If you teach students about author’s purpose, you probably already know about the acronym PIE (persuade, inform, entertain) and the related cutesy anchor charts.
SOURCE: Teacherific Fun
While those are good umbrella categories, the actual reasons that authors write nonfiction are often more nuanced. Textbook authors write to educate. Bloggers write because they’re passionate about a topic. Journalists write to disseminate information.
Today’s students are surrounded by information. The ability to figure out exactly why authors write—and not accept every opinion as fact—is a key skill. In particular, as students read, they’ll need to figure out the author’s purpose, identify bias, and draw their own conclusions.
As students get more advanced in their work with informational text, these five strategies will teach them how to figure out why authors really write.
1. Start with why.
“Why did the author write this piece?” is the core question asked to identify author’s purpose. To help students expand their understanding of “why,” post various types of nonfiction (an advertisement, opinion article, news article, etc.) around your classroom and have students quickly identify a purpose for each. Or keep a running author’s purpose board with a list of the various reasons why authors write.
2. Talk about structure.
Authors use different structures—sequence, problem and solution, compare and contrast—for different purposes. For example, one author may use sequence to explain an event, while another author uses compare and contrast to put that event into perspective.
3. Get to the heart.
Often when authors write, they’re trying to get readers to feel a certain way. Perhaps the author of an article about whale conservation wants readers to feel sad about the plight of whales. Or the author of a letter may want to make the recipient feel better about a situation. After students read a text, stop and ask: How do you feel? And how did the author get you to feel this way?
4. Connect to students’ own writing.
Writing and reading go hand in hand. Expand students’ awareness of why people write by having them write for different purposes. When students are charged to write about a topic that they think everyone should know about, to explain a procedure, or to share a personal memory, they’ll become more aware of how authors approach writing.
5. Observe how purpose changes within a text.
Author’s purpose is often studied through the text as a whole, but authors have different reasons for writing within texts as well. For example, an author may include a funny anecdote to draw in the reader. Then, they may launch into a list of facts that make the reader feel frustrated about the situation. And finally, they may conclude with an appeal. Take a short article and break it apart, identifying the different purposes so that students see how author’s purpose changes as they read.
Bonus: Three ways to teach kids how to identify bias
Right now, your students may take every nonfiction reading at face value, but as they develop as readers (and consumers of information), they need to learn how to evaluate bias.
1. Mind the gap.
When authors are writing to convince their readers of something, they’re choosing evidence that best makes their case. Have students read for an eye toward what information isn’t there. For example, if an author is writing in support of keeping horse-drawn buggies in New York City legal, they may include examples of the benefits (e.g., tourism) and leave out the drawbacks (e.g., horses holding up traffic).
2. Review the experts.
Have students pull out the names and titles of the people cited in an article. What can students learn from whom was included? And how credible is each expert?
3. Seek out stats.
Pull out statistics, images, facts, graphics, and other numbers to paint another picture of how the author is thinking. Based on the information, what does the author want readers to remember? What was included? What wasn’t included?
Every time kids read, they engage in conversation with the author, and knowing the author’s purpose makes that conversation that much richer.
Using a 2-column chart, students scaffold their thinking and draw conclusions about the author's purpose.
When students can identify whether an author's purpose for writing a text is to inform, persuade, entertain, or describe, they are better equipped to evaluate its content as they make inferences and draw conclusions.
1. Before beginning this activity, reproduce the Author's Purpose Chart handout onto a transparency or chart paper and make copies of the chart for each student.
2. Explain to the class that they are going to watch the beginning of a video called "The Animal Shelter." In video segment 1 there are images of dogs barking. No one says anything. Play the video. As students view the segment, ask them to think about the author's purpose for selecting these images and sounds to begin the video.
3. Discuss questions such as the following:
- "How did the images make you feel?"
- "Why do you think the author may have chosen not to use words?"
- "What do you think the author's purpose was for selecting the images and sounds in video segment 1?"
