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Why Purpose and Audience, Not Genre, is Key to Teaching Writing

We have always been big advocates of context. Our recent blog, ‘8 Reasons to adopt a book-based Approach this Academic Year’ identified that for many children, context is key, and that this can be a powerful engaging tool when it comes to putting pencil on paper. This blog discusses why audience and purpose fit so well within book-based provision.

 Prior to this curriculum, the emphasis for teaching writing through the old literacy framework was around genre, and planning for English was mainly focussed on two, three or sometimes, even four weeks on a genre so that children could become very familiar with it. This often meant the context changed and whilst looking at one particular genre, e.g, explanations, the children may have written many, each time changing the context. One day it may be explaining the water cycle, the next day it might have been explaining how a flying machine worked. This may well have supported children to be able to list the features of a text type, but it did little to make them aware of who they were writing for and for what purpose. 

This curriculum asks for children to be able to ‘adapt their style and write for different purposes’. Indeed the Teacher Assessment Framework at the end of KS2 also asks that children meeting the standard can ‘write effectively for a range of purposes and audiences, selecting language that shows good awareness of the reader (e.g. the use of the first person in a diary; direct address in instructions and persuasive writing) ‘ and we would agree that children need to be able to use the right grammar at the right time, not just underline the grammatical features when they can spot them. 

The best writing of course, comes when teachers have been able to model and share the writing process and this is what helps children to adapt their tone and style but they need to have an awareness of when to use that writing for when it is the right time. Writing is role can be a valuable tool for diary entries and seem more relevant to a child than a 'recount'. A biography might not be that interesting but a character's obituary in a newspaper might be. We need to be more imaginative about 'genre' or 'writing types' and where they might sit in real life.  It would be pertinent then, whilst immersed within a story, to write an explanation of how something works for a character who needs help, such as the ticket machine in Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’. Let’s also choose to persuade the Mayor of Hamelin in ‘The Pied Piper’ that he needs to employ a rat catcher as the problem is so dire and then let’s write that missing chapter in ‘Leon and the Place Between’ that we are sure the author or publisher would love to know about. This asks a little more of us as teachers and practitioners. It also asks a little more of our children in that we want them to suspend their disbelief and write. But this is what we know supports awe and wonder in the classroom as well as having a method of teaching children that writing always has a purpose – and always has an audience.



The writing on the side just shows some the lovely writing we are sent on a daily basis from people using the Literary Curriculum in schools via Twitter, email and Instagram:


1) ‘Boy in the Tower’ writing. Formal letter to close school, Wikipedia entry, writer from another character’s perspective.

2) ‘The Lost Thing’. Tags for new lost creatures.

3) ‘Man Who Walked Between the Towers’. Newspaper reports of the event itself.

4) ‘The Selfish Giant’.  A letter from the main character.

5) ‘Cloud Tea Monkeys’.  Speech to the sleeping mother. 





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