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1 A functional, contextual view on language

Cristina Boccia

This first chapter reviews the powerful notion of genre in the context of teaching English as a foreign, second or additional language and the implication for our teaching and learning practice of adopting genres as a key organizing principle. It also reviews key notions of Systemic Functional Linguistics, the theory on language that informs our work with genre and the pedagogy for the writing of texts that is presented. At the end of the chapter, the contents of the book are described.

1.1 Overall plan

As we anticipated in the Introduction, our overall purpose in this book is to explore the importance and the implications of adopting the powerful notion of genre as a key pedagogic object in the context of teaching and learning English as an additional language, both foreign and secondary (EAL, for short). Our main aim is to show how adopting genre as a key organizing construct is particularly productive for curriculum, course and class planning.

Our discussion will draw upon Martin’s (1992) definition of genre as a “staged, goal-oriented, purposeful social activity that we engage in as speakers of a language and members of a culture.” We will spend most of the book fleshing out these ideas and will now illustrate them with a brief review, written in school by Alex, at 7, after reading Extreme Insects.

ch01-note_11 copy

The review Alex writes fulfills the functions of identifying a book he has read, giving his personal opinion on it, substantiating his opinion with some analysis and then recommending the book to his friend Camren. It is a simple text which clearly fulfills functions we associate with reviews in our culture. These functions are not carried out all at once, but rather, as the text unfolds, in stages. Language is the key resource with which meanings are made with some help from graphology and lay-out. But meaning is clearly substantially expressed verbally. Martin’s definition above is very effective in capturing several ideas about what teaching a language involves. We consider that teaching and learning a foreign language is most critically about helping our students successfully take part in the social contexts in which they wish and need to operate. As members of a culture, they take part in social activities that go from the very everyday, here-and-now context of family and friends, to the more impersonal, abstract context of professional, academic or scientific endeavor. When we take part in social life in this wide range of contexts, we do so participating in activities that have a purpose, more or less interpersonal and intangible to more concrete or pragmatic. We talk to friends and partners to build our individual and social identities, as Eggins and Slade (1997) tell us about casual conversation, we take part in service encounters or write a letter of enquiry with a much more pragmatic purpose. We tell recounts and anecdotes, leave a message at home, write a personal e-mail, apply for a job or a grant, read an editorial, listen to the news and the weather forecast, read a story or a research article. As we live our private, civic, professional, academic lives, we participate in or are exposed to a myriad of social activities with a goal that is fulfilled stage by stage and in which language plays a key role. These activities are all genre. So if we wish our students to be able to take part in the activities that speakers of English engage in around the world, the best thing we can teach them is, in fact, genres. Genres are a very productive middle-ground between the more abstract ‘culture’ and the very concrete language resources that we need in order to operate successfully in a given culture. Genres allow us to position ourselves at the level of culture (a culture we could argue, is, actually, made up of genres!) and from there examine and teach the more concrete situational contexts, familiar, educational, civic and professional in which language is used differently, in which distinct types of meanings need to be made which, in turn, are expressed by a multiplicity of concrete language resources. If our key pedagogic object becomes the genres our students need to learn to live their lives in a given social context, our task as teachers of EAL becomes so much more significant. Our role goes far beyond teaching the lexis, the grammar, the phonology of a foreign language. We will actually continue to teach all these aspects of language as intensively as we always have, but not because a wide vocabulary, a precise grammar or a fluent pronunciation are in themselves the object of teaching a language, but rather, because they are the resources we need to operate effectively as social beings in a given cultural context. Rich vocabulary, good grammar and pronunciation will strongly empower our students to be able to make effective choices as they read, write or participate in social activities in which language is used.

Taking genres as key pedagogical objects that we wish to teach, practice with our students, have them read and write and evaluate them on will make us consider several associated questions, such as:

  • What genres should we teach given the huge number of genres we come across as we live our lives?
  • How should we sequence those genres along years of studying or along a single course?
  • What should we teach about a genre?
  • How can we best teach students to become good readers and writers of genres?

These are some of the questions we will take up in this chapter. Some of them, we will be taking up all along the book.

Before we move on to answering them, we will briefly review the model of language that we draw upon to study genres, to better understand how they do what they do and to describe and explain the role language plays. Having a model that informs us gives us the huge advantage of being able to ask principled questions of texts and make principled teaching and learning decisions.

1.2 A functional and contextual view on language

We draw upon Systemic Functional Linguistics (hereafter, SFL), a theory that views language in functional and contextual terms, two features that make it a most appliable language theory.

SFL was foundationally theorized by Michael Halliday in Halliday (1975), Halliday and Hasan (1976), Halliday and Matthiessen (1999, 2014), Matthiessen (1995), Martin (1992a), and by a host of linguists who have continued to develop the theory to this day. One of the main developments spinning off from the theory has been the area of educational linguistics in which important applications to the teaching of L1 and additional languages, in all educational levels, have been made. Authors such as Christie (1999, 2012); Byrnes (2002, 2006); Martin and Christie (2007); Christie and Derewianka (2008); Unsworth (2008); Martin and Rose (2012); Coffin and Donahue (2014); Dreyfus, Humphrey, Mahbob and Martin (2016); Derewianka and Jones (2016) have contributed widely with theoretical and pedagogic tools for the teaching of language, genres and multimodal literacy pedagogy.[1]

SFL has a functional and contextual approach to language. It views language as having the key function of making meanings, actually, three kinds of meanings simultaneously. Whenever we use language, SFL linguists claim, we make meanings about the world around us both external and internal, about the roles interactants take up as they use language and the attitude they express toward experience, and finally, meanings that have to do with how we use language in a text, how it relates to its co-text and context and how it is put together. These three kinds of meanings are called experiential, interpersonal and textual meanings.

If we say, for example: Hey, Id really appreciate your telling me everything about your new job, we are first calling somebody’s attention to request pretty earnestly that s/he engage in the verbal activity of telling the speaker about a new job. The speaker is requesting information with some pressure in a relatively informal manner (interpersonal meaning), the activity he requests is verbal and what is to be told is ‘everything about her new job’, a semiotic phenomenon (experiential meaning). The request opens with Hey in prominent, initial position, effectively calling the attention of the interlocutor (textual meaning). Whenever we use language, we make these three kinds of meanings: we talk about something and, as we do so, we refer to participants doing things under certain circumstances, we interact with somebody in a particular way depending on the roles we hold in the exchange, and we organize information so that our message gets across effectively.

