts of speech, and put up labels that not only named the part of speech, but also defined them. Finally, I used lots of color so you couldn’t miss seeing my word wall if you tried.

My next step was to go through my curriculum and make a word wall card for every vocabulary word in every story. Each card had the word, a student-friendly definition, and a picture. You can download the pdf version of these cards for yourself using the buttons above. I will warn you though, I never actually taught all eight units of either book, so I never actually finished the final unit of level A, nor the last two of level B. I also realized too late that I would eventually need to sort these cards out again and it might be good to label the back of them with the level and unit number. Hopefully you can learn from my mistake and save yourself some time and work. 

Then came the fun part: the teaching. Before we’d read a selection in our books, my students and I would all gather around the word wall. We’d discuss the vocabulary for that selection one-by-one, talking about the word and its definition, discussing the part of speech, finding it in the text and reading the sentence, and then creating example sentences of our own. We’d then staple the word into the correct section of our word wall and move to the next. By the end of the year we had quite the collection of words, but now they were all words we had carefully considered and used, we’d actually learned the vocabulary. 

Besides the vocabulary from our readings, we also worked with academic vocabulary from two different sources. The first was the previously mentioned CCSS academic vocabulary units I did with all of my classes, and the ELA teachers at the schools used as well. The second was the academic vocabulary addressed by the Inside series. The text books themselves had virtually nothing addressing academic vocabulary, and what was in the workbook was weak and (in my opinion) boring. I ultimately made a list of the words practiced in each unit and created my own academic vocabulary instructional plan and activities. Besides the word wall cards, for each unit we also had a cart we completed (word, picture, definition, example sentence), sort cards, clip cards (center held the definition, the words were around the edges), match-it cards, worksheets, scrambled word sets, and an assessment. The entire package is available for both Inside level A and level B (click the pictures above), but can also be used with any curriculum as they don’t depend on the Inside texts at all.

It took time for the students to adjust, but the word wall became a valuable resource with students often perusing it to remember old words and discover new. Since we spent significant time discussing the words before adding them to the wall, the students felt a sense of ownership over it. When I tried to take some of the older words (from first semester) down to make room for new ones, they protested quite vehemently saying, “Don’t mess up our wall!” I was ultimately forced to expand the word wall to a second (and sometimes third) bulletin board, but I didn’t mind, my students were learning and using new vocabulary!

August 2022 update: Get labels to create CD spinners and play Word Wall Spinner Challenge in Connected Vocabulary.

Spooky Synonyms

Word Cemetery Synonym Activity: Paper
Word Cemetery Synonym Activity: Digital

As English language learners my students typically have a smaller vocabulary than their peers. This is normal and I generally don’t have a problem with it. However, this does not mean that they shouldn’t be learning new words, and we spend a lot of time on synonyms in my class. One October I decided to involve the students in creating a bulletin board for our Halloween / Dia De Los Muertes celebrations. Since we were also in the process of reading Cam Jansen The Mystery Haunted House, I decided to tie the two activities together, but the book is incidental to the activity and you can use either of these activities without reading the book. 

I started by creating a graphic organizer for the students to complete. I wanted them to get practice using a thesaurus, but I didn’t want to totally remove the context of the vocabulary words (see previous posts on ELL accommodations and vocabulary activities for more on why). Thus the graphic organizer had the overused word in the center, a place for synonyms at the top, and the bottom included sections for three different sentences: a sentence from the book using the word, an improved book sentence (students replaced the overused word in the book sentence with one of the synonyms), and an original sentence using a different synonym for the overused word. 

Each student received a different graphic organizer (a total of eight words were represented). After completing the graphic organizer they were able to use it as payment for a tombstone and ghosts. In groups (based on the word from their organizer) the students designed the tombstone listing the overused word as the name and the part of speech as the relationship. They then listed one synonym on each ghost (a minimum of three was required) and decorated those as well. Everything was eventually combined into one bulletin board under the title of “Word Cemetery Where Dead Words Rise As Synonyms.” The students loved it and actually started using some of the synonyms on occasion! Administration thought it was great too and specifically commented on how clever it was after a walk through.

This year our October celebrations are online so I wanted to develop a digital version of the activity. I decided to use one of my favorite programs: Google Slides. The basic concept is still the same and slide four (pictured above) has the eight tombstones, along with an example and a supply of ghosts already provided. The example and tombstones themselves are in the background, and thus protected for accidental (or not-so-accidental) editing. The graphic organizers appear on the following slides, one for each word, and are also in the background, with textboxes supplied for student notes.

One of the things that most excited me about this project was it gave me a chance to create my first “infinity” draw piles. I’d seen other digital activity descriptions refer to them, but hadn’t really thought about their creation. It turned out to be remarkably simple, one of those “Duh!” moments that I seem to be having so often these days. I simply chose my ghost (once again I was able to find the royalty free clipart I needed on Pixaby), added a text box, grouped the two together, and copied/pasted it about 20 times. I then selected all of the ghosts (easier for the first set since I could simply click ctrl+A), right clicked on them, chose align vertically-middle, align horizontally-center, and they had all moved into a single pile. I repeated the process with the second ghost (because I just had to have two different ghosts), and I had two “infinity” piles of ghosts students could drag and drop. Of course the piles aren’t truly never ending, but since students were only required to do three synonyms per dead word (meaning a total of 24 synonyms), and there are about 40 ghosts in total, the chances of them running out are slim. If your students are over achievers, and you fear them running out, simply paste a few more ghosts onto the slide before aligning them into a single pile.

You can get both of these activities for yourself by clicking on the pictures above. As I said, my students found the process to be a lot of fun and it was a great addition to our October festivities. Happy teaching everyone!