Please stop telling your students that author’s purpose is as easy as PIE. I know these anchor charts are all over Pinterest and are probably even the first images that a google search pulls up, but please, please resist the urge to put them up in your classroom. You’re better than that.
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 anchor charts are cute, but we need to go further with our instruction, exclude the word “easy,” and forgo the urge to list genres underneath these purposes. We 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.
In addition, we 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. In order to encourage your students to go beyond the surface, you need to move beyond PIE.
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. So, we should compare authors to architects.
An architect makes choices about the design of a building based on its intended purpose. A school is built 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. Likewise, authors make design choices about their writing. 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. You can find the anchor chart below in the Reading Interactive Notebook.
Then, use this model to analyze and discuss the author’s purpose of a text, and how he/she “built it”. Use a graphic organizer like the one below to help students understand this concept. This is an example from our interactive notebook for an article I found on Readworks.org.
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.
Extend this practice through reader’s response for independent reading or book clubs.
Connect author’s purpose to their own writing.
Finally, 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 to help 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.