This is a very interesting approach to the meaning-making role that language has. Traditionally, we have typically concentrated on the most obvious meanings made through language – the who, why, when, where, how related to experience. Recreating experience is, of course, a good part of what language is doing, but there is more to it. It is also important to consider what language is doing in terms of expressing, construing and maintaining the role relations that hold between those who are interacting and the ways a message is organized to communicate meanings effectively. Interpersonal and textual meanings can also be part of what we teach as they contribute to making the message more effective. Problems in effective communication are often related to those meanings.

As we use language and make these three types of meanings simultaneously, we choose the language resources we need to use based on the specific context in which we are using language. This is another important claim made by SFL. It emphasizes the inseparable connection between certain aspects of context and language use and theorizes on them, as part of what describing language itself entails. If we really wish to understand how language works, we need to consider the role of context. This is very relevant to what happens in our classrooms. The importance of context, or ‘teaching in context’ is clearly not new. Yet, what exactly do we mean when we say we need to teach ‘in context’? SFL’s view on language and context can give us insights into this.

SFL claims that there are three key aspects of context that affect in a systematic and predictable way the language choices that we make, that is, the meanings we wish to express and the concrete lexis and grammar – the wordings – we use. These aspects are: the field or subject matter that a social interaction is about, the tenor or the role relationships between those that participate in the interaction and the mode in which language is used, most basically oral or written, and more and more nowadays, multimodally.

This means that what we talk about – the subject matter – has the obvious impact of determining the language we need in order to talk about food, animals, a movie or liberty. The impact of field also refers to the more or less specialized way in which we speak about a particular topic: is it about a meal in familiar, common-sense terms? Or more specialized terms? Or even technical or scientific terms? These distinctions are all about field and they will obviously have an impact on the language choices we need to make.

Let’s consider the following text, particularly the way in which the ginkgo tree is described:

Ginkgo biloba, known as the maidenhair tree, is one of the oldest trees on earth, once part of the flora of the Mesozoic period. The ginkgo tree is the only surviving species of the Ginkgoaceae family. This ancient deciduous tree may live for thousands of years. Ginkgo is indigenous to China, Japan, and Korea, but also thrived in North America and Europe prior to the Ice Age. This drastic climate change destroyed the wild ginkgo tree throughout much of the world. In China, ginkgo was cultivated in temple gardens as a sacred tree known as bai gou, thus assuring its survival there for more than 200 million years. Ginkgo fossils found from the Permian period are identical to the living tree, which is sometimes called a living fossil.

(https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/divisions-diagnostics-and-procedures/medicine/ginkgo-biloba)

This descriptive report is much more specialized and technical than would be our comments to a friend as we walk along a ginkgo-lined street. We could comment on their beautiful fan-shaped leaves or their bright yellow leaves in fall, but we would probably not be much more specialized than that. Our comments on the tree would be based on our common-sense experience. The impact that this variation from familiar, common-sense experience to more specialized and technical has on the language choices we make is summarized below[2]:

The roles of the participants in an interaction also affect the way in which we use language: the power relations that hold between them (who knows more, who has institutional power), how well they know each other (affective involvement) and how often they see each other (frequency of contact) all affect what we say and how we say it. The tenor of a situation, depending on these variables will vary from more informal to less informal. Let’s consider the following brief dialogue from The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams:

Tom: What things do you want me to tell you?

Amanda: Naturally I would like to know when he’s coming!

T: He’s coming tomorrow.

A: Tomorrow?

T: Yep. Tomorrow.

A: But, Tom!

T: Yes, Mother?

A: Tomorrow gives me no time!

T: Time for what?

A: Preparations! Why didn’t you phone me at once, as soon as you asked him, the minute that he accepted? Then, don’t you see, I could have been getting ready!

T: You don’t have to make any fuss.

As we can see, the tenor relationship between Amanda and Tom is one of shared power. They seem to know each other well and have frequent contact. These characteristics of the roles they hold are reflected in their choosing freely what to say to each other, expressing their opinion, disagreeing, telling each other what they should or should not do. Amanda actually challenges Tom to justify his not having told her before about the visit of the gentleman caller and addresses him reproachfully: But, Tom! These characteristics of the speech roles selected (both to initiate and respond to moves) and of the attitude expressed all reflect, and actually build, the relationship between them. The table below summarizes the impact that more formal or informal tenors can have on the language choices we make, some of which are reflected in the dialogue above.

As the table reflects, the more equal the power relations, the affective involvement and the frequency of contact are, the more freedom we have to express our attitude toward things, events, people’s behavior, to disagree with what others say to us, to ask questions, give orders (even very directly), to refuse offers or to follow orders, to interrupt, swear, etc. These are all choices that become more restricted as the relationship becomes more formal.

Finally, our use of language is affected by the channel of communication that we use (basically whether or not it is face-to-face) and the role language is assigned (written or oral). Using language orally is clearly more interactive and dynamic and it typically involves feedback which can be more or less immediate or delayed. All these characteristics of the context of situation, then, affect the language we use in a predictable and fairly systematic way. Consider the channel and the way language is used in the following dialogue:

Customer: Hi, can I get a white chocolate mocha?… small… with whipped cream, please.

Server: Sure… is that all?

C: Yeap

S: $3.39

(customer hands the money)

S: Thanks, have a good one!

C: Where do I…?

S: Oh, over there (pointing), just wait a sec

C: Ok, thanks

S: Yeah…

(customer waits)

S: Chocolate mocha!

C: Thanks

S: Uh-huh

(recorded by Wanda Poveda)

In this typical face-to-face oral service encounter, language is used in a very interactive and dynamic way. What one speaker says determines in real time what the other one says; the exchange is very quick as feedback is immediate. The characteristics of the situation affect the language choices made by the customer and the server: they use ellipsis, exophoric reference, verbal and non-verbal communication, incomplete clauses, for example.

As we describe in more detail the difference between different modes, we pay special attention to the channel and the immediacy of the feedback involved. These two variables determine most clearly the type of language that is used, as the table below reflects:

ch01_3

This relatively brief review of the description of the context of situation and its impact on the language choices we make may seem rather complex as quite a few variables have been mentioned. Yet, if we think about it, as we use language in our daily lives we do attend to all these variables more or less unconsciously: we speak naturally to friends and family yet we might think twice and reconsider the degree of formality we use in a letter of enquiry we write or in the degree of technicality with which we will explain something to our students. These are concerns that will make our social use of language more or less effective. If we are working with our students on a genre that functions in a particular situation, with distinct features of field, tenor and mode, we may want to make these features and the impact they will have on the language they use explicit. For example, even for students at a fairly low level of instruction in EFL, choosing the right structure to give an order can already involve considering options such as: Close the door; Please close the door; Can you close the door?; Its chilly. Would you close the door? Students can be asked to consider these options. They will be choosing one or the other based on tenor requirements – what the relationship with the other speaker is. These choices can be evaluated in terms of their effectiveness in one context or another. If students are getting ready to role-play a service encounter and will be responding to questions, they have the choice of using full clauses (as we typically insist as English teachers!) or to use ellipsis. If the text is face-to-face and dynamic, using ellipsis seems to be the better choice, as in the sample above. It is the mode of the service encounter (oral, dynamic, face-to-face) that will help students make their choice.

