I cringe at the fact that I taught it that way for years. YEARS. And to be honest, so did every teacher I know. We all had our perfectly crafted anchor charts with an illustration of a delicious pie to match hung up to remind our students of these three reasons authors write. The thing is, there are a lot of reasons an author may choose to write a text. And a lot of them go beyond a one-word answer from that chart. Also, determining the author’s purpose isn’t always easy. So, doesn’t telling our students that it is “as easy as pie” send them the wrong message?
Why Isn’t Author’s Purpose As Easy As PIE?
It’s a cute saying, the anchor charts are adorable, and it’s easy for the kids to remember. We all search for 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.” Let’s all trash those cute anchor charts from years past and 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. For example, 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 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.
This Sounds Great, But Isn’t It All Too Much for Them?
Well, to be honest, my short answer is no. I don’t think it’s too much for your students to handle. In fact, teaching author’s purpose this way aligns much better with the standards. Let’s take a look at the wording of the third-grade TEKS and Common Core standards:
3.10 Author’s purpose and craft: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking using multiple texts. The student uses critical inquiry to analyze the authors’ choices and how they influence and communicate meaning within a variety of texts. The student analyzes and applies author’s craft purposefully in order to develop his or her own products and performances. The student is expected to:
(A) explain the author’s purpose and message within a text;
(B) explain how the use of text structure contributes to the author’s purpose;
(C) explain the author’s use of print and graphic features to achieve specific purposes;
(D) describe how the author’s use of imagery, literal and figurative language such as simile, and sound devices such as onomatopoeia achieve specific purposes;
** 2nd grade – I should note that the only thing that changes about these standards for the second-grade TEKS is that the verb “discuss” is used in lieu of “explain” and “describe.”
Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
** 2nd grade –
Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
PIES Just Doesn’t Measure Up Here
There is a clear disconnect between teaching that “author’s purpose is as easy as pie” and the depth and rigor of the standards. If it feels like there’s a big jump from teaching “PIES” to teaching an in-depth analysis of the author’s purpose, it’s because there is. Let’s not be intimidated and worried that it’s going to be too difficult for them to grasp. Instead, let’s take a step back and realize that this huge jump means that we were doing a disservice to our students by teaching the author’s purpose in such a basic way. It’s our responsibility to fix this.
What Can I Do If They Aren’t Getting It?
Use a Concrete Activity
I love using concrete activities to help my students grasp difficult concepts. My favorite one is a structure-building activity using a few decks of cards, some tape, and some water bottles. Tell the students to build a structure within a specific amount of time. Then say, “Now we’re going to see which structures can hold a water bottle on top of it.” Place the water bottles on the structures and watch most of them crumble. Ask the students if they might have built their structures a bit differently had they known it had the purpose of holding a water bottle on top of it. This begins the discussion comparing architects to authors.
Break It Up
Don’t try to throw it all at them at once. Only move into analyzing all that goes into the author’s choices after helping the students to understand why the author wrote a text and what his/her message is. Take it step by step and analyze one thing at a time. Meaning, have separate discussions about how the genre, structure, graphic features, and imagery helped the author achieve his/her purpose. Trying to talk about all of it at once, especially at first, will undoubtedly overwhelm your kids.
Understand that it may take some time for them to fully master these standards. You will likely be spiraling this into conversations about text all year long. It’s going to take a lot of modeling and a lot of practice. After all, author’s purpose is NOT “as easy as pie.”