The Need to Teach Author’s Purpose
A new fad swept through the halls of Loskor Middle School. Everyone was wearing neon colored tube socks around their wrists. Curious, I stopped Benny Bleavemuch and asked him what was going on. He replied, “We all read this great informative piece on the health benefits of wrist sportswear and now we’re all wearing them, so we don’t get carpel tunnel syndrome and die a horrifying death at the computer keyboard.”
“Where exactly did you read this? Was it a medical journal?” I asked.
“Oh no,” Benny replied. “The wrist sportswear manufacturer sent out an e-mail telling us about it. That sure was nice of them.”
I shook my head, walked away, and realized I needed to come up with ideas tof teach the author’s purpose suitable for all grade levels.
Ideas for the Elementary Level
Teach children as soon as they can read (or watch TV) about author’s purpose. The three main purposes are to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. Use these lesson procedures to teach this concept.
- Explain the three purposes and what each means.
- Match author’s purposes for common forms of writing
- To inform - newspaper or magazine articles, text books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, food labels, instructions.
- To persuade - newspaper editorials, persuasive essays, advertisements.
- To entertain - stories, comic books, novels, short stories.
- Read one example of each–appropriate to reading level.
- Ask what the author’s primary purpose is and find examples as you read.
- You may wish to talk about secondary purposes, depending on the level of your readers. For example, a short story’s primary purpose might be to entertain, but may also be trying to inform the reader about a specific social problem.
A Lesson for Young Children
Those who teach young children can use the following lesson to help them understand author’s purpose.
- Show an age appropriate television commercial–toy commercials work best. Toy packaging or print ads can also be used (these are reading lessons, after all).
- Ask students if they really think the toy is as fun as it looks in the advertisement. Because they might say yes, you may want to choose a TV commercial or ad of a toy you actually own, preferably a boring one.
- Noticing the words and pictures in the ad, ask them why the ad makes the toy look so much more exciting than it really is. You may want to talk about toys they have not liked or toys they got tired of playing with after a few days.
- Talk about how toy companies make their toys look like a lot of fun because their purpose is to persuade you to buy the toy.
- Ask how they could find information on how the toy really is.
- The discussion should lead them to a type of writing that informs rather than persuades.
These lessons form the building blocks for further study. For the older elementary age, The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test provides online practice reading for the author’s purpose.
Public domain clipart courtesy of Wpclipart.com
Ideas for the Middle Schoolers
Middle school students should know the three main author’s purposes: to inform, to persuade, to entertain. You may, however, need to review before tackling the following lesson.
Basic Middle School Lesson
- Assemble several small passages.
- For each passage, students should identify the author’s purpose and where one might find a passage like it.
Once the Basics are Understood Lesson
This lesson goes beyond general purpose and looks at specifics.
- Read the same passages.
- Make sure each student understands the purpose of each reading passage, have him or her identify the specific purpose; that is, instead of saying the author’s purpose is to persuade, state precisely what the author is trying to persuade you to do. Instead of saying the author’s purpose is to inform, state what exactly the author informs you about. Instead of stating the author’s purpose is to entertain, state the method the author uses to entertain–humor, suspense, danger, etc. (this requires a basic understanding of literary elements).
Once Students Have Mastered the Concept Lesson
- Assign a topic
- Instruct students to write one paragraph on the topic with the purpose of informing the reader; one paragraph intended to persuade the reader; and one paragraph intended to entertain the reader.
- For more advanced students, assign one writing exercise with a main purpose (inform, persuade, or entertain) and underlying elements of the other purposes. For example, a student could write a story about bullying that entertains, informs students of the problem, and has a main purpose of persuading students not to do it.
These lessons can e tailored for students of all reading levels.
Ideas for High School Students
Students should have a firm grasp on author’s purpose before attempting the following lesson. That may make a review necessary. This lesson focuses on specific literary elements, stylistic devices, and structure, and the author’s purpose for using them.
- Annotate a literary passage. It could be prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. Another option is to find specific examples involving a larger piece of literature you’ve read as a class.
- Find a reoccurring literary device (writing full of metaphors or similes), a specific pattern or structure (parallel structure, the use of subordinate clauses, or a specific rhyme scheme of a poem), stylistic devices (heavy dialect or the use of elevated language) or rhetorical devices (the use of rhetorical questions or the use of repetitions or anaphora).
- Write an analysis paragraph on the author’s purpose in using the identified literary devices, structural pattern, or stylistic devices. The paragraph must include a topic sentence, evidence from the passage, and an explanation. Example topic sentences include:
- Elie Wiesel in Night uses figurative language extensively because life in a concentration camp was too horrible for a literal description.
- In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses a frame structure with multiple layers to show that Frankenstein’s monster, in addition to having no parentage or name, has no voice.
- William Wordsworth, in “Daffodils," uses personification and similes to describe how humans can connect with God through Nature.
- Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech uses anaphora to help his listeners focus on the “dream” of the future and not the nightmare of the past.
This assignment gives a more focused look on author’s purpose, going beyond the general use of the term and examining how literary devices contribute to the theme of the work.
Years of Teaching and Study.
This post is part of the series: Teaching Reading and Thinking Skills
Teachers are faced with the difficult task of preparing students for jobs that currently do not exist. Focusing on content will not prepare them for the world they will inhabit. It becomes, therefore, critical to focus skills to prepare them for life. Begin with reading and thinking skills.