Reviewing field, tenor and mode will surely not have added much to what we know about language based on the experienced and professional use we make of it as teachers, but being able to talk about the situational context in which we use language in an explicit and principled way with students is central to their literacy and oracy development. The descriptive framework that SFL proposes for context of situation, its variables and their impact on the language choices we make helps us to bring the discussion of the inseparable relationship between context and language into our classrooms. This is what is implied in the generalized claim that teaching and learning a language must be ‘in context’.

We mentioned some examples of the choices we make as we use language (what speech role to select, how to express a command, how specialized we are), which brings us to a third very important claim that SFL makes about language: we make meaning by choosing. SFL represents language as a huge potential of resources that have developed for us to make all the meanings we need to make as we live our lives. This huge array of resources is organized in SFL into system networks that display them as choices. This represents a very powerful way of thinking about how we use language: we make meanings by choosing, that is, we make meaning as we make one selection against others we could have made but did not. What we choose, in turn, is conditioned by the situational context in which the meaning is made. So, for example, SFL represents the four key speech roles we can take up as follows:

The basic clause types available in the grammar to express these speech roles are:

In turn, if we choose to make a command, there are additional mood choices that expand the meaning potential we can draw upon:

ch01_6

Which of these ways of expressing a command we choose will depend on the situational context in which they will be used: more specifically, on the tenor of the situation.

In another area of the grammar, we can also think about the type of activities we can express. They are called processes in SFL, and they are expressed by verbs in the grammar. The basic process types in English are displayed in the following table:

The system could display more delicate distinctions, for example, material processes can be either action (bake) or event (rain), mental ones can be processes of cognition (believe), affection (dislike) and perception (hear).

The notion of choice is a powerful one as it organizes our approach to a particular meaning we want to express, for example, asking for information and thinking of the wordings in the grammar that we can choose from to express this function. Structures such as: Id like to know…; I wish to find out…; Please, tell me…; What is…?; Would you tell me…? are all possible selections. We decide what choice is the most effective one in terms of the contextual situation in which we will use it. Requesting information is a function that we will practice with students at different levels of instruction with different social activities (a service encounter, a letter of application or of enquiry, an interview). The repertoire of wordings they will be able to choose from will become more and more varied and sophisticated, but the basic literacy skill of being aware of the notion of choice and of criteria for the choice made runs through all levels.

This has been a very brief and panoramic review of key tenets that are central to the SFL view on language: language can be viewed as a network of resources that we can choose from as we make the meanings we need to make. These meanings simultaneously construe an area of experience, they enact role relationships and organize what we say so our message is effective. The choice of resources we make is directly affected by the wider cultural and more concrete situational contexts in which we use language. These ideas, very compactly expressed here, are very powerful in theoretical and descriptive terms as well as in terms of their productivity for teaching and learning. We will be coming back to them at different stages in the book as we refer to the meanings made in the genres we take up in each chapter. Our emphasis will sometimes be the experiential ones, sometimes the interpersonal or the textual, depending on the nature of the genre. We will also be examining the impact of contextual variables on the meanings we choose and, in turn, on the wordings we choose to express them.

With these theoretical notions underpinning our discussion, we will now return to the more concrete teaching and learning concerns we started to discuss as the chapter opened.

1.3 What genres to teach? In what order?

Taking genres as a key notion in the EFL teaching and learning context leads us to consider a few related concerns that we will now discuss. To begin with, we can think about what genres to teach students of different ages, backgrounds, interests, needs and levels of instruction. We will review a set of principles proposed by Byrnes (2011)[3] that make explicit different concerns related to text choices that can be identified and traced at different moments in students’ literacy and oracy development. They are displayed in Table 1.1 below.

ch01_8

Table 1.1 Criteria for genre sequencing, based on Byrnes (2011).

The first continuum in the table above displays from left to right the type of discourse we can expect our students to be exposed to, both for comprehension and for production. The progression of genres associated with these types of discourse is typically the one we deal with as we learn our first language or an additional language. Actually, even adults learning an additional language need to go gradually through most of these types of discourse as well.

Primary, familiar genres are those typically experienced in the context of family, school and friends in which the type of experience reflected in the discourse is concrete and here-and-now. As we move toward secondary education, discourse changes and becomes more public and the experience that is represented combines the concrete and the abstract, the individual and the generic. As we move to the right of the continuum toward the area of higher education and professional life, the discourse becomes institutional, academic and scientific. This is typically accompanied by the representation of generic experience, abstraction, ideas. Discourse in primary genres typically represents familiar experience and reflects on it; in higher literacy, discourse makes, examines and challenges interpretations and accommodates different perspectives, reflects conflicting stances, promotes taking action on reality. Genres, discourse and the language we use become a hugely powerful resource.

These types of discourse can be related more or less systematically to particular genres, as we illustrate below:

The genres displayed as primary can be described in general terms as narrative, descriptive, instructional and social-pragmatic. They still occur as levels of instruction become more advanced. Students at an intermediate or upper-intermediate level of instruction will continue to write descriptions, for example, yet it is very likely that they will be embedded into other, more complex (macro) genres as expositions or feature articles, for example. This highlights the huge importance of the so-called primary or foundational genres that not only familiarize students at early stages of instruction with the notion of what a genre is, but also constitute building blocks they will use as they write other more complex genres.

So as we move toward secondary genres, we continue to observe descriptive-type genres (descriptive and classificatory reports); narratives (personal, literary narratives; [bio]recounts); instructional (instructions and protocols) and also a move toward explanations (factorial and consequential) and exposition. Later on, in higher education and professional life, primary and secondary genres continue to occur, as we said before, fulfilling functions within longer and more complex genres. Rhetorically more complex genres that critically interpret the world, take a stance, call to action include opinion editorials, feature articles, arguments, discussions, research proposals, research articles.

Having these sample genres in mind, we can now briefly review more easily the other continua displayed in Table 1. The meaning continuum is concerned with the relationship between the types of meanings we make and the language resources in the grammar to express them. Early on, students will express meanings related to concrete participants involved in activities and circumstances and they will gradually move toward more abstract meanings in which ideas are explored that are more indirectly connected to the here and now of their familiar experience of the world. The language resources change, and grammatical metaphor becomes a key resource. It critically enriches our meaning potential and enables us to express processes as things (his accomplishments; our expectations; her disposition), logical relations as nouns or processes (the cause; to cause) and attributes as nouns (beauty; preoccupation). The shift from one type of meaning (congruent) to the other (incongruent) entails a huge shift in meaning making, processing and organizing information in discourse and typically coincides with other demands that we make of language as we advance toward later secondary and higher education.

