A Cautionary Blog Post About Using Structure Strips

Please note that this blog-post is not anti structure-strip. As this post and the research that informs it will explain, they can be a highly-effective self-regulatory resource that children can certainly learn and build from!

When reading about writing, you are often faced with one of two extremes. At one end of a continuum is the belief that ‘language,’ including writing, cannot be effectively taught unless it is solely acquired through experiences and by being presented with a situation which causes an authentic reason to write.

At the other end is the idea that language is best learned through tutelage, rote-learning and explicit instruction in its structures, forms and conventions.

As is often the case with extremes, academic research and sensible practitioners suggest a moderate middle ground is required. Language is best learned through a combination of authentic experiences and explicit instruction.

Explicit teaching (in this case explicit teaching of particular text structures through structure-strips) can obviously improve composition of those taught structures. However, aside from text-structure research, structure-strips don’t by themselves account for research into providing authentic literacy activity and teaching children the processes of writing.

These genre ‘norms’ that we teach through the use of structure strips (or indeed through our own Genre-Booklets) we must remember are not actually static but change to reflect changing needs and contexts for writing. Written genre function (so the purpose and audience involved) will always drive the way a written genre is formed, manipulated and potentially hybrid by a writer.

The criticism of such approaches (if used too rigidly) is that they can become overly prescriptive and give children a static vision of genres. We must be careful that this doesn’t result in a return to skill and drill. Where we end up teaching empty genres with overly prescriptive structures which, over time, will block children’s writing development.

Please don’t get us wrong here! We too believe in teaching and making available to children the different forms and structures of the most powerful genres. Like we’ve said, we do so through our Genre-Booklets. We do it as a social justice issue; ensuring that all children have choice and are not limited in their knowledge of the different genres in writing and the different situations in which they can be used out in the real-world. But we simply must provide children with opportunity to use these learnt structures for their own reasons too. Once taught, children should be allowed to do two things with this new found genre/structure knowledge:

  1. Input their own writing topics into them; using them for themselves in their personal writing projects.
  2. Have opportunity to experiment with manipulating, deliberately contradicting and potentially hybriding these otherwise static structures.

‘Authentic writing activities are essential to genre learning.’ (Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau, 2007, p.12)

Even advocates of explicit teaching of writing agree that having the opportunity to write authentically is critical. Delpit (1988), a staunch advocate of explicit teaching of writing, argues that:

Merely adopting direct instruction is not the answer. Actual writing for real audiences and real purposes is a vital element in helping students to understand that they have an important voice in their own learning processes. (p. 289)

New London Group (1996) also state: ‘if one of our pedagogical goals is mastery of [writing] practice, then immersion in …authentic versions of such practice is necessary. (p. 84)

Children write effectively when they are afforded high levels of autonomy and agency in terms of topic choice alongside explicit teaching of genre features and structures (Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau, 2007).

What’s most important here though is Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau’s (2007) statement that learning structures and genres in a decontextualized and ‘school-only’ manner is not helpful. In fact, under these conditions, children develop the least.

When you look at research into effective writing instruction, instruction of genre function and structures should be combined with teaching writing process strategies.

In conclusion, explicit explanation of genre purpose and structures combined with teaching children the different processes involved in writing married with plenty of opportunity for children to authentic write in those genres constitutes the most effective writing instruction.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

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This article is written with the intention to inform and provide interested parties with the opportunity for reflection. All approaches to the teaching of writing come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Being aware of certain limitations in some pedagogies is not to dismiss certain practices in schools nor those employed by teachers. Rather, this article is only looking to seek a clearer definition of the circumstances in which learning to write is likely to arise in classrooms.

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research and writings but may not represent our employer.**

References:

  • Purcell-Gates, V.,  Duke, N., & Martineau, J., (2007) Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching In Reading Research Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 1
  • Delpit, L., (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s children. Harvard Educational Review, 58, 280–298.
  • New London Group,. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 60–92.
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Genre-Booklets: Helping Both Children & Teachers To Write

What Are Genre Booklets?

Genre-based approaches to teaching writing…achieve spectacular improvements in student outcomes, from twice to more than four times expected rates of learning’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1)

Our booklets teach children the meaning and purposes behind certain text-types. They make this information explicitly available to teachers but are also really child friendly.

The booklets share with children the characteristics of the different text-types. They cover the most popular genres across the curriculum and also children’s favourite genres. They explain the social goals of the text type without telling children exactly what to do! Instead, they help children enjoy and develop their own ideas and make their writing academically successful.

I’ve used these genre booklets and think they are utter genius. Brilliant, so thank you!

These booklets are brilliant. They are a ‘show rather than tell’ of how to write.

What Genre Booklets Do:

  1. Explain the social purpose of the the text-type.
  2. Share with children what people usually write about.
  3. Explain how to interact with your reader.
  4. Suggest how to display your writing.
  5. Give hints about what grammar and linguistic features are going to be useful.
  6. Share exemplar texts of the genre in action.
  7. Provide a planning grid, showing the stages your writing can go through.