4. Distribute the Author's Purpose Chart and tell students they will use it to help them determine the purpose of the rest of the video. Review the clues and questions on the chart that will help them determine the author's purpose. Is it to entertain, to describe, to inform or to persuade the audience? Tell students that they will watch the next video segment twice, the first time to get a general idea of the segment. They will have a few minutes to write ideas on the chart after watching the video the first time.
5. Play video segment 2, "What Can You Do?" Ask them to think about the author's purpose for this video segment.
6. Model how to complete the chart, thinking aloud as you write answers to a few of questions.
7. Provide a few minutes for students to fill in information they remember from the video segment. Ask students to write their preliminary conclusions about the author's purpose.
8. Tell students they they will watch video segment 2 again. This time, the purpose for viewing is to determine the author's purpose and to take notes on the chart. Was the purpose to entertain, to describe, to inform, or to persuade? Were their initial conclusions correct?
9. Use the Pair-Share-Decide strategy to provide students with an opportunity to discuss with others what they wrote on their charts and to come to a consensus about the purpose of the video.
- Pair up with a partner.
- Share ideas with a partner about the author's purpose for creating the video.
- Decide, in pairs, the purpose for the video, based on the answers to the questions. Students should be able to explain why they decided on a particular purpose.
- Ask students to draw a conclusion about the author's purpose and write in the blank under the chart.
10. Whole Group: As a class, each pair shares their conclusion about the author's purpose and supports it with information from the right column of the chart. As a class, decide the author's purpose. Include support from the right column of the chart.
Note: At any point in the discussion, use the video segments to review pertinent information, to help answer questions, or to settle disagreements about the author's purpose.
11. After the discussion, students turn in their Author's Purpose Charts. To determine which students may need additional instruction, examine students' responses in the "What makes you think that?" column. The information in this column gives a glimpse into students' thinking processes to determine if they are using information from the video to draw conclusions.
For Students Who Need Additional Teacher Guidance
1. Tell students you will pause the video periodically, discuss the ideas in the video, and assist them as they add ideas to their charts.
Pause the video after the segment about the woman's photography business. (You'll see a brown dog and a white dog behind a fence.) The purpose of this segment is to inform. Go through each box in the left column. Place an "X" in the appropriate blank. Then ask students to complete the "What makes you think that" column. When necessary, assist students as they answer these questions.
If students need more guidance determining author's purpose, pause again after the informative segment about the woman who adopted a Jack Russell Terrier from the animal shelter. (At the end of this segment, the woman says she and her husband went to the shelter and adopted a dog.) Ask students to add facts to the right column. Provide guidance when necessary.
2. Before watching the last segment of the video (after the blonde woman says that she adopted a dog from the shelter), tell students that the purpose of the video seems to change toward the end. Ask them to listen for facts and/or opinions that might give clues about the author's perspective. Also, notice that some captions appear on the screen toward the end of the video that add information related to the author's purpose.
Note to the teacher: Predominantly persuasive comments are found toward the end of the video, especially after the blonde woman says she and her husband went to the shelter and got a dog. After watching the entire segment, brainstorm the facts in that portion of the segment. Then brainstorm other ideas presented and identify them as facts or opinions. Revisit this video segment, if necessary, to explain further how the author uses many facts and persuasive comments to create a believable argument to persuade viewers to do their part to protect the animals. Without the last portion of the video, the purpose of the segment is to inform.
1. To assess students' understanding of an author's purpose when reading independently, distribute a copy of th Reading Passages handout and ask students to determine the author's purpose and to explain their answers.
2. You may choose to discuss students' answers in small groups or with the whole class.
3. This assessment may also be included in a student's portfolio.
Note: The purpose of the Jack Russell Terrier passage is to describe the appearance and characteristics of the breed. Because the two purposes are interrelated, students may confuse descriptive and informative purposes.
- The key is that descriptive writing explains specifically how something or someone looks, what it does, what it's used for, etc.
- Informative writing is used to communicate more general information.