The oral-to-written-type continuum reflects the move from texts that are typically oral or oral-type to those that are written or written-like. Orality typically involves more grammatical (syntactic) complexity, with long clauses and clause-complexes that pile up through coordination and subordination but with a low level of density in lower ranks, mainly in the noun group. As we advance toward higher education, discourse becomes more written-like, that is, denser in terms of the meaning expressed in the noun group via pre- and post-modification. The distinction is not really between texts that are necessarily oral or written, but between texts that reflect the typical features of these two modes. A written anecdote that our students produce can be lexically sparse and expressed with congruent resources, whereas a lecture we listen to at university can be lexically very dense and incongruent.

The last two continua reflect the typical progression from types of genres in which the speaker or writer has a private, typically well-known, single or small audience, toward one that is more public, larger and one that needs to be strategically anticipated in terms of potential solidarity. A smaller, familiar audience is usually associated with the simple, primary genres we illustrated above to the left of the continuum, whereas the genres to the right involve larger audiences, which we do not know as well, yet we need to attend to if we wish to be effective as we take up a position, argue a case and wish to call to action, for example.

These basic criteria proposed by Byrnes are very productive as a principled way to organize the genres our students will be able and need to deal with as their instruction advances. Students need to be exposed to a range of genres that move them from the private, familiar context of the here-and-now, concrete experience toward the more public, professional context of more abstract and generic experience and ideas. We would do students a huge disservice if we got them stuck in genres that are, in fact, hugely important, such as personal narratives, descriptions or personal letters but will not get them beyond the exploration of their current life circumstances, of events, of what happens around them. We want to make sure they are also exposed to powerful educational, civic, professional genres that will enable them to get things done for themselves or for others (to apply for a job, to complain about unfairness, to get grants), to effectively examine the world critically and act on it.

We could continue to discuss the implications of teaching genres that move along these clines in terms of typical situational contexts, meanings made and concrete wordings used. We will not do so now but rather pick up these ideas as we discuss the genres we have chosen for each chapter of the book. We can also recommend further accessible reading on genre-based curriculum planning.[4]

1.4 Foregrounding genres in our teaching practice

The criteria mentioned in the previous section can be used to plan the genres we will teach along several years in primary, secondary, tertiary or university education. They can also help us to organize the progression in a single course. Even if we plan to work with, say, three or four genres during a school year with secondary school students, we can make principled decisions with these criteria in mind. The natural question here would be what to do when we teach following a course book that we have chosen for our course or one that has been chosen by the institution where we work. Course books today foreground the teaching of genres more and more as a direct response to international and national official content specifications. Most official documents that we need to follow for course design highlight the importance of teaching and learning in the context of authentic texts. Thus, even when textbooks may address this general objective more or less explicitly or effectively, the vast majority we have examined do have the clear potential for the teaching of genres. Actually, it is possible to establish genres as central even when, ostensibly, grammar continues to be the organizing principle, even in functional and communicative-oriented textbooks. Let us illustrate what we mean here. Let’s consider the following figure below that represents the typical table of contents in an EFL course book:

The contents listed for each unit typically include areas such as the topic (at home, school, the farm, downtown), the language (grammar and vocabulary), pronunciation skills, reading, writing, etc. Very often, each unit opens with a genre that has the function of contextualizing the grammar and the vocabulary that the rest of the unit is centrally about, for example, a brief dialogue, a description, a simple article from a newspaper or magazine. Sometimes, the unit picks up the same genre, usually toward the end of the lesson (when we are running out of time!) for students to read and write. We can very well decide that this is the genre that our students will write or, based on the language that is central to the unit, we may decide to choose another suitable genre. For example, if students have already been introduced to the verb ‘to be’ and ‘have got’ in the present simple and the unit we are working on introduces them to ‘can’, we can practice all these structures functionally in a description of their pet or in a report on turtles, dogs or cats. With these basic structures they will already be able to define the animal (A cat is…), its parts (it has…), its attributes and behavior (it is smart; it can jump over…) and write a report. So we can decide that a particular unit that introduces them to ‘can’ is a good moment to foreground the functional meaning of the key grammar items they have learnt (‘to be’, ‘have got’, ‘can’, in this example) and write a description or a report.

So hand in hand with the unfolding of units 1, 2 and 3 that we plan to cover during a term, for example, we can decide to have students write two or three genres, say, a description and a recount. This is what we mean by turning genres into pedagogic objects that are actually taught, evaluated and that actually give functional meaning to the structures that are included in the lessons.

We think this simple rethinking of what the contents of our class, course or curriculum plans are can be easily articulated with our current practice. We are simply foregrounding the teaching and learning of genres, making them much more central to our teaching-learning practice. In so doing, we are making the teaching of grammar and vocabulary more significant and we are hugely broadening the conception of what learning a language means for our students’ literacy development.

1.5 What to teach about genres?

Drawing upon the ideas we have been discussing in the chapter, we can briefly review what exactly we wish our students to know about a genre. This is where the social, contextual and functional approach to language that SFL proposes that we briefly introduced above can help us. As we discuss what about genres to teach, we will be using the anecdote and the report to illustrate ideas.

As we have argued, language, our main pedagogic object, is inseparable from the context in which it is used. When we think about culture and context, we can think about it in more concrete terms: as the social activities that people engage in using language as they live their lives. So teaching genres, what they do and how they do so is our general aim, inseparable from teaching a language. Martin’s (1992b, p. 8) definition of a genre as a “staged, goal-oriented, purposeful social activity that we engage in as speakers of a language and members of a culture” comes in handy to guide our discussion. If, for example, we wish our students to become familiar with a report, an anecdote or a service encounter, we can adopt a top-bottom approach (that is, from the macro, more global aspects of the text to the micro, more local ones). We can start by defining what the social function of the text seems to be, that is, what the function of the text in the culture is. Why do we read or write reports? Why do we share an anecdote or engage in a service encounter? ? As we answer these questions, we will be identifying purposes that are very pragmatic and easily definable such as buying and selling service encounter above to less tangible and more interpersonal purposes as casual conversations, anecdotes or narratives for children. This means we can actually talk about and try to define genres in terms of their social function. If we wish our students to write an effective anecdote, we will probably read and listen to some and explicitly point out the importance of the emotional reaction to the events told. Sharing these events and the emotions and values they evoke would pretty well describe why we share anecdotes with others. With this purpose in mind, we can move on to discuss how this purpose is fulfilled in stages as the text unfolds.

