I get it. We all want easy ways for our students to remember things, and PIE or (PIES) is a simple acronym for some common reasons that authors write a text. The problem is, author’s purpose is not “as easy as pie.” Those cute anchor charts are fine to use as an introduction if we go further with our instruction, exclude the word “easy,” and forgo the urge to list genres underneath these purposes. We can’t just slap up anchor charts and think our students are going to understand author’s purpose at all. We also can’t teach our students that you can determine an author’s purpose based on genre alone. It’s just not that simple.
All fiction texts were not written simply to entertain. Stories with strong themes such as fables and folktales are often written to teach or express a life lesson. Some fiction stories are designed to persuade us to think or care about something. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss are great examples.
We also want our students to deepen their analysis of nonfiction texts. Rather than labeling all nonfiction as “to inform,” encourage them to ask, is the author describing? Comparing? Explaining? Showing the causes and effects of events?
Leading students to believe that we can easily categorize texts into three or four purposes causes a lack of depth in their analysis. I’m not saying that we can’t ever introduce PIE (or PIES) as common purposes, I just think we need to encourage our students to go beyond the surface.
So, how do we go about teaching author’s purpose?
We want our readers to determine the author’s main idea (or theme), examine the way he/she went about expressing and supporting that main idea, and analyze why he/she chose to write about it. One way to do this is to compare authors to architects. An architect builds a school for the purpose of educating students, a hospital for the purpose of healing the sick and wounded, and a house for the purpose of providing shelter and comfort for a family. These buildings are designed in very different ways because they all have different purposes. Authors do the same thing when they write. They are architects designing their stories and texts. They start with the purpose of the text and make choices about the genre, structure, text, word choice, and features to help him/her achieve that purpose. The anchor chart below is from my Interactive Reading Notebook.
You can then use this model to analyze and discuss the author’s purpose of a text, and how he/she “built it”. The example below is from an activity included in an interactive notebook for an article I found on Readworks.org. Both the anchor chart and the graphic organizer below can be found in my Interactive Reading Notebook.
Discussion is key. Hold class discussions over texts read together. Have small group discussions about the texts read in guided reading or book clubs. Use task cards or other short texts to have groups or partners discuss the author’s purpose.
Once students have a good understanding of author’s purpose, practice can be extended through reader’s response for independent reading or book clubs. The class could also create a “skyline” of texts using the graphic organizer buildings for author’s purpose.
Solidify their understanding of author’s purpose by connecting it to their writing. Have students complete a graphic organizer as a part of their prewriting that helps them identify their purpose and make choices about their writing based on that purpose.
By using complex examples and teaching your readers to think critically about the choices the author makes in order to achieve his/her purpose, you are teaching them to be analytical readers and empowering them to draw their own conclusions.