Introducing Genre (Nate Wood)

Note: This is how I teach genre. I typically teach genre the same day I introduce the opinion editorial assignment. So, the goal of this lesson is to help students develop awareness of genre in general and of the opinion editorial in particular.


Objective: Students will be able to define genre and develop genre awareness, specifically of the op-ed. Students will also understand what I’m expecting out of them for the op-ed assignment.

Part I: Genre
  1. Object lesson: argue that although each of these seven books are similar in content (academic marxism), they are written in different genres. Pass around the marxism books so that students can figure out the difference in genre. As they inspect the books, begin lecturing on genre via “Genre” powerpoint.
  2. Break down the definition of genre: “typified rhetorical actions based in recurrent situations.” (MW p. 68)
    1. Recurrent situations: “Culture is established through patterns of behavior and experience. Certain events, marked by urgent needs, keep happening, and those events invite communication of a certain kind.”
      1. Think about genres you are familiar with. What patterns and experiences prompted the existence of those genres. What prompted the existence of the novel? the advertisement? the dear-john letter?
    2. Rhetorical actions: “Recurring events call for responses in writing and speaking and symbol making.”
      1. Have you typically thought of writing as an action? Is writing an action? Does it provoke a change in the world?
    3. Typified: “We organize the world in patterns, or types. Genres harden into recognizable forms because those forms serve our purposes.”
      1. Can you think of rhetorical acts that have not “hardened” into genres? Is it possible to speak outside of a genre?
    4. Once everyone has had a chance to handle the Marxism books, ask, what differentiates these books? What did you find about the genre in which each of them were written? Do some books follow certain rules/expectations that others do not?
  3. Genre activity: What genres can you think of? Invite students to write on the board as many genres they can think of. Press them to think of as many as possible. The goal of this exercise is to prove to them that there are many, many more genres in existence than they would initially think.
    1. Some genres they might list: essay, novel, poem, short story, summary, ted talk, magazine article, press release, satire, textbook, anthology, picture book, album credits booklet, email, twitter, facebook post, text message. Scriptures. Sacrament talk. Fast and testimony meeting. Prayer. Dear john letter.
    2. Discuss the list:
      1. Are any items on the board that you believe shouldn’t be?
      2. Can we cluster any of these items? Do you think some of these genres could be better classified as subgroups (for example, homecoming talks and testimonies are types of sacrament talks)?
      3. What genre do you think has existed the longest? Is the social need this genre respond to still exigent? What genre is the newest? What new exigency does it respond to?
    3. In partnerships, ask students to pick one genre on the board with which they are not familiar and then list its conventions. Allow students to research the genre on their laptops/phones. Ask them to list: What do writers in this genre typically do? What do they not typically do? What are the consequences of not adequately fitting this genre? After 5 minutes, reconvene and ask students to share with the class.
      1. Example: Writers of the dear-john letter typically write in a tone that is serious. Because breaking up with your sweetheart  isn’t something you should be light-minded about, it would be really bad to imply your breakup is something frivolous. This letter is probably pretty short–to be nice, you should just cut to the chase. Failing to write to this genre’s expectation could potentially make an already difficult situation even more difficult.
      2. After each group has a chance to do some research, come together as a class and share/discuss.
  4. Finish the activity by returning to Mindful Writing, reiterating that genres are “rhetorical responses to real-world needs” (p. 69). Because genres emerge as responses to our many and various real-world needs, the amount of genres is practically endless. In fact, it is impossible to list every single genre because such a list is open-ended and always changing. Genre, like culture, is emergent.