Staging is important as a way of describing at a more local level how the global function is fulfilled. Stages are sometimes easy to identify, particularly stages that are discretely realized in clear-cut segments of the text. In the report on elephants below, the initial General Statement or Classification stage is very easy to identify: layout helps us as the stage is a separate sentence in the text. We can also identify a key phase within the stage, a definition of elephants in terms of size. The rest of the text is a description of elephants, first of their appearance, then of their behavior. Again, layout and subheadings help us, but the type of meanings made (their parts and the attributes of these parts, what they do, how they do so, in what circumstances) further help us to distinguish stages and phases apart.

(www.tes.com/teaching-resource/animal-non-chronological-report-examples-11045757)

In Chapter 3 we will be discussing reports and the distinction between stages and phases in more detail, but for now we can say that stages are the main components of a genre, which make meanings that are locally relevant (making an initial, classificatory statement about an entity; describing an entity) and, in turn, contribute directly to the global function of the genre (in a report, storing and transmitting information or knowledge in a culture). Stages can be obligatory or optional, their order can be fixed or can vary, their realization can be discrete or interspersed, spread throughout (Hasan, 1987, p. 53). Of course, it is the obligatory stages that define the genre: their presence is needed for the genre to be identified as such, whereas optional stages explain the variations that we often observe between different instances of the same genre. An anecdote, for example, may or may not close with a final Coda that reflects on the significance of the events just told. This is an optional stage. What makes it an anecdote and not a recount, for example, is the presence of a remarkable event and the emotional reaction to this event, which means Coda is an optional stage while Reaction is obligatory. Stages can be discretely realized or interspersed in the text. The Reaction stage in an anecdote can be a good example. The teller of an anecdote may or may not arrest the narration of events to express exactly what his/her reaction was. Yet as the anecdote is told, we should be able to pick up clues that build what the emotional reaction (fear, embarrassment, surprise, etc.) was.

Finally, the finer distinctions of phases within a stage can help us to better understand how a text does what it does. Drawing upon work on phases by Gregory (2002), Malcolm (2010) and Martin and Rose (2007, 2008, 2012) and applied by Coffin and Donahue (2014) and Humphrey and Economou (2015), we start out our description of the stages of a typical descriptive report (Classification or General Statement followed by a Description stage) and flesh them out into an ‘appearance’ phase followed by a ‘behavior’ phase. These two phases, which are tied to the field of the report (animals) are already helpful. We can then further specify what happens inside the Description: ‘behavior’ phase by identifying additional, more delicate phases such as eating and reproductive habits, communication and defense mechanisms, for example. These phases are clearly motivated by the specific field. Phases can also depend more directly on the genre (as a definition phase in the initial General Statement stage that we mentioned above). We discuss the notion of phase in Chapter 3 on reports as we believe they are useful and very productive notions to reflect exactly how a text does what it does and guide our student writers more carefully to produce effective texts. We can ask our students to write a Description stage in a report with no further specification or we can be much more explicit and flesh out in more detail what happens as this stage in a report on animals typically unfolds.

The next question that follows naturally from the stages and phases distinction we have just made is how stages and phases fulfill their function. We could move on to generalize on the type of lexico-grammar used relatively stably across stages and phases. Yet we will make an additional intermediate distinction that follows conceptually from an SFL perspective on language and one that is clearly functional in teaching and learning. The following statement reflects part of what we would like our students to learn as they write a report:

Male giraffes have two hairy bone horns on their heads called ossicones that probably used to hold bigger antlers.

This is a typical example of the type of information that is included in the descriptive stage of animals: there is an entity (a male giraffe) that is described via the attributes it possesses (horns = ossicones). They are defined in terms of the number (two), their qualities (hairy), a classifier (bone) and also by the qualifying information that follows (called ossicones that probably used to hold bigger antlers). All these meanings (quantity, description, classification, qualification and the ‘thing’ it is all about) are included in a single noun group. It is a very powerful structure that the language has evolved in order to accommodate large amounts of information positioned in a way that is also functional to the flow of the information in the text. This is a structure that students typically do not fully exploit. It is common to find the same meanings fragmented in students’ texts in smaller clauses, each with its own configuration of participant, process and circumstances, as in:

Male giraffes have two horns.

They are on their heads.

They are hairy and are made of bone.

They are called ossicones.

Maybe they were used to hold bigger antlers.

Awareness of the meanings typically expressed in descriptive reports is essential: describing an entity involves specifying quantity, attributes, and the class they belong to. These meanings are expressed in different ways at different levels of instruction, from independent clauses to the compact noun group. Thinking in terms of meanings helps us to organize our teaching: students can be taught to choose from the resources of the language in their repertoire at different levels of instruction and gradually come to use the most effective structures the language has developed to make particular meanings. We can represent the progression from the more abstract idea of stage/phase and its function to meanings made to language resources used as follows (as in Martin 2009, for example):

So as we get ready to teach reports we consider the function of the text as a whole, the stages and phases that fulfill this function and the meanings made in each stage and phase. These meanings, in turn, are expressed by concrete resources in the language, lexical and syntactic. What this type of thinking foregrounds is that when we teach lower level students, we will still want the key meanings implicated in a report to be expressed. What will vary is the wordings used, so students at a lower level of instruction will describe ossicones in ways that resemble more the short clauses above, whereas students that can control and exploit the noun group will be able to meet the demands of the field and the mode of written reports in the sciences more effectively.

We will go over one more example to illustrate the need to move in a principled way from the global function of the text, the local function of stages and phases via the meanings made, before moving on to the particular wordings. Let’s briefly consider the central function of expressing emotion in anecdotes. The Reaction stage will clearly include meanings such as expressing emotion explicitly and implicitly and intensifying emotion. These are meanings that children, who have a low level of instruction, can already express, as in:

She is happy!

She is veeery happy!

She explodes laughing!

She is jumping up and down!

These same meanings will be expressed by students at higher levels of instruction with more complex structures. The point is that the meanings remain stable and the wordings vary according to students’ developing repertoire. In this way, our awareness of the key function and meanings at stake in a particular genre will help us to make sure that the texts our students produce, even those at more initial levels of instruction, fulfill the social expectations of the genre.

What follows is a very compact set of questions we can ask ourselves as we prepare to teach a particular genre.

Getting ready to teach a genre

-After examining several samples of the genre, how can we describe the key social function the genre fulfills?

-What stages does the text seem to unfold into? Can we assign functional labels to these stages? Can we also capture the function of these stages by means of questions?

-What are the key features of the contextual situation in which the text is used? Are some of these characteristics of field, tenor or mode particularly important to this text? For example, for a report, the degree of specificity or technicality of the field will be important; for an anecdote, the interpersonal meanings created as emotions are shared; in a face-to face service encounter, the quick, dynamic mode will be essential.

