authors · genre · punctuation · revision

Genre Choice

Going into the last leg of the school year, I’d like to take a minute to encourage you to empower students to chose the genre they are going to write. It is important for students to have the choice of genre throughout the school year. Often Writing Workshops become genre study after genre study. Before we know it the entire year has passed and students have had little (if any) say in regards to genre.

One of the reasons we like genre studies is because of the predictable nature of the writing process. When in a unit of study based on genre, it is fairly easy to predict when students are going to be planning and when they are going to be revising. Almost everyone is within a few days of each other. However when one student is writing poetry and another is working on a script and another is drafting short fiction, the only predictable notion is everyone is going to be at a different place every day. This makes planning minilessons more challenging and conferring becomes an even bigger adventure.

Here are some ways to plan Writing Workshop when genre is up for grabs:

  • Lead an Author Study. Focus on a mentor author who writes a variety of genres. Over the course of a unit, allow this author to inspire minilessons. The lessons can range from personalizing the writing process, to specific craft moves, to conventions. My favorite authors for this study are Jacqueline Woodson and Jane Yolen.  Not only do they write in a variety of genres, across a slew of topics, but they also have useful websites.
  • Play with punctuation. Punctuation is universal, regardless of the genre. By devoting a small unit of study to it, students will begin to understand the nuances of punctuation. You may also be pleasantly surprised to find more voice in their writing, as punctuation influences a writer’s voice.
  • Focus on audience. Help students understand the important role the audience plays for the writer. This kind of study offers an opportunity to delve into peer collaboration. Another option is to focus on different publishing opportunities and encourage students to submit their work to be published.
  • Refine revision. Revision is a sophisticated process and can often be only glossed over for a handful of days within a unit of study. Imagine spending several days on the art of revision. Georgia Heard’s Revision Toolbox and Barry Lane’s After the End helped me envision this kind of study.

Finally, keep in mind a unit of study doesn’t have to be long. Often genre studies last 4 – 6 weeks; however, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it’s best to think of mini-units. If a non-genre unit of study is a little overwhelming, consider taking a week for a mini-unit, which opens the possibility of genre to students. Naturally students won’t publish a piece within one week, however, they will be able to focus on a writing project of their genre choice. Even for a small period, this is good for a writer’s soul.

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments. Here are a couple questions to start:

  • What makes teaching a non-genre unit of study difficult? What is easy about it?
  • What could be the focus of a unit of study where your students have control over the genre?

2 thoughts on “Genre Choice

  1. I LOVE your thinking in this post! As a Literacy Coach, I find that the biggest problem with non-genre studies, for my teachers, is fear. 😦 So many of them don’t see themselves as writers, so they fear that the students will take them somewhere where they won’t have answers. Rather than seeing the excitement in that space of learning together, they see the vulnerability of the unknown. In their defense, the writers workshop model is only a few years old here, so they are also a bit stressed by the timing. There is still a significant challenge in keeping the genre units under 6-weeks. For some, 10 weeks is a struggle, which has been a HUGE push from me to get away from. Therefore, what I am working on this spring is to create a mini-unit on conventions – most likely focusing more on punctuation in fourth grade, and more style/craft and organization for fifth grade. I hope that will offer some direction for teachers as well as increase freedom for students.


  2. I enjoyed reading this post. I am copying and pasting the link into my reflections for planning my 6th – 8th grade scope and sequence that I have been working on. I will need to remember to allot for student-selected genres. As I have been experimenting with workshops over the last couple of years it seems I have gone from two extremes – first all student choice and then to almost always having a genre study going. I need to get a better balance, so this post came at a perfect time when I am looking at the big picture of long-term planning.

    Right now I just introduced to students that for the rest of our remaining Spanish weeks we will be doing a multi-genre project during out social studies and writing time. All students will do an expository and historical fiction piece. If they have more time, they can incorporate any other genres. I am hoping that some students will have the time to do some of the extra genres. In English I only have three more weeks. Other than doing speech work sample preparation, I am going to have student-selected genres.


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