Home > Strategies and Skill Development > Discourse Strategy Families > Structured Expression > Literature Note - Structured Expression and Genre


Structured expression comprises the ability to produce texts with appropriate macrostructure. Since the macrostructure that works well varies, by genre, a large part of learning to produce well-structured text resides in the internalization of the structural norms for particular genre types, including narrative, expository, and persuasive texts.

Move structure. Swales (1990) postulates that genres are realized as move structures—conventional sequences in which the overall purpose of the genre is carried out by successfully fulfilling a series of subgoals. These define characteristic conventional text structures for each genre, and as such, belong to a lower level of organization (the discourse mode). It is, however, important to recognize that learning a genre critically involves assimilating conventional templates that define characteristic organizational patterns (Donovan & Smolkin, 2002; Eggins, 1994; Kamberelis & Bovino, 1999; Martin, 1985; Rose, 2006). For instance, the classic template for an essay requires an introduction with a statement of the thesis to be proven, a series of argument moves designed to support the thesis, and a conclusion. It is important to note that the moves in a genre often typically involve particular kinds of thinking at the level of the conceptual mode. For instance, the classic essay structure depends critically upon moves that require formulation and assessment of logical arguments (Coirier, Andriessen, & Chanquoy, 1999; Fulkerson, 1996). In effect, the move structure of a genre conventionalizes certain thought patterns and requires mastery of specific conceptual skills (Bazerman, 2007; Flowerdew, 2002).

Rhetorical strategies. Swales (1990) also postulated that the moves made in producing texts are implemented through the use of rhetorical strategies that reflect specific deployments of linguistic resources. At this level, genre affects the text at the level of the verbal mode—the specific lexical and grammatical choices made by an author. A particular genre or class of genres can evoke a distinctive characteristic style, reflecting register choices and genre-specific deployments of linguistic resources. Acquiring a genre involves acquisition of a complex bundle of characteristic choices both at the micro level (choice of word and phrasing) and at more global levels (characteristic discourse structures and deployment of characteristic conceptual resources; cf., Martin, 1984), even though ultimately genre is rooted in communicative purpose and is situated in the activity systems of particular communities of purpose. We discuss the issue of register variations among genres in greater depth, when we examine connections between register and perspective.

Developing genre knowledge and strategic control of genre-based strategies. As Donovan and Smolkin (2006) discuss, genre knowledge appears to develop primarily through exposure to and experience with genre texts, with many children having significant, emergent genre knowledge even before they enter school. In general, students’ knowledge of genres increases at all levels of analysis as their experience increases, and there appears to be a fairly strong link between the richness of students’ genre knowledge and the richness of their reading and writing experience in those same genres (Applebee, 1978; Chapman, 1994, 1995; Donovan, 2001; Englert, Stewart, & Hiebert, 1988; Hicks, 1990; Kamberelis, 1998; Langer, 1985, 1992; Newkirk, 1987; Pappas, 1991; Purcell-Gates, 1996; Smolkin & Donovan, 2004; Tower, 2003; Zecker, 1999).

There is also evidence that perception of the genre to which a text belongs significantly affects the ways in which it is read and comprehended (Langer, 1985, 1992). Zwaan (1991, 1994) found, for instance, that when the same text was read as literature or as news, there were significant differences in reading rates and the type of information retained.

Genre-based approaches to reading and writing pedagogy have for historical reasons primarily developed in the Australian educational system, influenced by the functional linguistics of M. A. K. Halliday (1993). This approach, strongly associated with the work of J. R. Martin (Martin, 1984, 1985, 1992, 1993, 2000a, 2000b; Martin & Rose, 2003, 2005, 2006; Martin & Rothery, 1986), focuses primarily on specifying the move structure and rhetorical strategies of targeted school genres (Bhatia, 1999; Butt, Fahey, Feez, Spinks, & Yalop, 2000; Rose, 2006), in distinguishing among genres using similar criteria (Bondi, 1999; Hyland, 2000), and linking genres so defined with social context (Christie & Martin, 1997). A major emphasis has been the development of pedagogical methods in which teachers help students deconstruct a genre, developing expertise in understanding how texts in that genre are put together and improving reading skill. Teachers model the building of texts in the genre through joint construction of texts, leading to independent construction of texts in the genre by student writers (Martin & Rose, 2005).

Advocates of a genre approach to teaching writing argue that it has certain advantages over a process approach, by forcing engagement with a variety of specific text types, providing specific reasons why particular choices are made in the context of a specific writing genre, and encouraging attention to the social embedding of genre in specific discourse practices (Hyland, 2003; Kress & Knapp, 1994; Wray & Lewis, 1997). However, the Australian genre school has been criticized as paying too much attention in its actual pedagogy to formulaic genre patterns and associated lexical and syntactic patterns and far less to encouraging practices that enable children to internalize the contexts in which those genres are used in adult settings (Barrs, 1991; Stratta & Dixon, 1994). One piece of evidence that might support this criticism is a recent study by Purcell-Gates and colleagues (Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Martineau, 2007) that indicated a strong effect of authentic reading and writing conditions on learning of science genres, but relatively little effect of explicit genre instruction. On the other hand, a study by Reutzel and colleagues (Reutzel, Smith, & Fawson, 2005) indicated a strong advantage for teaching a coordinated set of genre-relevant reading strategies, rather than teaching individual strategies in isolation.

With respect to writing, there is independent evidence that children’s ability is powerfully impacted by explicit instruction in strategies that will enable them to plan texts in which they make the relevant moves and adopt the right rhetorical strategies. Such strategies often take the form of explicit mnemonics and graphic organizers that are similar in important ways to the pedagogies advocated by the Australian genre school. For instance, the Cognitive Strategies in Writing Instruction project (Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Stevens, & Fear, 1991) made heavy use of graphic organizers and lessons on genre conventions as part of a more general strategy designed to give children metacognitive, reflective writing skills. However, those elements were most effective when embedded in a sociocultural model, rather than becoming the isolated focus of instruction (Anderson, Raphael, Englert, & Stevens, 1991). These findings have been confirmed in a series of studies, which, while cast as “writing strategy instruction,” have generally involved explicit modeling and teaching of genre structure (such as the standard structure of a scientific research report or a persuasive essay) and genre conventions (such as standard ways of doing comparison/contrast forms), as well as more general strategies and/or procedures required to navigate the complexities involved in complex writing tasks (De La Paz, 1999; De La Paz & Graham, 1997a, 1997b, 2002; Graham, 1997; Graham & Harris, 1989; Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006; MacArthur, Harris, & Graham, 1994; Wong, 1997).

The existence of genre templates implies a strong connection between genre knowledge and planning, though we will reserve the detailed discussion of this point until we discuss the discourse mode in depth. Genre-oriented instruction typically focuses on providing strategies, procedural facilitators, and tools that cue writers to perform particular moves, organize their thinking about particular moves, and support internalization of a metadiscourse model (Englert, Mariage, & Dunsmore, 2006).


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