When Writers Choose the Genre: Nurturing Independence from the Start

When thinking of independence in the context of school, we might think about students doing things on their own — initiating tasks and persisting through challenges. Once this kind of independence is reached, we can maximize teaching through conferences and small groups. 

But what if we reached for the kind of independence that stretches beyond classroom walls — independence that carries on after the school day, after the school year, long into the future of our students’ lives? What more could we ask for than the writers in our classroom becoming writers in the world? That’s the dream: writers writing in the wild. 

It wasn’t until I became independent in my own writing life that I could truly understand, truly empathize with the work asked of students each day. Beyond the kind of writing I do professionally, I write in a journal, I write poetry (my go-to genre), I write stories to family members and friends in the form of letters. There is some writing I have to do, but the writing I choose to do — the exploratory, messy, from-the-heart, best writing is where it’s easiest to find my voice in a sea of words. In this kind of writing, I found myself identifying as writer, and as a writer, I found a major difference between writing in schools and writing in the world:

As a writer, I rarely begin with genre. Instead, I begin with a purpose or an inspiration for writing. Genre, then, becomes a tool for conveying an idea to a specific audience, as illustrated in the example below:

In each of those examples, genre served a purpose for conveying a message. When inspired to write, I also imagine how an idea will unfold across different genres:

Writers in the world find reasons to write, drawing upon inspiration in everyday occurrences. Then, they think flexibly about how to bring ideas to life. 

What are reasons to write?

  • To connect with people
  • To remember
  • To teach
  • To make a change
  • To observe
  • To create

Here is a version to share with families.

Writers in classrooms then, need both ample time to immerse in rich genre studies, in which they acquire genre-specific language and craft moves; and time to write freely, in which they develop voice and style. How to accomplish this with limited time?  

1. Offer frequent and ongoing opportunities across the school year for students to choose genre. 

When children write in a genre of choice, it is often referred to as an independent writing project (which I wrote about in more detail here). There are many ways to incorporate independent writing projects across the year. 

2. Notice variation of genre in read alouds

Authors in the world are less constricted to genre norms. Take non-fiction, for example:

Click image to view resource.

Though we teach a predictable structure for all-about texts, we can find a range of informational text structures in our libraries. Even procedural texts can be told in narrative form. By talking about genre variety during read aloud, children will see the possibilities they have as writers. A variety of mentor texts can also be selected during a genre study, to illustrate crossovers between genres and bring more flexibility into times when students write within a specific genre.

3. Think aloud about genre choice

Shared writing experiences don’t always have to match the genre students are studying. They can be a great time to explore other genres, especially ones that students will want to write about during genre-choice time, but aren’t necessarily taught as units (i.e. comics, fantasy). We can practice beginning with ideas, authentic purposes to write, or shared inspiration, then think aloud about the different genres that are possible. This kind of thinking can also be modeled in conferences. For example, when a student tells us they want to write a book about soccer at a time when there is genre choice, we can say, “What kind of book are you going to write? A story about a time you played soccer? How to play soccer? All about soccer? A soccer poem?” 

By the End of the Year…

Writers will discover their favorite genres. 

Writers will request to write outside of a genre of study for one day when they have an important reason to (please, say yes!). 

Writers will show more creativity within genre text structures. 

Writers will pursue writing projects with friends across the day and outside of school. 

Writing folders will display a variety of genres. 

To read more about independent writing projects, check out…

To read more about writing at home, check out….

Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a copy of No More “I’m Done!” and No More “How Long Does It Have to Be?” by Jennifer Jacobson. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy of each of these books — one book for a primary educator and one book for a secondary educator. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of  No More “I’m Done!” or No More “How Long Does It Have to Be?”, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, August 11th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. BE SURE TO WRITE DOWN THE GRADE LEVEL OR GRADE BAND YOU TEACH SO WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE RUNNING FOR THE BOOK THAT MATCHES THE GRADE BAND YOU TEACH. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, August 11th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – NO MORE BOOKS within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.