Genre Knowledge: Linking Movies and Music to Genres of Writing

Purpose of Exercise: This exercise helps students understand that writers use genre to reach a variety of different audiences (themselves, friends, peers, instructors, employers, parents, and more) with lots of different expectations. To reach an audience effectively, writers need to be flexible -- they need to be able to analyze and make decisions about how to approach any writing situation. Developing genre knowledge prepares students to assess the writing situations they’ll encounter in college and beyond.

Description: Students work in small groups to identify conventions of various movie genres and discuss audience expectations. Each group presents the conventions of their genre to the class, and class discussion allows for identification of similarities/differences/connections between genres. The discussion shifts to genres of music, where conventions are identified but also the “blurriness” of genres is discussed. All this discussion about the familiar – movies and music – gets students to identify what a genre is, how we might define it or at least qualify it, and finally what an audience expects from a particular genre. Students have some confidence about the concept of genre for the next step, the discussion of the less familiar writing genres. In groups, students identify conventions of various genres of writing – the academic essay, a text message, a newsletter, a poster, a web site, a lab report, an obituary, a magazine article – and report back. The class then discusses what these genres include, how they might be defined, and what audiences expect from each genre. 

Suggested Time: 30-50 for exercise; plus 20 minutes suggested for journal writing which can be assigned in–class or as homework

Procedure: Divide students into small groups. Assign each group a movie genre (horror, romantic comedy, drama, action, thriller, comedy, documentary, or other). Have students answer the following questions:

  1. Genre: What are the conventions of your group’s movie genre?
  2. Audience: Who goes to/rents/watches this type of movie?
  3. Audience Expectation: What does an audience expect to experience/feel/learn/see from this genre?
  4. Evidence: Provide 3 examples of movies that fit this type and explain why they fit. 

Move to class discussion – ask each group to present their genre while you note their points on the board; once all groups are done, engage in class discussion to add more conventions or expectations, draw connections between genres, and allow students to come up with genres and conventions you did not originally assign. 

Next, ask students to look at their iPods or phones or wherever their music is stored. Ask for some favorite songs and write them on the board. Then ask students to define the genre of each, or ask in which genre the song is categorized in their iPod? Continue class discussion by asking for other genres of music, with conventions and song examples. Ask the class to come up with a “genre bleeder” or song that is difficult to categorize (i.e. Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville straddles country and pop, Black–Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” straddles R&B, Hip Hop, and Pop, Kid Rock’s “Roll On” is a country song often categorized as Rap because of the artist’s other work). At this point, the instructor may choose to move back to the movie discussion to identify “genre bleeders” but only for a minute or two so the discussion can move to writing.

Next, move the class into a discussion of genres of writing. Ask them to identify different types of writing – from class reading assignments, to writing they do every day, to writing they see in public. Then organize into categories – genres and subgenres – on the board. This exercise often requires more prompting than movies and music – students don’t always think about writing genres when they encounter them. If necessary, break them off into small groups again to identify as many types of writing as they can in 2 minutes. Then come back together.

On the board, as you categorize writing into genres and subgenres, ask students to direct you. Prompt them to consider which genres are parallel and which are subgenres of another. Be sure to ask them for a wide range of examples – genres of fiction, genres of professional writing, genres of personal writing (they never see texting as writing so it’s a good one to start with), etc. As they begin to make sense of writing genres, they will offer more examples. The board should become crowded with examples and arrows drawing connections between genres. 

Ask students to identify the one element that is always a factor in deciding on a genre to compose in, whether you are composing in writing, in music, or in film: Audience. 

Finally, ask students to complete a journal, in class or as homework. The following prompts can be used:

  • How do you define genre?
  • Does your definition hold true for movies, music, and writing, or does it differ between media?
  • What makes a genre definable, or what makes us able to categorize a genre? Provide an example of a genre of writing and illustrate its categorization.
  • List 10 genres of writing you use here at FSU regularly, both in and out of class.
  • What are the audiences for the genres you mention above?
  • What genre are you writing in now? Define it and identify its audience.
  • What is the role of audience in considering genre? Why does audience matter?
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Genre Scavenger Hunt

Purpose of Exercise:This exercise is a great way to get students actively thinking outside of their understanding of genre in music and movies. It is meant to get them outside of the classroom and up and moving around. More importantly, it is great exercise to show students how writing is public and that writing can take many forms including everyday use. The exercise helps students begin to make connections between the writing they do in the classroom and the writing they do outside the classroom. 

