We use language to achieve a range of social purposes, for example, telling a story, retelling what we did on our holidays, or persuading an audience of a particular point of view about a topic such as whether students should do homework.
The texts we create to achieve these social purposes can be referred to as genres or text types (Derewianka & Jones, 2016, p. 7).
Genres which achieve the same social purpose tend to follow similar structural patterns or generic structure (Butt, Fahey, Feez & Spinks, 2012, p. 251). For example, a typical structure for narrative is Orientation, Complication, Resolution, with Evaluation phases included across the narrative or in one particular place. Importantly, texts can also deviate from what might be seen as the typical or generic structure.
A narrative can also begin ‘in the action’ or an argument might begin with a short narrative. Once students are familiar with the more generic structure, ways of innovating on the genre should be explored and encouraged.
In the primary school, genres or text types commonly composed (and read) across the primary curriculum in different forms are: narrative, recount, persuasive, procedure, information report and explanation. For an overview of genres, see
Genre overview (docx - 35.12kb)
Macro genres are texts which involve different genres. For example, a text about sleep might begin with an information report about sleep and later include an explanation of what happens when we sleep.
Genre for EAL/D learners
Teaching EAL/D students to recognise and create texts in different genres is central to teaching language and literacy. When students create commonly recognised text types, their messages are more readily recognised and understood. A clear understanding of the purpose and audience for the text assists students to communicate purposefully and effectively.
It may be helpful to have visuals to make the elements of 'audience' and 'purpose' concrete. For example, the task of writing a recipe might be accompanied by a picture of a person standing in their kitchen and reading a text.
Different languages and cultures will have texts with similar purposes, but some of the conventional structures and expected language features may differ. It may be worthwhile to discuss features and conventions of specific text-types with the class. For example, when exploring traditional narratives or fairy tales, the class might discuss questions such as:
- What phrases do we usually find at the beginning or end of fairy tales?
- Who are typical villains?
- Where are the tales typically set?
- How does this compare with narratives in other languages or from other cultures that you're familiar with?
Strategies for teaching genre to EAL/D learners
- Provide a simple text cut up into different sections, with a template showing headings for each section in order. Ask students to read the text and put it in order using the headings. This can help students understand how the stages in a particular genre fit together.
- Provide two simple examples of texts of the same genre. Ask students to read each text and think about similarities in the structure. Ask them to suggest headings or names for each stage of the genre.
- If working on a particular stage of a genre, provide a simple example of that genre with one stage missing. Ask students what the audience would expect to find out in that stage. Co-construct the missing section of the text.
- Find examples of texts with similar purposes in different languages (or ask students to find an example with the aid of a family member). Compare and contrast the structure and language features of these texts so that students have a concrete understanding of the text type in both English and home language.
- Compare and contrast the same text type in different languages. This can be useful for all students. For example, recipe books (or online recipes) in different languages will share many aspects of layout that students can recognise. These features may include headings, sections (e.g. introduction, ingredients, method) and images.
- Provide students with a graphic organiser which includes the key elements of the target text-type. Students read an example of the target text-type in their home language and complete the graphic organiser in English, supplying the missing information. For example, in a narrative, students could analyse the orientation and answer the questions 'who', 'what', 'when' and'where' about the text.
- Ask an EAL/D student to write or tell a story using a familiar structure they have learnt from home. Then support them to work with peers to rewrite that story using a conventional English narrative structure. Compare and contrast the two versions. Ask students to suggest some ‘rules’ or a structure for home language narratives.
- Ensure that EAL/D students become familiar with the metalanguage needed to discuss genre. Identify the key terms related to the target genre and have students create a reference sheet. For example:
- Term: Coda
- Home language equivalent: die Moral
- Definition or explanation: A key message or something you are supposed to learn from the story
- Example: In Red Riding Hood, the coda is that you shouldn't speak to strangers (e.g. the big, bad wolf) and should do what your parents tell you.
Genre in the early years
In the teaching of writing, it is important that students understand:
- the purpose of the text being written,
- the audience it is intended for and
- the language choices which shape the intended meanings for both purpose and audience.
Children in the early years of primary school will typically compose texts which do not include all stages of a structure, or texts which might include brief or abridged versions of the stages. Although these texts might be rudimentary examples of the genre, these texts will still represent the main function or purpose of the text type.
For example, a young child might write the following kinds of texts about cats:
- Cats are furry animals.
- Cats are better than dogs because they clean themselves.
- Yesterday, we took my cat Fluff to the vet.
- Once upon a time there was a cat that had nowhere to live. One day a family found the cat and they lived happily ever after.
Each text serves a different social purpose and, while there are some similarities in the language choices in each, there are also differences which help establish a certain meaning.
Butt, D., Fahey, R., Feez, S & Spinks, S. (2012). Using Functional Grammar: An Explorer`s Guide (3rd edition). South Yarra: Macmillan Education Australia.
Derewianka, B. & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching language in context (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Vic: Oxford University Press.