-What are the meanings that are related to these contextual variables (generic and abstract entities; classifiers in a report; emotions that are more or less intensified in an anecdote; a very dialogic and spontaneous exchange for a face-to-face service encounter). We try to define the functional characteristics (meanings) that are essential for a genre to be effective.

-What are the concrete wordings or language resources that our students can use to express those meanings? Can we make them aware of choices they can select from?

-Are most of these resources taught well enough by the course book? Should we add practice for others?

1.6 How to teach genres?

We will now move on to briefly review a pedagogy that was developed within SFL by educational linguists led by Joan Rothery and James Martin, starting in the 1980s. This pedagogy, informed by Systemic Linguistics’ social and functional conception of language, reflects a social constructivist view on language teaching and learning. Notions like Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (1978, p. 86) resonate with Halliday’s (1975) and Painter’s (1986) idea about the importance of close guidance in learning. Rothery applied this idea to literacy development as “guidance through interaction in the context of shared experience” (Martin & Rose, 2012, p. 62). Students are able to learn and do things they would not have been able to do on their own without a teacher’s or classmates’ support. Learning a language, about a language and through a language is conceived as a social process in which teachers teach and students learn in a process that moves gradually from strong scaffolding provided by teachers toward students’ increasing autonomy and control. Teachers are viewed as actively intervening in the teaching and learning process, not just as accompanying the natural unfolding of the learning process. This seems to make a lot of sense in an educational context in which our students, with huge literacy needs, come to school for limited numbers of hours, from backgrounds that vary widely in terms of the literacy support they receive. We need to make the most of what happens in our classrooms, actively and explicitly teaching what we wish our students to learn, helping them to acquire knowledge and to develop ways to acquire knowledge. In the context of what we are interested in in this book, this means helping our students to understand how texts work, how they can approach the reading and/or production of texts not just with a product perspective but with a process perspective as well.

The Sydney School Genre Pedagogy is a cyclic model that leads students gradually to the production of texts. It was originally designed to be used in primary school contexts to improve the genre literacy especially of disadvantaged children in public schools in Australia and has been extended to secondary, tertiary and university levels. Key educational linguists such as Martin and Rothery (1991), Martin (1999), Christie (1999), Martin and Christie (2007), Christie and Derewianka (2008), Unsworth (2008), Martin and Rose (2012)[5], Coffin and Donahue (2014), Dreyfus et al. (2016), Derewianka and Jones (2016), to mention just a few, have extensively developed the pedagogy and materials for educational linguists and educators. As we review the pedagogy, we will mention some adjustments that we need to consider, as we recontextualize the cycle to the teaching and learning of English as an additional language (second or foreign).

The cyclic frame that represents the main proposal of the pedagogy is reproduced below. It reflects the stages that can guide our teaching of texts from an initial approach to the subject matter students will be writing about, through an exploration of a sample text, to the joint writing of a first version of the text, to the final independent construction of the text by students. These stages are called:

  • Setting the context or building field
  • Modeling or deconstruction
  • Joint construction
  • Independent construction

Figure 2: Sydney School teaching/learning cycle for teaching genre writing (Martin & Rose, 2012, p. 66).

Very broadly, the cycle begins as we help students construe the field or set the context for the writing they will undertake. We help them activate what they know about the area of experience their text will be about or provide this knowledge if they do not have it. It only makes sense to make sure they know the subject matter about which they will write. This occurs continuously along the whole cycle as it will be undertaken before the model text is read, before a sample text is jointly produced and before a text is written independently. That explains its running continuously along the outer circle. The next step in the cycle is called deconstruction as an authentic model text is read and analyzed with the teacher. The deconstruction of the text will focus both on its textual structure (its stages and phases) and the language resources used (meanings made and wordings selected). Once students are familiar with the genre and how it does what it does, a sample text is written jointly by students, guided by the teacher. This further prepares them to finally engage in independent writing.

The cycle represents very obviously an example of what Martin and Rose (2012, p. 55) describe as front-loaded teaching: “it introduces what students need to know up front, and constructs a text interactively with them before asking them to write on their own”.

We will now review the stages, one by one[6], anticipating some implications for teaching. In each chapter of the book, the cycle will be taken up again and concrete activities will be suggested for the genres taken up there.

1.6.1 Setting the context

Setting the context or Building the field, as this stage is also called, is about helping students learn about the area of experience they will be reading (in the next stage in the cycle) or writing about (later on in the cycle). We bring to mind all that they know about the topic (an entity, a phenomenon, a type of experience, a process, an idea, etc.), provide this knowledge ourselves or look it up in sources that we suggest or look up with them. The idea is to become familiar with the subject matter and the vocabulary (some structures, but mainly vocabulary) that it is expressed with, before they have contact with the text. In the EFL context, a good amount of information students may have will be negotiated in their first language, which should be all right. We can provide the translation or look it up with students. In terms of the language that will be at stake, there will be a lot of vocabulary exchange and some syntax that might be called for in particular fields, but we can aim at discussing field with the language resources students already have as much as possible, adding especially the vocabulary that is called for.

This stage is not only about constructing the field, but also about organizing it in terms of types of entities or phenomena in the world, parts and wholes, unfolding sequencing of activities related to them or other logical relations that the field may call for, such as cause-effect or condition, for example. Whatever area of experience we are constructing with students, we organize it in a principled way in terms that are suitable to the subject matter. If, for instance, we are preparing students to read a report on animals – an elephant as in the sample above, for example –, we can record all the information that we brainstorm on the board organized into areas related to the particular field: what elephants look like, what their typical habitat is, how they behave, what their reproductive and eating habits are, etc. This type of work with content is, in turn, a good starting point for generalizations to be made about categories related to animal life (appearance, behavior, reproductive and eating habits, for example), which can be useful for the work they will do with the text they write. At a higher level of instruction, if we are preparing field for an exposition students will write on a short story they have read, for example, we can discuss the text in terms of comparison and contrasts, steps in a process, reasons or consequences so that the material is already organized according to the criteria inherent to the text they will write – what we would call the internal or rhetorical logic of the text. We can strategically organize and display the information that is discussed in class in very simple charts, tables or just lists that graphically represent a very basic ‘ordering’ of experience.

What will be actually happening in our classrooms? At this stage in the pedagogy, we can engage in activities such as showing students pictures of animals they will write on, brief descriptions that students can understand, simple videos or documentaries, if this were possible. We could also ask students to bring information themselves. We will accompany all these activities with questions that encourage the discussion of these ideas with varied vocabulary and tables or charts that organize the information into ‘aspects’ into which experience can be organized.