Description: Have students in groups of two or three and give them a list of things they must “find” relating to genre within the Williams Building. 

Suggested Time: 30-40 minutes; plus 20 min reflection to bring it all together

Procedure: Put students into groups of two or three. Let them know they will be working in these groups and can’t expand to include two groups in one. Tell them they will be doing a “genre scavenger hunt” and in order to complete it they must venture into the halls of Williams. Anywhere in Williams is fair game but they can’t leave the building. The first two teams back wins

**Note: you don’t have to have a “prize” but you can if you would like. Candy works or bonus points on homework on in-class assignments.

The Hunt:

**Note: the hunt works best if students use their cell phones to take pictures and videos, but a pen and paper works just as well. So if one group doesn’t have a phone that has these functions they can still participate. 

Students need to come back with the following items—

  1. 5 different examples of genres—they must document them by taking pictures with one of the group members phones. Note: Some examples they could find—someone on a laptop, someone texting, a professor teaching, a literature book, a poster, etc. 
  2. Find one person in the Williams building to define genre theory (they have to get a name of the person)—they must document this by video recording them with their phone or jotting notes while the person talks
  3. Find an example of an “old” genre and “new” genre—they must document them by taking pictures and jotting down on a piece of notebook paper why they represent old and new genres (these must be different than the 5 examples of genre they found in #1) **Note: newer genres can include digital genres, so for example a picture of a text message 
  4. Find two examples of genres in action in other words find two examples of people working in genres (you can give them a hint: could be someone typing up a note)—they must document them by taking pictures 
  5. Predict a new genre based on your understanding of genre theory 

The Reflection: In a quick reflection, respond to the following questions: 

What did you learn about genre in the scavenger hunt? Why might the scavenger hunt have been useful? Redefine genre. How, if at all, does your definition of genre keep expanding? 

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Genre and Rhetorical Situation: Choosing an appropriate Genre

Purpose of Exercise: This exercise helps students understand that genre is linked to rhetorical situation, and that the choice of genre is one a writer must carefully decide using a variety of factors. Key to making the appropriate choice is audience, message, and occasion – all factors in the rhetorical situation. In order for students to write successfully beyond the FYC classroom, they must understand how to make choices appropriate to the writing situation. Understanding the factors that determine the rhetorical situation and how genre and audience connect within each situation, will help students make choices that will lead to successful writing in other contexts.

*Some knowledge of Lloyd Bitzer’s article “The Rhetorical Situation” is especially helpful for this activity—whether it’s the teacher’s familiarity or whether the article is assigned as reading is up to you.

Description: Students work at “stations” in the classroom, using the same overall scenario to write using a different genre for each rhetorical situation the scenario has created. The scenario is a car accident which requires communication to different audiences, and forces students to think about the rhetorical situation and how it changes based on audience and genre. 

Suggested Time: 50 minutes; plus 20 minutes suggested for reflection writing which can be assigned in–class or as homework

Procedure: Before class starts, post each scenario (on paper) at different points in the classroom, creating a “writing station” for each. Forcing students to physically move between stations emphasizes the change in rhetorical situation, and it allows students to write at their own pace and collaborate with a new group at each station. 

Note: For computer classrooms, adapt this exercise by creating one handout/Discussion Board post that students can use as a guideline to write on computers. Add in a small group discussion about the assignment before they being writing so there is an element of collaboration, the assignment is understood, and questions can be brought up (or stop the class for a minute after each “station” to discuss the next. 

(Instructions to give students: A message is communicated successfully if it is received by its intended audience. The message conveyed in two different genres might involve the same content, but the conventions used to communicate this message may be drastically different depending on factors of the rhetorical situation. In this exercise we’ll analyze the ways conventions are used to communicate messages, the underlying assumptions associated with different genres, and the choices we must make when writing based on the audience for which we are writing. For all scenarios, stick to the details in the story provided but tailor your writing appropriately. Write each piece to the specific audience, analyzing before and as you write, how considering your audience and your genre varies.)

