Explicit instruction of writing genres begins with teaching what is a writing genre and the types of writing genres. This explains it and includes links to several other posts about explicit teaching in writing.

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I love hearing from readers of this blog. Your questions help me know what’s on your mind, and what you want to read more about.

One reader recently asked about explicit instruction of three writing genres; informational, narrative, and opinion. Here are some helpful suggestions for the basics of teaching how to write in each format. Are you wondering what is a writing genre and what are the types of writing genres?

There are several. But before we chat about them, I’d like to mention one important step before teaching your lessons in three specific writing genres typically taught in upper elementary grades.

A teacher working with a student in a workbook in tones of pink and blue. The title is Explicit Instruction of Writing Genres. Includes a link to the blog post.

Teach the Characteristics of the Writing Genres First

Imagine you’re in a class of students and you give them an assignment to write an opinion piece. But then you realize they don’t know the characteristics of that type of writing. We have to teach the specifics of what each genre includes before we even begin a writing assignment.

Teachers know it’s best not to assume students have learned something in the previous school year, and also remember it from the grade before. This is one (of gazillions) of times when reteaching is essential as a way of laying the groundwork before starting a new lesson.

Here are the essential characteristics students need to be taught about each genre. How about we start with opinion writing?

Simplified Format for Opinion Writing

Opinion pieces follow this format in upper elementary. In higher grades, the format is a little more complex, but this is the solid foundation to begin.

  1. State an opinion.
  2. Provide 1-3 reasons to support the opinion.
  3. In grades 4-6 have them include what I call the Es: explain, expound, give evidence, give examples, etc.
  4. Use transition words to link the opinion, claim, and reasons. These can be as simple as first, next, last, or they can be more complex as students gain mastery and advance in the upper grades. We call this “vary and bury.”
  5. Restate the opinion in a concluding statement.

Guidelines for the Informative Writing Genre Lessons

Informative writing takes many different forms, (compare and contrast, procedural, research report, etc.) Each one needs explicit instruction, but they all have a few things in common.

  1. Use a graphic organizer to organize the ideas and information. Simple graphic organizers save you time and headaches. I think it’s best to choose one familiar graphic organizer for each style of writing, and stick to it. There’s no reason to have students wasting time learning how to use a new graphic organizer for every writing project.
  2. Begin the writing by stating a thesis or main idea for the paper. You’ll need to give examples of what you expect to see in a thesis statement.
  3. Expound on the ideas and information in each paragraph, using the Es. In case you’re unfamiliar with what I mean by the Es, they are example, explanations, elucidation, expanding, expounding, and so on. The Es explain a topic clearly.
  4. Provide a concluding statement that restates the main thesis or opening statement.

It’s often been said to teach your students this:

“Tell the reader what you’re going to tell them, then tell them the facts and details, then tell them again in a conclusion, restating what you just told them.”

Explicit teaching of tell the reader, explain to the reader, tell the reader again in a conclusion. On a blue and white background.
Tell the reader, tell the reader, tell the reader again.

Teaching the Narrative Writing Genre

Narratives can be tricky. Many teachers make narrative writing harder than it needs to be. They think they have to let students explore their own writing prompts and ideas.

That’s a myth. Let it go.

Here’s why letting students all choose different prompts of their own is not the best or most effective use of your teaching time.

You can give every single student in your class a writing prompt of, for example, this one:

“Write about the day the school was snowed in.”

Every single student in your class will have a different narrative to tell. There’s no lack of creativity involved in using this pedagogical strategy. You will get as many different stories as you have students.

In fact, every month of October, we published a book of stories in my class. The prompt was to write about a scary event or experience. Never did I see two of the same stories. We published the student stories and handed it out at parent-teacher conferences.

Using one prompt also saves time because every student can get started right away. No one will be stranded in the sandy desert of “I don’t know what to write about!”

Even better, it saves you time in grading because when you’re only dealing with one prompt you can grade much more quickly. You’re going to be able to be more specific about what you expect to see. You can even write those expectations into your rubric.

When explicitly teaching about narrative, teach the story arc. In the upper grades, when students are writing longer stories, teach the character arc as well.

Read-aloud books are an excellent way to show how the author’s story followed the classic arc. Choose a book that has a dramatic change in the character. For example, in the novel Wish by Barbara O’Connor, the main character goes from being angry and isolated to being a good friend with a loving family. Do you know of more great books for classroom read-alouds that are good for teaching character arc?

Teach the Classic Narrative Story Arc

The classic arc follows the SWBST narrative format:

Somebody Wanted, But, So, Then

One example might be: Juanita wanted a bike but she didn’t have any money, so she started a pet sitting business and then she bought her bike.

  1. Begin with the characters. (What do they want?) (Somebody wanted…)
  2. Add events showing what they want and they’ll do to get it. (Still wanted…)
  3. Add setback events. (But…)
  4. Show what the character does to overcome the setback. (So…)
  5. End the story. (Then…) (I always said the stories had to have happy endings, but that’s just me!)
An image of a book with a boy and a tree on a blue and white background with the title Narrative Story Arc, SWBST.
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Another acronym to teach the classic narrative arc is CSEEEPS.

Character, Setting, Event, Event, Event, PROBLEM (the ultimate moment), Solution

You can display a big arc or a mountain diagram and use it to show how the story builds, the climax, and the resolution.

One more piece of valuable advice is this:

Focus on only one genre at a time.

Don’t skip around like so many textbooks tend to do. That only creates confusion for the students and slows down their achievement of mastery.

Give your students time to learn and fully understand the workings of one writing genre before teaching them to write in another. Wait until they’ve built a good foundation in each one before moving to the next.


Helpful Blog Posts for How to Explicitly Teach Writing Genre

Do you want to explore further?

Here are the most popular blog posts on the topic. You can also use the search bar or click on the related posts at the bottom of each page to find more posts about each topic.

There’s a whole series of narrative writing posts. This is a good one to start with, and then follow the links through to the other posts.

As you work through the narrative writing series, you’ll also find a presentation for teaching narrative writing. You can download it for free from the Member Vault.

Informative writing on the blog is broken into subgenres. I’ll be adding more post in this writing genre, because it has so many types.

Enjoy reading through these posts! I hope you find them helpful.

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*Some of the links in this post contain affiliate or paid for advertising. When you click on the link, I may receive a small remuneration, at no extra cost to you. 

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