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April 27

How to Teach Genre With Ms. B

 few years ago (maybe five or six) our state standards changed for reading, pretty dramatically. I know all of you who have been through the Common Core Craze can understand that.

I, however, am from Texas, where we do what we want *snap snap*, and Texas moved to genre-based standards several years back.

At that time, my reading program was based on the Reader’s Workshop model, with adjustments to suit me, and my shared reading three days a week was fiction. The other two days was informational text.

This was great for me (I love fiction, and I tied my informational articles to science, so double whammy), but it didn’t exactly address my new genre-based standards, which included literary genres: fiction, poetry, drama, literary nonfiction (biography), and informational genres: expository, persuasive, and procedural. I had some work to do to teach reading by genre.

One of the first things I did was take a look at my standards and figure out which standard was expected to be taught (and honestly, tested) in which genres. I used the document below to figure out where I had to teach different standards, like cause-and-effect, predicting, making inferences, and sequencing.

Then I chose some titles for each genre that I wanted to focus on as mentor texts for really understanding how that genre worked and how good readers approach that genre. My kids and I worked through a variety of texts, noticing the features of each genre and recording them, and other important characteristics (like author’s purpose, which is actually the essential reason genres are different), and charting them on some giant charts.

To help kids make the distinction, I divided them up onto literary and informational matrices.

During the study of each genre, we examined several texts and isolated the essential elements and strategies to use to best comprehend that genre.

Poetry was a struggle for many students. They didn’t really know how to start! To give them a handle on the main elements of poetry, we used an acronym that my colleague and I created: POETS. The chart below shows what students would look for in a poem. They marked evidence in different colors for each element, trying to put them together to make meaning out of the poem.

This chart shows how we read for the elements, whole-class, and mark our evidence.

I love reader’s notebooks. For each genre, we responded using different strategies. The strategy shown from my model notebook below was great for poetry. I honestly can’t remember the name, but this is how it works:

1. Read a poem aloud to students – each student has a copy to mark up as you read.
2. Read again, slowly, instructing students to find a spot to respond to. Students underline the line and put a star at the end of the line. They quickwrite in response to the poem.
3. Read the poem again, very slowly. As you get to the place where students responded, they jump in and read the response they wrote.

The first time we did this, my kids were a little uncomfortable and nervous. But you know, learning happens when we don’t quite know what’s going to happen! I did it again, with a poem called “Shelling Pecans,” and they seemed to have a better experience, because they expected to share. It was a very interesting strategy that I would use again!

Other posts on teaching poetry

When I introduced fiction, I made sure to introduce a variety of genres – I really spent some time here, choosing texts from each genre to make sure that students had a good understanding of the varieties of fiction they might enjoy reading. We read historical fiction (Nettie’s Trip South), and science fiction (Sector 7). We read myths and folktales! And at the end of the unit, one of the kids’ most interesting responses (I always ask for their input) was “I never knew there were different kinds of fiction.”

How rewarding is that?

An important part of a strong reader’s workshop program is independent reading. While it’s important for students to enjoy reading (really the most important thing), you have to find different ways of ensuring that students are applying their strategic thinking in their independent reading. One fun way is the question ring below.

I hole-punch the cards in the corner and put them on a binder ring. I hang them in the classroom library, and students can choose a question to respond to in their independent reading. There’s a ring for each genre. We practice using the rings to respond to our reading during our whole-group lessons, and then, as we practice with each genre, I add the rings to the library.

Other posts on teaching fiction


Drama is a very unique genre as well. As we read dramas, we add to our chart of drama features. It’s important to do more than simply name the features. We need to help students understand the purpose of that feature, so they know how to use it. For example, students very readily point to words in brackets and pronounce, “stage directions!” But do they use those stage directions to understand how a character is feeling or acting? If not, then we have to teach them how to do that!

Other posts on drama

Expository text is very focused on pulling out important information. We practice my favorite summary strategy: providing each team with a sentence strip. They write the main idea of their paragraph and then we put them all together to build a super summary! You can read more about that here.

I also added my Expository question ring to the classroom library!

Other posts about teaching Expository text

Persuasive text is a very specific type of informational text. It’s informational, but it’s tinged with someone’s bias and persuasive techniques. I used this persuasive cube in partners to help students think through a persuasive text and identify the persuasive techniques and arguments used by the author.

As I introduce new genres, it’s important for students to learn how to navigate between genres. I use these three questions to help students think about what genre they are reading. It’s so important for students to naturally think about texts differently to determine what’s important about each genre. Students who are fuzzy on this read each genre the same, usually like fiction, and studies show they are the least able to navigate those genres. So we spend a lot of time on it!

The chart below helps kids remember to think differently on three major genres:

Genre bookmarks are a great way to help kids be independent in their identification and thought about genre during independent reading. If you provide them with each bookmark as you learn about each new genre, they can pull their set of bookmarks out during independent reading.

I copied them onto colored cardstock and provide them to students, one at a time. Students “grow” their set, and when they choose an independent reading book, they identify the genre, pull out the bookmark, and think about the questions or items under the “Look for” part of the bookmark.

And then there’s testing.


I know, I hate it, too. But if we teach our children to be real readers and real writers, we can more easily teach them to navigate the test structures and be successful. When we focus only on testing, we neglect the real thought and rigor of the world of reading and writing. Instead, focus on real reading and writing, and then bridge it to the test. This is how I bridge genre instruction:

We reviewed each genre with a mini-selection. Each student had a copy and they practiced using the three questions to decide on their strategy for approaching the text (ex: Do I look for characters? conflicts? main ideas? arguments? stage directions?). We marked the essential elements, and decided on the author’s purpose. Then we brainstormed the kinds of questions we expected to see on the test and recorded them on our chart.

We repeated this for the most frequently tested genres.

And we built our test-genre wall!

We developed a strategy chant to remember what’s important about each genre! It goes to the tune of a cadence, like “Sound off- 1-2”. The first four stanzas are the verses, and the last stanza is the sound-off.

I cut up a million questions from the released tests, and students sorted them into different genres, based on the evidence they could find in the question and answer choices. It’s incredible how much they could infer, just from the questions and answers!

Teaching reading by genre is fun and purposeful with these anchor charts and activities! Each genre has its own special characteristics and structures. Help students apply reading strategies to each one, and encourage them to read in different reading genres with these minilesson ideas! #genreanchorchart #teachingreadinggenre
Happy teaching!

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Posted April 27, 2021 by Ready Aim Shoot in category Assessment, ELA, ELL, Reading, Reading Intervention, Writing

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