Divide students into small groups at each station so everyone starts at different places. Encourage them to collaborate in discussing genre conventions, while the instructor circulates to get involved in the discussion at each station. The overall rhetorical situation is as follows: 

Earlier today you were in a car accident while driving your grandmother’s car on your way to take your Biology midterm. Luckily you were not hurt, nor were any others, but your vehicle and another have significant damage and are headed to the repair shop. Since you were texting your friend while driving instead of paying attention, you ran through a red light, so the accident was your fault. Police responded to the scene and your insurance company has been notified. Your grandmother’s car was towed away to get repaired.

Use the following scenarios for each station:

Scenario #1 

You now have to write a letter to your grandmother telling her about the accident. Write this in the genre of a letter, whichever of those you would use to communicate with Grandma. Some things to consider as you write: 

  • What content should be included for this genre? (What information and details are relevant in this letter to your grandmother?)
  • What is the style of the language used?
  • What format is it written in? How could I tell by looking at it that it is a letter? 

Scenario #2

Because of the car accident, you are missing your Biology midterm. Your professor is old and ornery, and you are pretty sure he said “if you miss the midterm or final, your grade is zero - no make-ups” at the beginning of the semester. You are stressed out! By the time the police clear the accident scene, the mid-term is over and you are headed home. Write an email to your Biology professor, explaining what happened and appealing to him for another chance to take the mid-term or to make it up somehow. Write the email, considering the audience and the situation as well as the following:

  • What content should be included? What details are relevant? Or too much?
  • What style of language should you use for this email?
  • What else is appropriate? 

Scenario #3 

Write a text message to a friend – you are finished at the accident scene and need a ride. Write this in the genre of a txt msg explaining what you need, why, and from where to where. Some things to consider: 

  • What content should be included for this genre? (What info/details are relevant in a text message?)
  • What is the style of the language used in a text message to a friend?
  • What format is it written in? How could I tell by looking at it that it is a text message? 

Scenario # 4 

You are now writing about the accident in the diary/journal you keep to record your thoughts every night before you go to bed. You have had a rough day, and you’re trying to make sense of things before going to sleep. Write this in the genre of a “journal entry.” Some things to keep in mind: 

  • What content should be included for this genre? What details are relevant?
  • What is the style of the language used? Who is the audience?
  • What format is it written in? How is it obviously a journal entry? 

Scenario #5 

You are doing some online research about car accidents a few weeks after your accident happened because it had a big impact on you even though you were unhurt. You stumble across a blog where people share their stories about how car accidents have impacted their lives. There is an open forum for anyone who wants to post an entry to do so. You read about some horrific accidents that left people with permanent damage or loss. You are struck by the fact that your car accident, while inconvenient and a bit scary, was nothing as bad as it might have been. You decide to tell your story. Write a blog entry detailing your experience and explaining its impact on you. Some things to keep in mind: 

  • What content would you include in this genre? Why? 
  • What is the style of the language used? What format is it written in? 
  • What are the conventions of a blog?
  • Who is the audience?

Scenario #6

You are assigned an essay for your Psychology class on the topic of human behavior and what makes people change learned habits. The assignment requires that you indicate why the topic is important to you as the writer of it. You decide to write about distracted driving, and you include your story about texting and driving as the introduction, using this personal experience to set the stage for your essay and explain your interest in the topic. It is significant for you because the accident reminds you of another time in your life when you had a close call that left you with a greater sense of appreciation for life. But you still engaged in texting while driving, so it occurs to you that you didn’t learn the lesson. Write the introduction to this Psych essay, keeping the following in mind: 

  • What genre are you writing in and what are its conventions? 
  • Who is the audience and what are its expectations?
  • What details are relevant to this introduction?
  • What does this part of the essay need to do? How will you achieve that goal? 

Reflection on Rhetorical Situation and Genre:

Reflect on the experience of writing in different genres for each rhetorical situation. Use the following prompts as a guideline:

  • How did you know what was appropriate for each genre?
  • For each scenario, how did your audience impact what and how you chose to say?
  • Compare any two scenarios and discuss the significant differences in rhetorical situation (discuss purpose, audience, intended outcome, and appropriateness of writing style for each).
  • How does your understanding of genre, audience, and rhetorical situation influence the choices you make in writing?
  • What 5 elements from this exercise can you apply to a writing assignment you are currently working on in any other class? In other words, what did you learn by doing this that you can now transfer to another writing situation? 

