Classroom Approaches to Teaching the Genres of Writing
Author(s): Andrew Philp
Copyright holder(s): University of Glasgow: re-use of Crown Copyright material
Writing frames support the pupil in writing in a given genre by providing a ‘scaffold’ or outline structure. Frames consist of a series of prompts that help to make the structure of a text explicit to a writer. These are best not adopted ‘ready-made’, but rather work best if created together with the children through teacher modelling, discussion, or joint construction.
Two examples of possible writing frames suitable for use with the task of writing a Factual Recount are:
I found — interesting for several reasons …
I found out that …
I also learned that …
It was interesting that …
As you can see …
Before I went on the visit to —
I thought that …
But when I got there I found out that …
I also learned that …
Another thing I learned was that …
Finally I learned that …
David Wray and Maureen Lewis have written a very clear introduction for teachers on the use of writing frames (Lewis, D. & M. Wray 1995, "Developing Children’s Non-Fiction Writing").
2. Converting One Genre into Another.
Some teachers involve children in producing a genre in oral form, say spoken instructions or a spoken recount, and then developing it into an acceptable written form, often with the use of model texts. Yet this is really a change of register – in this case from spoken to written – rather than a change of genre. It can also be helpful, in making children aware of the distinctive characteristics of genres, to have them convert one into another. They may, for instance, convert reports in their own writing into recounts or narratives. For example, the first draft of a child’s report on seahorses, from the classroom activity described below, could also be used as the basis of a story about two particular seahorses, written by the pupil herself or with a partner. This conversion or transformation of genre is a very worthwhile writing activity and could be used more in Scottish classrooms.
3. Matching Sentences to Genres.
Pupils can be given a list of sentences which are typical of certain kinds of genre, e.g. ‘place mixture in a large bowl’, and be asked to identify which genre these come from. Teachers may begin to use this activity by restricting the range of genres focused upon. They might begin, for instance, by asking the children to categorise sentences from a limited range of genres: for example, narrative short story and report writing. The teacher should discuss with the class the different features of language exhibited and list them e.g. tense, person, parts of speech. She should link this investigation to the particular genres being taught in class at that time.
4. The Curriculum Cycle.
The ‘curriculum cycle’ is a basic framework for the teaching of genres in relation to topic work. It is widely used, with a variety of adaptations, in Australian schools and, as can be seen from the notes below, aspects of it are now widely advocated for the teaching of writing in British schools.
The Curriculum Cycle
In the key stages outlined, the teacher should:
• Identify major understandings and abilities to be developed in the unit of work.
• Decide which genre is most appropriate to develop those understandings and abilities.
• Plan activities to familiarise pupils with the subject matter – building knowledge of the field of vocabulary and of ways of discussing the topic in our society.
• Provide pupils with opportunities to examine and discuss several examples of the chosen genre.
• Using a text as an example, work with pupils to identify purpose, text organisation, or generic structure of the genre.
• Explore elements of register. For example
• Field – Is the language sufficiently technical, bearing in mind the audience, stage of class etc?;
• Mode – is this to be a spoken or written version of the genre, and does the language appropriately reflect that choice?
• Tenor –is the language sufficiently formal or informal to suit the situation?
• Before writing independently, it is useful for learners to participate in the group writing of a text in the chosen genre.
• Children can work in groups, as a whole class, or as individuals working with the teacher.
• Model the writing process on the blackboard or OHP.
* Having examined specimen texts in the chosen genre, and having had the experience of participating in joint construction, learners should be ready to move on to construct their own text in that genre.
* Writing Frames can provide the kind of scaffolding which can support children in their initial attempts at independent construction of texts.
Teaching Genres: Two Examples from Practice
1. Teaching the Genre of Information Reports.
When we want to describe the phenomena of the world we live in, either to document their fascinating detail or just to store information about them, we write information reports. In primary schools, this is part of the process of reading (and writing) for information.
In this P6 example, the teacher began with work on Dinosaurs, focusing mainly on note-taking and note-making, leading to the joint construction of an Information Report on Dinosaurs. The class then moved on to a different topic, a set of lessons on Environmental Awareness, specifically marine pollution and its effect on sea-life. This work led to the independent construction by the children of a description of Seahorses, following the experience of listening to a model text, while taking notes. The activity culminated in the children researching and writing a number of such descriptions for an environmental brochure on the effects of pollution.
To ‘model’ the taking of notes at the initial stages, the teacher compiled a list of short notes about dinosaurs, photocopied them, cut them up and placed the sets in envelopes. She then introduced the task as a ‘jigsaw’ activity for pairs, who were to select the best order for the cut-up notes, and paste them on a large piece of paper. The various selections were then compared and discussed by the whole class, and a final best order agreed. Thus all of the children gained experience both of content and vocabulary (the ‘field’) and also of text organisation (for clarity and cohesion).
Next, the teacher and class focused together on Information Reports on dinosaurs, using an OHP to highlight text organisation and language features: the typical opening general statement or classification, followed by sets of facts on various aspects of dinosaurs, such as size, habitat, eating habits. They noted the way these facts were grouped under subheadings and paragraphs. Linking words and ‘sentence-starting words’ were also considered, as were such features as ‘moderating words’ (e.g. ‘sometimes’ or ‘mainly’ or ‘almost always’) which are typical of this genre of reports. Together the class and teacher then completed the joint construction of their information report on dinosaurs.
To prepare the children for writing their independent version of such an information report, the teacher used as her model text an adaptation of a newspaper article on seahorses. To discourage them from merely copying it (an occupational hazard of much environmental project work), she read the text to the children several times, while they made notes.
