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When Should Teachers Introduce the Purpose of a Text?

We use a variety of texts to teach a variety of subjects. Sometimes, reading and identifying the purpose of a text is central to the lesson objective. More often, we can better achieve a lesson objective by introducing the purpose of a text to students. When and how should teachers introduce the purpose of a text?

The best time to introduce the purpose of a text is when introducing the lesson. The lesson objective is what makes the purpose meaningful in its context. Teachers should introduce the purpose of a text when doing so furthers the objective of the larger lesson. Understanding the purpose of a text before reading can help students draw out the meaning of new vocabulary words, identify genres and styles of writing, and focus on developing other academic skills.

Read on to learn more about the times and situations when you might consider introducing the purpose of a text. We will also explore techniques and strategies for making your introductions relevant and beneficial.

Why Should Teachers Introduce the Purpose of a Text?

Introducing the purpose of a text provides a framework for students to identify and interpret words and ideas central to the lesson. Every text exists because its author wrote it, and every author writes a text to achieve a specific purpose. Likewise, every reader also reads for a particular purpose (source).

Both readers and authors employ different purposes at different times and with different texts. If the reader does not understand a text’s purpose, he or she may read for a different purpose. This mismatch can lead to poor comprehension and might leave a reader confused or discouraged.

By introducing the purpose of a text, the instructor helps the reader to align his or her objectives with the writer’s intent, which improves the reader’s engagement and facilitates comprehension.

Defining the Purpose of a Text

Before we discuss strategies for introducing the purpose of a text, we should familiarize ourselves with the three primary purposes of writing. With few exceptions, all writing aims to persuade, inform, or entertain the reader.

In the previously linked chart above, we see lists of more than a dozen purposes that an author may use in writing. Each of these distinct purposes fits into one of the three primary purposes. Let’s examine them more closely.

  • Persuade: To cause someone to do or believe something (source).

Advertisements are an excellent example of persuasive writing. By emphasizing the quality or value of a product, they aim to encourage the reader to buy the product.

  • Inform: To impart information or knowledge (source).

History textbooks and newspaper articles are examples of informative writing. The author writes these texts to tell the reader what happened, who made it happen, and when and where it happened.

  • Entertain: To amuse or interest a person for the sake of that person’s pleasure (source).

Novels and storybooks are examples of entertainment. The writer seeks to provide the reader with a story that appeals to the readers’ interests and emotions satisfyingly.

Often, a text will fit into more than one of these three categories. For example, a history text might describe (inform) the details of a war in a way that causes (persuades) the reader to view a particular side sympathetically.

As another example, a fable might encourage (persuade) the reader to behave a certain way by using an imagined story (entertainment) complete with talking animals to show the results of specific actions.

When Should Teachers Introduce the Purpose of a Text?

Students learn best when they recognize what they are supposed to be learning at a given moment. Learning math differs from learning history or language, and each uses different skills and mental functions.

Just as our students are better able to mentally prepare when they know the subject before them, they are also better able to engage with the lesson if they understand its objective and parameters.

Sometimes, introducing the purpose of a text is not necessary at all. A math text, for example, will almost always be an informative text.

When introducing the purpose of a text that is not obvious from context, introduce it before the students engage with the text. If you delay or omit to introduce the purpose of a text, the students might read the text in search of the wrong things, losing valuable learning time in the process.

For example, a history text might simply state the critical facts of a past event or examine the tensions and conflicting objectives of two warring nations. Knowing the purpose of a text before reading helps the students to focus on identifying key dates and people or differing ideals and perspectives.

Another example is when teaching language to young learners who are building their vocabulary, you might introduce a story as a piece about a particular character. The reader can then identify and learn new words because of their relationship to the key character.

When Should Teachers Not Introduce the Purpose of a Text?

It is not always beneficial to introduce the purpose of a text. As noted above, there are occasions when the purpose of a text is self-evident and needs no introduction. Also, there are times when it is necessary for the students to discern and articulate the purpose of a text on their own.

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Just as introducing the purpose of a text is a valuable component of introducing a lesson, withholding the purpose is necessary for reviewing and testing what the students have already learned.

When we assess a student’s reading comprehension, we must look for the student’s ability to infer and articulate the purpose of the passage (source). We cannot measure the student’s progress accurately if we do not require him or her to discover the answers on their own.

For example, we might ask a child to read a story and describe what he or she learned from it. The child might not express the purpose in the terms that we use above but should be able to articulate details and answer questions about key events.

