When I’m asked how to teach author’s purpose to elementary students, the first thing I think of is PIE. You know, the acronym for persuade, inform, and entertain. There are many cute images online of a pie with the three letters P.I.E. in them. It’s a great way for young students to remember these three genres. It has a visual, a name most kids can remember, and it’s something they like.
On the other hand, some teachers want to know how to teach genre to elementary students. It’s a similar concept as author’s purpose, just different wording.
Genre is a word that by its very nature and sound frightens many students. They see the word, and usually can’t pronounce it. When teaching genres to elementary students many teachers proceed to share with the class all the different types of genres there are in the writing universe. If this describes what you do…
Stop right there.
Let’s keep this topic simple.
Let’s make it as easy as P.I.E.
I don’t even mention the word genre except in reference to reading. Let them practice, practice, and practice again first in informative writing, then in persuasive writing, and finally in writing to entertain. This way you give your wonderful students the opportunity to master each genre within author’s purpose before moving on to a new one.
Types of writing genres for elementary students to master
The main thing students should learn in elementary school is that writing is meant to be read. They have an audience. They might be telling the audience something they learned or know how to do, which is informative writing. This is the easiest for them to master and is where I always begin. If they’re writing to ask for something, such as trying to get their parents to buy them a phone or tablet, the author’s purpose is persuasive writing. Last of all, if they write stories, poems, or other types of creative writing, they are writing to entertain their readers. Using these three broad categories, I teach writing with the PIE analogy which is only one way to teach author’s purpose. However, I’ve found the PIE analogy sticks in their heads better than other methods.
Using the PIE analogy to teach author’s purpose
Using the PIE analogy is a quick and simple way to break down the different writing genres for students in the primary grades. When you teach writing genre to elementary students, this visual is easy for them to understand, and easy for them to remember. PIE stands for three reasons that writers write.
- P – Persuade (Think opinion writing, requests for something, etc.)
- I – Inform (Think reports, basic biographies, compare and contrast, announcements, how-to writing, recipes, etc.)
- E – Entertain (Think narratives, poetry, imaginary stories, and even jokes.)
By and large, writing to inform can be the easiest for young students to master. They write about something they have learned, or they write to tell the reader something informative. With a visual chart or diagram, or even a hand drawn anchor page, they can concentrate on the task at hand. Are they working on informative writing? Then they focus on the I part of the PIE. Nothing else. Don’t teach other genres of writing until your primary students have a clear understanding of the basic structure of informative writing.
Compare and Contrast Writing
I like to begin with compare and contrast writing. The first week of school we start writing about one type of animal. I choose to start with panda bears because kids in 3rd grade love them. They love to read about them, watch videos about them, do art about them, and after all of that, they write about them. Next, we do similar prewriting activities about polar bears. Once they’ve written a short piece about what they learned we move on the first writing “project” of the year.
This is a good place to start, because over the previous several days, you’ve laid a fine groundwork of facts and writing about two animals. The students won’t feel intimidated because they already have a solid background knowledge of the two animals. Now all the students are required to do is compare and contrast the two with a Venn diagram. Then they write a short report telling what things are similar and what things are different. This can be done as early as second grade. By making the material more challenging at each grade level, you can use this type of beginning of the year writing assignment all the way up to 5th grade. It can be on any topic you prefer, just assign two topics and cover them thoroughly before giving them the compare and contrast writing assignment.
How to Organize Compare and Contrast Writing
I used to have the students do this on paper and keep the pages in a folder. But I’m sure you can guess what happened. Lost papers, torn papers, wrinkled papers and pages that disappeared into the deep, dark, depths of what we call the student desk. So I created a digital notebook in Google Slides to keep all of this organized.
These digital notebooks are so convenient and easy to use. I like them so much that I created another one for compare and contrast writing. The one I have right now is a blank template with twelve cover options, because it has to look cute, right? It has four writing pages options for beginning to advanced writers. It has four graphic organizers and one writing scaffold for the very beginning writers or EL / ESL students.
Then I had the brilliant idea to put a rubric right into the digital notebook. I can grade the writing, (or not, if I decide it’s just for practice.) The rubric sits right beside the writing page, but it won’t print if I want to print a copy to hang on the bulletin board or wall.
I love this new tool! This digital interactive notebook for compare and contrast writing makes it so simple to keep all the pieces in one place. The students seem to really like it too. That’s the most important part for me, because if they don’t like it, they won’t be motivated to write.
Another big bonus is that it’s perfect to use as a portfolio of work for parent conferences, IEP meetings, conferencing with individual students, or any time that it’s helpful to have evidence of student work at hand. Which is pretty much all the time for a teacher!
Teach Author’s Purpose to Help Students Write
The goal in the primary grades is to get students to enjoy writing. Another goal is to help them realize that writing is a form of communication, so everything they write needs to make sense to the reader. Hence the term, “Author’s Purpose.” What is the writer trying to communicate, and to whom? These are big concepts for early writers, but they lay the foundation for advancing to more extensive and complex writing tasks in middle school and beyond.
Students enjoy writing about things they’re interested in. Honestly, who doesn’t want to write about things they either know something about or want to learn more about?
Knowing that someone will be reading their writing, or listening to their writing is critical. Did you ever have a diary when you were young? I know I did, and I almost never wrote in it. Why? Number one, because I was afraid my sister would read it. Number two, because deep in my ten-year-old heart, I knew there was no audience for my diary. Therefore, my diary was full of blank pages.
Have Students Record Their Writing
Let your students read their writing to each other. Let them know you’re reading it. One fun way to share writing is with Flipgrid, or Screencastify, or some other video recording program. The kids love to share this way. Also, it forces them to read their writing aloud, which is one of the key components to my self-editing system. It’s amazing how many times students will stop recording and go back to fix something they missed when they did their earlier edits.
Keep It Simple
Just to recap it all, remember KISS. Keep It Super Simple!
- Teach only one genre at a time, and teach it to mastery. I start with informative writing. Teach them about Author’s Purpose.
- Keep all the writing papers in one place. If you’re going digital, keep them all in one digital notebook.
- Teach your students to self edit and read their writing aloud.
- Write every day.
In the end, your students, each and every one of them, should be able to produce coherent, clear, high quality writing after you teach each genre. They’ll be proud, you’ll be proud, and their parents will be proud. That’s when they will stop fearing writing and begin to enjoy it.
Do you have other acronyms or strategies for teaching Author’s Purpose? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
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