Working with field before students read or write a text takes care of one of the aspects that can interfere with the process of understanding and producing a text, that is, it foregrounds the knowledge about the subject matter and the basic linguistic resources we need to talk about it. Particularly in the EFL context, we might get the feeling that too much time and effort is put into this stage. We have found, however, that whatever amount of energy and time is invested in these first steps is saved later on. Additionally, this work initiates our students in a more rewarding reading or writing experience as they deal step by step with the different aspects involved in the understanding or production of a text.

Building up the field of a text, as reflected in Figure 2, will occur once and again in the cycle as we get ready to read and to understand sample texts (for example, a sample report on a giraffe), as we work with the structure and the language of the text (in the deconstruction stage) and later when we produce a text jointly (on another animal, say, a llama) or when students get ready to write their own text (on another animal of their choice).

A brief checklist

As we work setting the context or building subject-matter knowledge we:

  • activate knowledge or collect information about the subject matter students will be producing before work with the text itself has begun;
  • familiarize students with the general organization of the field into aspects, areas, classes, members, logical relations that will facilitate its processing when they are ready to work with the text;
  • bring into use the language resources (mainly the vocabulary) students will need in order to discuss the subject matter effectively.

1.6.2 Deconstructing the text

The next step in the pedagogy is about getting to know the genre that students will write, its function, the stages it goes through, the meanings made and the language resources that express those meanings. It is a stage we can plan to spend quite some time on, particularly in the EFL context in which we will be teaching a good number of the language resources that students will need to write their text. So we could say that the purpose of this stage is twofold: i) getting to know about the contextual features of the text, that is, its function in the culture, the stages it goes through to fulfill that function, the concrete situations in which the text is typically used (the role relations that usually hold, its features of orality, writing or multimodality) and, ii) getting to know about the language, both the meanings and wordings implicated.

We will work with one or more sample texts to explicitly discuss with students how the text fulfills its social function in stages. The labels of the stages should be as functionally transparent as possible so that their local function is clear. In the case of an anecdote, for example, the Orientation, Remarkable Event, Reaction and Coda are stages the text goes through. These labels are relatively transparent in terms of function, with the exception of the Coda, which is somewhat more specialized. We can also use questions to pick up the meanings made in each stage, as follows:

The purpose of this work with students is to make them concretely visualize the textual structure of the genre, in this case, an anecdote. Students themselves can propose more graphic or creative ways of representing the structure of the text as well. As work with this stage comes to an end, students should share a representation of the genre that they could come back to in the next stages of the cycle. In the case of the anecdote, the fact that it could be oral or written could actually affect the way in which it unfolds: mode can affect the way the text unfolds, more monologically or interactively and dynamically.

The second important function of this stage is to teach and practice with students all the key meanings and concrete language resources that they will need as they write their text. In the case of an anecdote, for example, we will want to make sure they can narrate events in the past and connect them logically, express circumstantiation of time, place and manner, express emotion and intensify it. These are some of the meanings students will need to express. In turn, we need to make sure they can effectively use particular language resources to express those meanings. Course books typically do a very good job teaching narrative tenses in the past and the temporal connectors to link events. Yet, we may need to reinforce the teaching of expression of emotion, which does not always get much attention. We will want to make sure students can express attitude both explicitly and implicitly, that they can intensify emotion not just via a pre-modifier – as very nice – but also using words that infuse intensification – as fantastic. Expressing emotion effectively is crucial to prepare them to write an engaging anecdote. As we said above, all this work with language will take quite some time as we are working in an EFL context. Time we spend anticipating problems to express key meanings our students might have later as they write their texts is time gained and potential frustration reduced. This is what we mean when we say this is a front-loading pedagogy: we do all we can to prepare students before they are asked to write a text. Deconstructing the text with them is the stage in which we really put into practice the idea that whatever lexico-grammar we are teaching will make sense as a resource for students to produce texts.

A brief checklist

As we work deconstructing the text we:

  • explicitly discuss the social function of the genre;
  • identify the stages and phases the text goes through;
  • practice key meanings and lexico-grammar that students will need to express and use effectively to produce their text;
  • make sure teacher and students share a good representation of the genre for work in the next stages of the cycle.

1.6.3 Joint construction

This is a critical stage in the pedagogy, one that can be messy and take time, but all well spent. The first step is to build subject matter for the text students will write. If the model text that was deconstructed in the previous stage was a report on a giraffe, this text they write jointly could be on another animal; if the model text was an anecdote, students can agree on the general area of experience the anecdote will be about – ideally, a shared experience they had in school or practicing sports that quite a few know about and can retell. The context will be set again for this new text. The information on the subject matter can be organized with the class and be readily available for students to refer to, together with the representation of the textual structure of the text. These two supports should help and encourage students to make contributions during the joint construction. Before starting to write, we also review the characteristics of the concrete context of situation of the text we will write. This would include asking questions as: Who will our audience be? What is their age? What are their interests? How formal / informal can we be? What knowledge of the topic could they have? How specialized will our text be? This is an important step as we are helping them to ask the questions that need to be asked as we prepare ourselves to write this and any other text. Even with students with basic instruction in EFL, these questions can be asked in very simple terms.

Joint construction will help students to take the huge leap from understanding what they observe and understand about other texts to actually writing their own. It helps students to reason out the ways in which we think and work as we actually produce a text. The teacher, acting as a scribe, will not only record what students say, but also help them to visualize what the next step would be given the function of the text, consider and reconsider contributions by students maybe in terms of tenor or field, encourage students to consider their audience and any additional information or guidance they may need, for example. So besides guiding them to write a particular text, the teacher is letting them in on the decision-making that is involved as a text is written. The teacher will be pushing them along, helping them to do things they may not have been able to do on their own (their Zone of Proximal Development), as we said above. Of course, working with the whole class in a relatively organized way may seem much too challenging with large classes. We can always write just a section of the text, one that is particularly challenging or that will help them to keep going in groups that we can supervise more or less closely. Students can then hand in or share with the whole class the result of their collaborative work. We can also give students a text that has some missing stages for them to complete, again with the teacher as scribe or working collaboratively in groups. What we should try to provide is the chance for students to write a version of the text collaboratively, with teacher and classmates, and the opportunity to work with the model of the genre that they all share.

A brief checklist 

As we work jointly constructing a sample of the genre we:

  • help students go through the process of writing the genre and making decisions along the way;
  • encourage contributions from students;
  • adjust contributions if necessary so they are effective in the text in terms of field, tenor and mode and the language choices made;
  • work back and forth from wordings to meanings made, to functions the text fulfills;
  • help students jointly write a sample of the text they would not have been able to write on their own at this point;
  • evaluate whether students are ready to move on to independent writing or if they need more practice with understanding of textual structure or of language choices.