Our Current Genre-Booklets:

  • Narrative writing
    • How to write a memoir (personal narrative)
    • How to write a short story
      • How to write a fable
      • How to write a horror/scary story
      • How to write a vivid setting
      • How to write an interesting character
      • How to write a memorable and vivid story (advanced)
  • Non-fiction writing
    • How to write an information text
    • How to write a book review
    • How to write instructions
    • How to write rules
    • How to write an explanation
    • How to write a discussion text
    • How to write persuasively
      • How to write a persuasive letter
      • How to write a persuasive leaflet and advert
  • How to write a newspaper article
    • How to write advocacy journalism
    • How to write a match report
    • Letter to the editor: responding to a newspaper article.
    • How to write a letter of complaint
  • History writing
    • How to write public history
    • How to explain the past
    • How to debate the past
    • How to write a biography
  • How to write a science report
  • How to write a free-verse poem

How To Use Our Genre Booklets:

Firstly, we use the Genre-Booklets to write our own exemplar to share with our class. Whilst sharing, we explain our intentions for the piece: why we wrote it, why we chose the topic and what impact we wanted it to have on our readers. The children then give their critique and ask questions. We then invite the children to have a go at writing their own piece – using the Genre-Booklet to help them.

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We recommend that our Genre-Booklets be used as part of our Real-Word Literacy approach. You can find out more by clicking here.

These Are Our Main Reflections:

  • Children no longer seem to require so much support from us. They write more freely and happily.
  • Children are taking greater care when planning.
  • Children’s writing is purposeful and always reflects the genre being written.
  • Their writing is genuinely informative or entertaining and is often cohesively produced.
  • Children aren’t so tentative to begin writing.
  • Children’s motivation to write has increased dramatically.
  • Children’s motivation to research and undertake independent study in the foundation subjects has increased dramatically.
  • Children are taking writing in the foundations subjects more seriously.
  • Children are reading more critically.
  • A sharp increase in children asking to take writing home.
  • A sharp increase in children purchasing writing-notebooks and writing at home for pleasure.
  • Children’s writing outcomes have so far been impressive across ability ranges.
  • Children are beginning to talk like real writers.

Why Did We Make These Genre-Booklets?

We wanted to share with children the variety of writing that is available to them even as apprentice writers. We wanted to move away from simply asking children to include ‘genre features’ and instead concentrate on the social aspects of their writing. We wanted them to learn how they can share their artistry, memories, knowledge and opinions with others.

Genre Booklets

  • To see all the booklets, just email us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com

  • They are also available for purchase through our TES shop here. However, please get in touch through our email as we can provide them at a far cheaper price.

For more updates and resources, please follow us by pressing the follow button at the top right-hand side of this webpage. Alternatively, you may want to follow and contact us through twitter at @Lit4pleasure

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To Learn More About Genre Booklets See Our References:

  • Coffin, C. (2006) Mapping subject-specific literacies In NALDIC Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 13–26.
  • Corbett, P., Strong, J., (2011) Talk For Writing Across The Curriculum. Maidenhead: Open University Press
  • Christie, F. and Martin, J. R (eds) (2007) Language, Knowledge and Pedagogy:Functional Linguistic & Sociological Perspectives, London: Continuum
  • Hyland, K.  (2007) Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction In Journal of Second Language Writing 16: 148-164
  • Kerfoot., C & Van Heerden, M., (2015) Testing the waters:exploring the teaching of genres in a Cape Flats Primary School in South Africa In Language and Education, 29:3, 235-255.
  • Martin, J. R. (2009) Genre and language learning: a social semiotic perspective In Linguistics and Education, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 10–21
  • Martin, J.,  Rose, D., (2008) Genre relations: Mapping culture. Equinox Publishing
  • Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N. K., & Martineau, J. A. (2007). Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching In Reading Research Quarterly, 42(1), 8-45.
  • Svalberg, A. (2009) Engagement with language: interrogating a construct In Language Awareness, 18: 242-258
  • Whittaker, R. (2010) Using systemic-functional linguistics in content and language integrated learning In NALDIC Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 10, pp. 31–6.
  • Bourne, J. (2008) Official pedagogic discourses and the construction of learners’ identities In Martin-Jones, M., de Mejia, A.M. and Hornberger, N.H. Encyclopaedia of language and education, Vol. 3 Discourse and Education, 2nd edn, New York, Springer.
  • Donovan, C.A. (2001). Children’s development and control of written story and informational genres: Insights from one elementary school In Research in the Teaching of English, 35, 452-497.
  • Donovan, C. A., & Smolkin, L. B. (2002). Children’s genre knowledge: An examination of K-5 students’ performance on multiple tasks providing differing levels of scaffolding In Reading Research Quarterly, 37(4), 428-465.
  • Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Mason, L. (2005). Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30(2), 207-241
  • Scott-Evans, A., Crilley, K., & Powell, E. (2004). A critical study of effective ways to teach instructional texts In Education 3-13, 32(1), 53-60
  • Thwaite, A., (2006) Genre writing in primary school: from theory to the classroom, via first steps In Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol.29(2), p.95(20)