What is genre and why should I care?

Updated: Aug 23

Improve literacy achievement by knowing and teaching the genre of each task


When I was teaching Music in a secondary school, one day, we had a staff meeting in the library. I can remember it clearly. It was really sunny, and we all gathered around on chairs while two of my lovely teaching colleagues spoke to the whole staff about literacy. I knew nothing about literacy at the time so it was all new to me. They told us about the genres or text types, and they encouraged us to identify which genres were relevant for us in our subject areas.


Genre? What genre?


I knew about genres of music (like hip hop or classical) and I knew genres of movies (like horror or rom-com), but I didn't know anything about genres of writing in Music.


I had never thought about it.


They told me that a genre is a purpose for writing, such as persuading, describing or recounting. Any reading or writing in schooling has a genre, sometimes known as a text type.


When I considered the writing my students did in Music, I found it hard to work out the genre. Now I know that's because there had not been much analysis of the genres of my subject.


Eventually, I found out that most of the time in Music, we wrote descriptions. I ended up exploring these in more detail in my PhD research.


Starting out with genre


Here's an intro to what I learned about genre.


Each subject has its own special texts that students have to read, write, speak about, or create. These are part of the literacy demands of each subject. For example, students in Science write scientific reports, while in Visual Arts, they might complete a process diary, and in Technology, they write a design folio about their projects. Each of these texts has a different purpose, known as a genre.


Each subject has its own combination of genres. No subject does all of the genres. However, students do all of the genres, across the curriculum.


The common genres can be shown below.


Why should we care about genre?


Genres are part of the literacy demands of each subject area. Genres are more specific than ‘essays’ or ‘extended responses.’ They show ways that a subject expert communicates in a subject area or discipline.


Knowing about the genre of a task has many advantages for teachers and students:


- Identifying and teaching about genres makes literacy teaching more explicit and visible across the school.

- Subject areas use different genres. Knowing about genre helps students to understand the disciplinary literacies of a subject area.

- Genres have specific and identifiable patterns of language that can be taught and learned. These patterns are specific and explicit and will help students to read and write and communicate like a subject expert.


This step helps teachers to notice and pay attention to what they are asking students to do. Analysing the genre helps teacher to be intentional and deliberate about the tasks and to make sure that they are creating the best possible assessment program for students.


Did knowing about genre help me be a better Music teacher?


At first, no.


Knowing the names of the genres did nothing for me in the weeks after that staff meeting in the school library. But it did focus my attention on the texts that were relevant to my subject, and then I started to learn more about literacy in Music.


I worked out that I needed to help students with descriptions of music concepts. And I focused on that more directly, and that DID improve my teaching and my students' writing.


When I learned about genre and language features in Music, I became a better teacher.

As I learned more about the language features of the genres, I became better at teaching literacy. My students, who struggled enormously with literacy, became better writers and their results in Music were better too.


This blog is aimed to help subject teachers learn about the literacy demands of their subject areas. The names of the genres are easy. Applying them and understanding their language features might take a bit longer. But it's worth it!


For a different post about the genres of different subject areas, click here.


References for more info about genre

Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching Language in Context. 2nd Edition. London: Oxford.

Humphrey, S., & Rutherford Vale, E. (2020). Investigating model texts for learning. Newtown: PETAA.

Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2008). Genre relations. Mapping culture. London: Equinox.

Weekes, T. (2007-2021). Literacy Works range. (see the last page for links to resources for History, Geography, Commerce, Business Studies, PDHPE, HPE, Science, Music, Visual Arts, Drama)


To reference this blog, please cite:

Weekes, T. (2021, August 22). What is genre and why should I care? [Blog post]. Retrieved from: literacyinsecondaryschools.com.