Strategies and Activities for Teaching Audience and Purpose
When crafting any piece of writing, identifying its purpose and audience is essential. Considering why you’re writing and who you’re writing for should influence content, word choice, tone, and more.
Unfortunately, students often struggle with these concepts. Many students fail to understand the importance of purpose and audience, while others are unsure how to identify and apply them.
We will explain why purpose and audience are significant—plus give strategies and activities for teaching purpose and audience to students. Let’s get started!
Why Does Audience Matter in Writing?
Audience refers to the person or group of people who will be reading a piece of writing. A student’s audience could be their peers, a teacher, a general group of readers for a blog or newspaper, parents, admissions officers at a college, etc.
Key considerations when it comes to audience include age, expectations, interests, and level of expertise on the topic being addressed.
If, for instance, a student is writing for a younger audience, he or she may wish to use simple language. For an older audience, students should avoid slang or other vocabulary that may be unfamiliar.
Students must also consider the expectations of the audience. Does this audience expect a formal essay? Or is the audience easily distracted and bored, therefore expecting something brief, to the point, and engaging?
Understanding the interests of the audience can help students appeal to their readers. It’s also important to know the audience’s level of expertise on the topic. How much background information will the audience need in order to understand the author’s point? What level of vocabulary should be used? Will the audience understand technical terms, or are explanations necessary?
Ultimately, audience should impact tone, emphasis, word choice, and the information the author chooses to include.
Why Does Purpose Matter in Writing?
What do you want your audience to feel, understand, and/or do after reading your writing? This is your purpose.
In general, writing purposes include to inform, to entertain, to inspire, and to persuade.
Purpose determines the point of your writing and influences how you’ll make this point. It may also impact tone, word choice, the evidence and details used, and so on.
A piece that is written to persuade should have a very different tone (more formal, more forceful) than a piece intended to entertain. Word choice will also differ dramatically. And while an author trying to persuade will focus on facts and evidence, an author who means to entertain will develop ideas using details and dialogue.
Together, purpose and audience lend focus to a piece of writing. They shape important decisions authors make about content, structure, and style.
Whether your students are writing to persuade a college admissions team to admit them or to entertain the readers of their blog, an understanding of purpose and audience is key.
Strategies and Activities for Teaching Purpose and Audience
Below, we’ll share several ways to teach your students about purpose and audience.
Start by teaching your students that writers have choices, and discuss how purpose and audience help shape these decisions.
Next, provide examples by giving your students a variety of texts that address the same topic but have different purposes and audiences.
A sample text set might include:
- An informative article about rainforests
- A persuasive article about the importance of preserving rainforests, for a general audience
- A technical article about deforestation and preservation of rainforests
- A travel brochure on visiting a rainforest
- An entertaining story that takes place in a rainforest
Ask your students about the purpose and audience for each piece. How do they know? How is each text different in terms of content, word choice, structure, and tone? Discuss how effectively each piece addresses the intended purpose and audience.
Depending on the level of your students, you may want to do a similar activity with Youtube clips first, showing videos with similar content but different purposes or audiences.
Before asking students to consider purpose and audience in their own writing, give them the opportunity to practice with a group activity.
Assign each group an audience (the school district) and a purpose (persuade the district to push back school start times). Then have the groups construct a paragraph tailored to their purpose and audience, preferably on butcher paper.
Afterward, each group will read their paragraph aloud to the class. Ask the class to guess the purpose and audience, explaining how they arrived at this conclusion.
You may choose to end the lesson with a discussion of “rules of thumb” for addressing various audiences and writing for different purposes. An alternative group activity is to have students role play as different audiences, providing a concrete visual for the idea of “audience.”
Now that you’ve introduced purpose and audience, provided examples, and moderated a group activity, students should be ready to apply these concepts in their own writing.
Assign writing tasks in which you aren’t the audience. This will help students let go of the idea that the default audience is the teacher. As students write for diverse audiences, have them consider each audience’s primary characteristics, including age, knowledge level, and interests.
Encourage students to apply this information by having them write short pieces on the same topic for different audiences. For instance, you might have them write for an audience of elementary school students, then for an audience of adults or even specialists on the topic in question.
You can also ask your students to consider questions such as, “How might Audience X react? How might Audience Y react?”
Discuss real-life examples in which students apply purpose and audience, like when writing a resume for a hiring manager, completing college application essays for admissions officers, or even sending text messages to their friends.
Eventually, allow students to come up with their own writing projects for a purpose and audience of their choice.
Purpose and audience are key considerations for any writer when it comes to tone, format, word choice, and content.
Using the tips and activities here will increase your student’s knowledge of purpose and audience, along with the effectiveness of their writing.
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