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Genre and Reflection Exercise: Using Reflection to Understand Genre

Purpose of Exercise: This exercise helps students articulate how genre plays a role in their understanding of their own writing and writing process(es). Using reflection as the method by which they explore their understanding of genre and key terms in writing, students can begin to make connections to how the understanding of genre aids their ability to write more successfully. 

Description: This is a four step exercise that normally spans at least two-three class periods and is most often helpful when done during week two or week three of the semester. Additionally, it works best if you have the students read several different readings that are in several different genres. So for example have students read a short memoir, a newspaper article, and an inquiry-based essay as homework during this week of class, so they have a variety of genres that you know they have read.

Note: This activity works well when used alongside the activity “Genre Knowledge: Linking Movies and Music to Genres of Writing.”

Suggested Time: 25-30 minutes per class period; plus 30 min discussion at the end of the second class and a 20 min reflection to bring it all together


**Note: if you do not teach in a computer classroom you can have the students write in a notebook. 

Step 1: Key Terms

During the second week of class have students take 20 min or so to respond to the following questions:

In this quick reflection, think about words or terms that you believe are important in creating "good" writing (think about your own writing and your method of writing...what terms would you associate with this?). Generate a list of 5-10 terms and define them. Next give specific examples of authors and/or pieces that you believe use these terms and do so in a good way. Finally, tell why you believe the list you have created is important to writing, specifically your own writing.

After having students generate this list have them hold onto it until the next class. 

Step 2: Understanding Genre

Have the students pull up their list from the first day and reflection to the following questions: 

If you had to define genre based on your readings and your own understanding of genre, what would that definition be? Think about each of the readings and their specific genre and support your definition with examples from the three readings so far. Be specific. Talk through how each author uses genre.

Step 3: Class Discussion

Lead a class discussion using the following questions as a guideline:

Why is it important that you learn about different genres of writing? Why learn about key terms such as genre, audience, purpose, rhetorical situation, etc? What does it do for your writing to understand these key terms? How do these terms contribute to your development as a writer?

Step 4: Bringing it Together

After the class discussion has the students reflect on the following questions:

Revisit your key terms and your reflection on good writing. How has this changed or morphed? Would you add/delete any key terms—why or why not? Walk through your writing process. How does your new understanding of genre affect your writing process? 

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Comparing Digital Genres: Facebook, Twitter, and Text Messaging

Purpose of Exercise: This activity provides students with a chance to develop and apply genre knowledge to digital genres to see how they are both similar to and different from each other and“analogue” genres. By comparing the digital genres of the Facebook status update, the tweet, and the text message, students are able to see how digital writing responds to diverse purposes and audiences. 

Description: In this activity, students compare (their own or others’) the Facebook statuses, tweets, and text messages and complete a series of writing and discussion tasks to look at the genres that shape their own (and others’) writing in digital media.

Suggested Time: 20-30 minutes, but flexible


First, have students collect a certain number of Facebook statuses, tweets, and texts messages—either their own or from others. If you are in a computer classroom, this can be done in-class. If not, it may be useful to give students a homework assignment in which they collect—and maybe even print out—these snippets of text.

Next, have students take a moment to write about if and how they use these three kinds of writing. You might prompt them with one (or several) of the following questions: 

Do they Facebook? Tweet? Write text messages? When and with what digital technologies? Do they use them for the same purposes? Do they use them for different purposes and in different situations? Who do they plan to reach when they write a Facebook status, tweet, or text message? In short, how do they decide whether to write a Facebook status, tweet, or text?

Third, have students take a minute to write about how these genres are both similar to and different from each other. You might prompt them with one (or several) of the following questions: 

What kind of writing does each venue allow you to do? What doesn’t it allow you to do (that is, what constraints does it put on you)? How does each genre allow you to connect texts with each other? How do they incorporate (or not) images? What do you think is the history of this genre?

Finally, bring students together for a discussion and reflection. What kind of patterns emerge as they share what they’ve written? Are there generalizations that can be drawn about the way we use these particular digital genres? And, finally, how do the uses of Facebook statuses, tweets, and text messages differ from the genres they use in school? And why might that be?

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