Our pedagogy ought to be shaped by an understanding of the role of language in learning. This underpins the construction of knowledge, which is why we, as teachers, need to have a comprehensive understanding of genre and the language resources associated with each.
How can we define genre?
Genres are patterned ways of engaging with the world and enacting our lives. Understanding these patterns will help you make sure that what you teach and when you teach helps maximise learning in our classrooms. Genre can be defined through several traits.
This means that you become a member of the culture by learning the various genres. In schooling contexts, you are apprenticed into the various disciplines from the day you enter the educational context.
It is social because there is more than one person involved (speaker/listener, writer/reader/viewer).
It has an identifiable social purpose that is specific to the context in which it is constructed.
The generic activity goes through stages and phases that are predictable by members of the culture. If activity structures weren’t predictable, then members of each community would have to guess every time how things were done.
Predictable language patterns
Each genre also has identifiable language patterns shaped by the situational context. Just as the structures are predictable, the language patterns have to be predictable too.
An example of educational genre: instructing
Let’s have a look at a major schooling genre – instructing.
To instruct how a task or a product is to be accomplished through a sequence of actions.
Procedures (recipes, experiments) and protocols (instructions, rules for games)
- Goal—what will be achieved by following the steps/process outlined
- Materials (optional if it is a protocol)—usually listed in the order required
- Steps—to tell the reader what to do in order to accomplish the goal; these should be properly sequenced in a logical order
- Visuals (optional) may also be used to clarify the task/product/steps
- Commands typically expressed using the imperative mood (Slice the mushrooms thinly)
- A number of technical words, varying in degree of technicality (castor sugar, knead)
- Actions carried out on non-human, concrete participants
- A range of circumstances in which the actions occur, such as where to place things (in water, in a bowl, over the peaches), when and for how long (after an hour, for 20 minutes), and how to carry out actions (carefully, with a beater, gradually)
If we accept that texts meet particular social purposes and have predictable structures and language choices, then we can support students’ learning by explicitly talking about the structure and language features of the texts we ask them to use and produce as part of their learning in our classrooms.