Genre-based Approach to Teaching Writing

The approach to genre, influenced by the systemic-functional linguistics (Halliday, 1978), emerged out of literacy research in primary schools in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Researchers noticed that children did a lot of personal and narrative but very little factual and expository writing. The emphasis on personal creativity in narrative writing somehow creates a problem of ego-centrism and hinders the exposure to other forms of writing, and therefore other ways of engaging with knowledge.

As such, the genre-based Approach was introduced to remedy the problem by engaging students to wider functional range of texts. In this approach, a set of staged genres or ‘text types’ is explicitly taught in a four-phase pedagogy involving field building, modelling, joint negotiation and independent construction. Texts used during the modelling phase are designed to exemplify the main linguistic forms of knowledge required for effective participation in school subjects (Derewianka, 1996).

Language Principles of Genre-Based Approach

The main language principles of the genre-based approach are (Halliday, 1994):


language is a system of sound and signs for making meaning (Whole-language).[/li]

[li]language and learning are not only individual but essentially social.[/li]

[li]language purposes and text types are socio-culturally determined the structures of language are the way they are because of the meanings they have evolved to construct[/li]

The first principle views language as a system of resources for negotiating meanings or the semiotic system. In other words, the genre-base approach to language or better known as the functional model of language emphasises on meaning and how meaning is constructed through the use of language.

The second principle highlights the view that language learning is essentially social. It views that language learning is an interactive process whereby meanings are constantly constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed through negotiation with the so-called ‘meaning experts’ (teachers or care-givers). The process of learning happens through regular scaffolding by the experts in order to facilitate the learners in doing what they could not do (Cullip, 1999).

The third principle focuses on the concept of “genre”, as proposed by Martin (1992), as a great device for examining the purposes of different disciplines and the realisation of these purposes in words and grammar (lexicogrammar), as noted in principle four. Genre may be conceptualised as an evolved institutional text-type that is staged towards a purpose.

The Rationale of Implementing Genre-based Approach

The main rationale of using the genre-based approach is its strengths in teaching writings particularly in English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms. It matches modern classroom practice based on the Whole-language view whereby the main focus is on meaning and how language operates at the text level in order to obtain the meaning. Thus, it is strongly against the traditional phonemic view of language in which meaning is said to be found in isolation at the level of the individual words or sentences. As such, the idea of implementing the genre-based approach in teaching writing serves as a good step in cultivating a new way of improving students’ writing skills.

The Cycle of Genre-based Approach

The pedagogical model of genre-based approach is specially designed to provide a framework for instructors and not as a prescriptive sequence of teaching steps that teachers must follow. The flexibility of the pedagogy allows teachers to decide which stage that should be emphasised on (Martin, 1992).

The first stage in the curriculum cycle is the “Field Knowledge” or “Field Building” stage. The main idea of this stage is to build up control of the field or topic and building up the spoken language to enable students to talk about the topic. A range of activities that could provide input of information and opportunities for students to talk about the topic would be included at this step. This also includes a focus on extensive reading on the particular topic. The grammatical features and vocabulary at this stage are also emphasised depending on the students’ needs.

In the second stage, “Modelling”, the explicit focus will be on the genre that the students will be writing. In this stage, models of the genre will be presented to the students to be analysed. The main emphasis here will be on the purpose of the text, generic structure, language features, tenor and mode. In brief, this stage is giving the students optimum exposures on the fixed genre, which allows them to familiarise with the text type.

The third stage of the curriculum cycle is the “Joint Construction”.  Here, the teacher serves as a facilitator in helping the students to construct a model of the genre. The overall knowledge of the field, content and text organisation are drawn on by the teacher. This helps students to practice what they have learned but with limited guide by the teacher. Constant scaffolding will be given by the teacher in order to trigger students to utilise the knowledge that they have had.

Finally, the fourth stage is the “Independent Construction” stage whereby students would be required to write texts independently. After getting all the required exposures in the previous stages, students should be able to produce their own end-product by choosing their own topic, drafting, editing and getting the feedback from the teacher or peers. The main objective of this stage is to reflect what they have learned earlier and putting all their ideas into written form, and thus produce a well-structured essay (Martin, 1992).

Do check out Writing Fun by Jenny Eather. She has done a great job using Flash to facilitate the teaching of writing based on genre based approach.

[toggle state=”closed” title=”References”] [li]Cullip, P. F.  (1999). Scaffolding literacy learning: Vygotsky in the Classroom. The English Teacher, xxviii: 1-11.[/li] [li]Derewianka, B. (1991). Exploring How Texts Work. Newtown, New South Wales: Primary English Teaching Association.[/li] [li]Halliday,  M.A.K.  (1978).   Language   as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.[/li] [li]Halliday, M.A.K. (1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd edn). London: Routledge. [/li] [li]Martin, J.R. (1992). English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.[/li] [/toggle]

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