Jumping into Genre

Study Tips

This post is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing with an introduction to genre-based writing instruction to coincide with the launch of Oxford’s new writing textbook series, Inside Writing. Last time, I talked about how to shift your focus from a rhetorical view of writing 5-paragraph essays to a genre-based concern with how language is used in different social contexts, including the context of schooling.

In this post, I’d like to move into classroom practice: how do you help students learn to write in your target genre? The method I use is a well-developed technique that originated in Australian middle schools called the “Teaching-Learning Cycle” (Rothery, 1996)*. Typically, this starts with an activity they call “Deconstruction,” which is basically a teacher-led analysis of several writing models to help students deduce staging (the typical structure of information) and features of the language used (especially for ESL or other linguistic minority populations). I happened to hear a great example of this on NPR recently about a 6th-grade English class in Chicago. One of the merits of the new Common Core State Standards in both English Language Arts and other disciplines is a great deal of interest in genres of writing. Notice that the students already have a pretty sophisticated understanding of genre — they know that argument is different from persuasion. Now, they look at examples of arguments about about banning cell phones in school (I used almost exactly the same topic, except set at a university, for a unit in Inside Writing!)

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