Additionally, we might ask a student to explain a point of view presented in the passage or a moral or practical lesson that he or she drew from the character’s behavior and its results.

Framing our questions in this manner provides an indicator that the child is distinguishing between writing that entertains or informs and writing that persuades.

How Should Teachers Introduce the Purpose of a Text?

There are different ways to introduce the purpose of a text, and you will use them in different situations. The age and language proficiency of your students, the subject, and the lesson objective all contribute to the methods you will choose.

You can use visual aids, pre-reading questions, or even state the purpose of the text outright. Let’s see how some of these methods might work and how each is better suited to a different purpose or a different audience.

Useful Examples of Introducing the Purpose of a Text

Examples are helpful in understanding a concept, even for teachers! Below are some useful ways to introduce the purpose of a text to your students.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – just a few examples to illustrate how to introduce a text’s purpose.

Visual aids

When teaching young learners who are still developing basic reading skills and vocabulary, visual aids are a valuable tool.

Children’s books are highly visual. You might use the image on the book’s cover to introduce the main character and flip to some inside illustrations to show what the character is doing or how the character is feeling.

This helps the students know that they are reading, for example, about a dog who gets scared, which helps them identify and define vocabulary words related to this broad concept.

Another use for visual aids is as a companion to instructions, such as you might use with a science lesson. For example, you could provide the students with a set of components and steps while putting a finished piece on display for the class.

This visual clue reinforces that the students are reading instructions to persuade them to carry out certain actions in order to achieve a specific outcome.

You’ll notice in these examples that it is not always necessary to outright state the purpose of a text. In other situations, your introduction might be more direct, as we will now see.

Pre-reading Questions

Provide your students with questions to guide their exploration of the text. As we showed earlier, you can present the questions differently by asking students to answer closed-ended questions, describe elements of the text, or explain processes and events.

The questions themselves give the students an indicator of the purpose of the text before they begin reading it.

Suppose you are teaching a unit about the Civil War. If you ask your students to identify five significant events and their dates, they will approach the text expecting to discover information. However, if instead you ask them to describe the aftermath of a particular battle, they will search for opinions, perspectives, and other indicators of persuasion.

In a political science class, you might offer the class texts that detail two contrasting viewpoints about a prominent issue and ask them to determine which argument is more persuasive. In this instance, you are stating the purpose of the text outright because it is central to the lesson objective.

English Language Acquisition

We use the lesson objective as our guidepost because all learning is cumulative. Language acquisition is no exception. As teachers, we do more than impart knowledge to students. We guide them in building on and using their knowledge to develop their academic skills.

When we introduce new concepts and ideas, we almost always use previously learned concepts as a starting point. In language acquisition, it is virtually impossible to introduce a new idea without using old ideas.

Making connections to the familiar helps students to conceptualize and internalize new ideas. It moves new learning from being an abstract idea to being a helpful tool.

Introducing the Purpose of a Text to Improve Academic Skills

There is more to teaching and learning than just connecting various pieces of information. There are multiple soft skills that determine how students learn and how they use what they’ve learned.

If you’ve read our article on Finding and Understanding Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses, then you are familiar with some of these soft skills. By introducing the purpose of a text, we encourage students to exercise and strengthen several of these academic assets.

In a previous example, we invited students to read both sides of a debate and assess the merits of each argument. Introducing our text in this manner encourages critical thinking skills by inviting students to weigh arguments and apply them to realistic scenarios.

Similarly, you might invite your students to read a satire piece and discern a moral lesson from the text, which might not be evident without exercising critical thinking and connecting to previously learned information.

Introducing the purpose of a text can also improve a reader’s attention to detail and organization skills. For example, a student approaching a text to ascertain specific data will employ reading strategies to identify, isolate, and preserve the information.

As another example, a student following a set of written instructions is simultaneously improving his or her attention to detail.

If you’ve read our article How to Set and Follow Through on Academic Goals; Examples for Success, then you are familiar with the importance of making goals measurable and attainable. On a small scale, introducing the purpose of a text provides a framework for setting and achieving goals relative to the lesson at hand.

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Every lesson object is a small-scale goal. Whether the lesson’s goal is to learn new words, acquire new knowledge, or discern specific ideas and meanings, introducing a text’s purpose helps your students understand their objectives.

Final Thoughts

There are many situations when it is beneficial to introduce the purpose of a text and various ways to do so. Lesson objectives, the subject material, and the purpose of the text itself are all factors to consider when introducing a text’s purpose. Moreover, preparing ELA students to approach a text with the right mindset is integral to developing academic skills in English.