Example of pupil’s note taking
magical creatures different seas tropical
peirs 4 inches long
british coastline South west coast of Scotland
two different kinds smooth, bumps
saint andrews weymouth sealife centre breading
introducing them seviril others sealife centre started as well
up to six weeks to be born smaller than parents
fend for themselves
seahorses cant swim very well
dorsell propelling pectigall stables and stear tail upright
sea grass beds at base of ocean most sheltered places
food praws shrimps weed long nose suck up vacum
masters of camflage blend in well change colours
avoid predators eaten by fish and crabs
not nice meal bony bodys
sadly there worst enemies are men
Then key points about the purpose, organisation and language of the model were revised. Similarities to the dinosaur text were noted, but also some differences. In preparation for their own piece of writing, the teacher asked them to think about the sort of questions that a reader would want answered, and then to write several sentences in response to each question: e.g. ‘What do seahorses look like?’ ‘Where are they found?’ ‘What do they eat?’ etc.
Such ‘scaffolding’ questions are a vital reminder to pupils about organising the text, for (as she reminded them) whenever they started to answer a new question, then they should take a new paragraph. The expected appearance of technical terms in this kind of writing (for instance, ‘dorsal’, ‘pectoral’) and the ‘timeless’ present tense in which the phenomena are normally described (‘Seahorses inhabit ... They feed mainly ...’) were also focused on.
Some of these features clearly appear in this example of a first draft, which sets out the relevant factual information fairly clearly. Some further focus on paragraphing and on using a word-bank or dictionary for the technical vocabulary would improve this first attempt at Functional writing in this genre.
[NOTE: Diagram here in original]
The work then proceeded with the children creating their own generic descriptions of other marine creatures of their choice, for publication in the anti-pollution brochure.
2. Teaching the Genre of Instructions.
In this work the teacher planned to develop skills in the writing of Instructions. With her P4 pupils she chose to write a recipe, adapting the model of the Curriculum Cycle, described above, to her own situation.
Building up the field
The need for a balanced diet had already been introduced to the class during a series of Health Education lessons on ‘My Body’, with the pupils designing and distributing a class survey entitled ‘How Healthy are P4’? The children’s conclusion that they needed more vegetables (!) led to one group examining recipes for healthy foods which they could make – ultimately leading to the children deciding to create their own Fruit Salad. For that, of course, they would need a recipe, or set of instructions that other people could follow.
Modelling the genre
First the teacher discussed with the pupils why we use instructions, and then she went on to use a role play in which she took on the role of a stranger asking for directions. After one child had given her directions, the children, through discussion, came to realise that these instructions were different from those in, for instance, their computer booklet: for in written instructions all the information has to be in the text itself, as when reading there is no-one to ask for extra details or clarification.
After letting the group examine other examples of written instructions, she introduced her model text, written out on a large sheet of card. She discussed and noted the structural and language features of instructions as the children identified them.
[NOTE: Diagram here in original]
Teaching points that were made from this text were:
• The purpose of Instructions is to tell someone how to do or make something.
• Two types of Instructions exist: oral and written. Discussing the differences between them.
• Examples of both oral and written Instructions: directions to reach a destination, games rules, recipes.
• Text Organisation: the structure having a Goal, Materials and a Method.
• Language Features found in instructional texts:
- use of simple language that will be easily understood
- being precise, yet providing sufficient detail for readers to follow easily and accurately
- use of linking words to do with time (first, then)
- not referring to the reader by name, but in a general way (you) or not mentioning the reader at all.
- written in simple present tense, or as command verbs (imperatives).
n.b. We can explain this to children by getting them to think of having to tell someone what to do ‘right now’ (e.g. ‘Peel the bananas’) or else telling them what order to do it in: (‘First you peel the bananas’).
Comparison of effective and ineffective instructions
To consolidate the children’s awareness of the genre, they were asked to compare a ‘good’ set of instructions for setting a table with a ‘bad’ set. They were asked to complete the task of setting the table, with one group following the clear instructions and another group following the unclear ones. It soon became clear to everyone that the lack of detail in their instructions prevented the second group from completing the task successfully.
Returning to the Healthy Eating theme, the teacher explained that a cheese and ham salad sandwich – which they were about to make – contained all the necessary nutrients. The children then shared in the process of making the sandwich and describing that process, while the teacher scribed the instructions on a large card. Using this jointly constructed text to discuss the features of instructions, the children noticed some lack of necessary detail and revised ( or edited) the text.
Two subgroups then prepared different fruit salads, and two spokespersons described the process for the rest. On the following day, the children wrote their recipes independently.
How to Make a Fruit Salad Serves 24
You will need
4 bananas bowl
4 apples dinner knife
7 oranges sharp knife
400g black grapes apple corer
1.5L fruit juice 24 plastic cups and one tablespoon
What to do
1. Peel the bananas then take the dinner knife and cut the banana into slices.
2. Wash the apples then peel them with a sharp knife then take the apple corer and core them. Then chop them into squares with the sharp knife.
3. Wash the oranges then cut them in half with the dinner knife and take the seeds out and put them in the bin.
5. Put all the fruit juice in the bowl then put all the fruit in as well. Pour the fruit salad into the cups.
As an example of an instructional text produced by a P4 child working at Level B/C, this piece of writing seems quite effective. It demonstrates an understanding of text organisation (Goal, Materials, Method), and the child does seem to ‘write in an appropriate form, with adequate vocabulary to communicate key facts’ (Functional Writing, Level C). Of course, there are a few minor points that might be picked up on, but overall this is a satisfactory outcome, based on a clear sense of purpose, context and awareness of the features of this genre.
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Classroom Approaches to Teaching the Genres of Writing. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1424.
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