Five ways to teach Author's Purpose that are better than using the PIE acronym | Mentoring in the Middle

Five ways to teach Author's Purpose that are better than using the PIE acronym

"What's the purpose of the author writing this book?"

"I know! Oh, wait.  Is that, like, entertain, persuade, or inform?"

Does PIE even work?

An author's purpose for writing a book goes well beyond wanting to persuade, inform, or entertain.  PIE is a cute acronym and it works well in the primary grades, but it misses the boat by a long shot for upper elementary and middle school.  

I think we shortchange students if we don't teach them to dig into their texts a little more than that.  Otherwise, you could argue that all fiction is written to entertain...

...and maybe to inform (there's always a theme.)  

A deep dive

For example, what about fables and myths that teach life lessons?  Entertain?  Inform?  Persuade?  How about books that make us care about the environment, like Carl Hiaasen's Hoot or Alan Gratz's Two Degrees?

What about nonfiction?  Is it all written to inform?  Maybe.  But it also tells a story and sometimes it establishes a timeline.  Hmm.  

Perhaps a better idea is to take a deeper dive into text analysis and see what we and our students can come up with.

Where to start?  Here are five suggestions that might work for your students.

1.  A pre-reading activity
With your students, develop a list of traits common to them.  For example, sixth graders can be:
  • pretty welcoming
  • wondering where they fit in
  • full of confidence, but also unsure 
  • more aware of the world around them
  • on the edge of childhood and being a teenage
Then, discuss the book you're reading aloud - or their independent reading books - many deal with these topics. Where do students find examples of the author pointing those qualities out to them in the book?  Have them share with the class.

2.  Author's Purpose Passages
Provide students with a mentor text and have them read it individually, looking for the author's techniques. For example, students could look for how the author uses dialogue to describe a character or give him or her their voice. Or how a scene is described to give the reader a sense of time or mood.

With a partner, discuss what they've found.  Then, have students imitate the mentor passage with one of their own.

3.  Start Small
Have students write a sentence about a topic, say a person walking on a windy day.    Let students play with sentences they write, using stronger vocabulary or more vivid descriptions.  

Let them work in a small group to create the strongest sentence. 

Then have them write about the same thing, but from a different point of view.  Maybe the person is known around the area, or perhaps they're shy.  Maybe they've just moved to town.  Maybe they got into a fight with the adult in their family.  Maybe they're worried.

Each person in the group has the same point of view, but first, they write their own sentences.  Then, after they share their work, they write one together.

You might have them work a third time on their sentences.  This time, see if they can write what they want to say about the character without being direct.  Let them use description, dialogue, imagery, etc. to convey what they want to say.

4.  Do authors use images?
If the author has images in the book, look at them.  What do the images tell you that the text does not?  Graphic novels are great for this, and you might want students to look at one set of images and write what the author is trying to tell you, without using the dialogue to help.

5.  Your read-aloud
The best tool for this might be the book you read aloud to your students.  (You are reading to your kids most days, aren't you?)  Reinforce learning with class discussions about the book.  Model some thinking about a character or event and what you believe the author wanted you to learn.

Yes, authors entertain or persuade or inform.  They also teach, describe a lesson learned, make you get excited or angry about world events, help you see how one event might lead to something else, and more.  Let your students see all of that and more in their reading!

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