1.6.4 Independent construction

If students are ready to move on to independent writing, we can assign them their own text. Again, they will ideally write on a similar field to the one we have been working on both as we deconstructed a model text and as we jointly constructed another one. The first step is to prepare the subject matter they will write on. If they are going to write on another animal, for example, they can fill out a table with the information they want to make sure they have before they start writing, something like the following one:

We will also agree with them on the characteristics of the context of situation in which the text they will write will operate. We can consider:

tenor: briefly describing the audience, their age, their knowledge of the topic, their interests, the kind of relationship you wish to establish with them (will you be the expert? or will you be exploring the topic along with your audience?)

field: how specialized or technical do you wish it to be? how much do you wish to explain?

mode: do you wish to make the text a little interactive, as if you were having a dialogue with your readers (e.g. How much do you know about the Andean llama?); will you include images, graphs, charts?

Actually, we can include all this information in a task sheet (Byrnes, 2002, 2006) in which we specify all the details related to genre, to context of situation, to meanings and to language resources that the text is expected to have to be effective. Task sheets are very useful as they explicitly summarize the preparatory work we have done during the cycle and anticipate the expectations with which the text will be evaluated. It can function very well as a rubric as we grade the text. In Chapter 3 a sample task sheet on reports will be included.

If students are getting ready to write their own anecdote, we can make sure they have a detailed guide with the questions they will be asking themselves as they write. Something like the following figure could work:

These are just examples of the type of guidance we can make sure our students have as they prepare to write their own text. As they answer these questions and prepare ideas to write, we can help them with the vocabulary they might need.

The type of feedback we give our students is very important as we foreground what our interest is: how effective the text is as a social communication event. Feedback should ideally come from an interested reader rather than a worried grammar teacher. Grammar and mechanics are important but only in terms of the global function of the text, so we can try to react to content, to good vocabulary choice, to vivid descriptions or dialogues. Typically, asking questions of students-as-writers works very well: Can you tell me more about the place / about how you felt? What did XX look like? Why was it so scary?

Ideally, more than one version of the text will be written. Second versions are opportunities for great improvement that will give students the chance to learn a lot from our feedback and to feel they have come up with a good text. If possible, we can ‘publish’ their work either online in a virtual ‘book’ or in a simple publication put together by students themselves with a cover, such as Amazing anecdotes or Wildest animals, for example.

A brief checklist

As students write independently, we give opportunities for them to:

  • write their first and, if possible, second version of the genre;
  • use the model of the textual structure of the genre;
  • receive feedback that addresses the strengths and areas that need improvement as regards content, adequacy in terms of field and tenor, the organization of the text, audience awareness, language use, mechanics;
  • publish their work.

1.7 Beyond the model genre

A very interesting aspect of this pedagogy is that once students have been able to produce a text that is an effective enough version of the genre, they can write another one to consolidate what they have learnt and, in so doing, experiment with the genre, adopting what the cycle calls a “critical orientation to the genre”. Students may sometimes feel that following the textual structure that reflects what can be considered the social expectations on the genre is too constraining. We can challenge them to experiment with other ways of fulfilling the function of the genre, as long as they have been exposed to what the expectations on the genre actually are. This means that they understand the conventions related to a genre, write a text following them and only then experiment and break them. What could be an engaging way to start a report for children on problems with the environment so they become interested and read? Is the Orientation always the best way to start a personal narrative? Can we write a funny protocol to absurdly regulate people’s behavior in city life? Can we role-play a doctor-patient consultation in which both doctor and patient take up unexpected roles? Students can experiment with and subvert the genre and in so doing, will actually be consolidating what they already know about it.

Another way to consolidate and go beyond what they have learnt about the genre and its typical instantiation is to ask them to produce a recontextualization of the genre: a report, for example, can become a brief oral documentary, an interview with an expert, a file card for younger learners. An anecdote can be told orally turning it into a more dynamic text in which the stages (the Reaction, for example) are built jointly with the audience; a letter of application can become a job interview or a personal essay. Students will get the opportunity to take advantage of the effort they have made in writing the original text and reusing content and language again, with more confidence.

This chapter has presented a view on teaching English as an additional language in which the teaching and learning of genres is a key pedagogic objective. We have argued in favor of considering genres nuclear teaching-learning objects and key organizing constructs for our teaching practice. Assigning genres a central role entails deciding what genres to teach, in what order, what to teach about genres and how to teach them. All these questions have been taken up and discussed along the chapter. Our discussion is informed by SFL, the theory of language that is also associated with the Genre Pedagogy that we reviewed.

We now move on to discuss all these ideas in the context of particular genres, in the chapters that follow. Chapter 2 is on anecdotes, Chapter 3 on reports, Chapter 4 on oral interpretations and Chapter 5 on opinion editorials. These genres will take us along a cline from a primary genre, the anecdote, typically negotiated in a familiar, here-and-now context to the report, still a primary genre, which moves us towards a more impersonal context in which more generic experience is negotiated; the oral interpretation, an educational response genre that moves us away from events and description towards the discussion of ideas. Finally, the opinion editorial takes us to a more public sphere with a persuasive function. Each chapter will discuss the social function of each genre, its role in the EFL educational context, its textual structure and it will then focus on a particular aspect of the genre. In Chapter 2, the critical expression of emotion in the Reaction stage of anecdotes is foregrounded. In Chapter 3, reports are modelized in terms of the stages they go through and the more delicate phases that help us to better explain what happens as reports unfold. In Chapter 4, oral interpretations are described as examples of the powerful notion of macro-genre and as oral texts that exhibit traits of orality in their structure and in the meanings and language resources selected. In the final chapter, opinion editorials are discussed as texts in which the writer strategically construes a textual voice and attempts to persuade its readers about a stance taken and about the need to take action. All these notions, which we have tried to distribute metafunctionally, are particularly important for the genre we describe in each chapter, yet our purpose is to present them in a way that teachers might consider their usefulness to apply them to other texts. That is, the notion of macro-genre, textual structure (with its stages and phases), the impact of mode on written or oral texts, the creation of a textual voice that relates strategically to the propositions made in the text and to its audience are all critical notions related to the teaching and learning of many genres, not just to the four ones we have included in this book. We hope these powerful notions are presented effectively enough for teachers to apply them to other genres as they are all critical to our students’ literacy development.


  1. For further reading on the ideas briefly reviewed in the rest of this chapter, we recommend accessible introductions such as Eggins (2004), Martin, Matthiessen and Painter (2010), Thompson (2013).
  2. The three tables that follow in which the impact of field, tenor and mode on language is summarized are based on Eggins (2004).
  3. The principles displayed in the continua in Table 1.1 were presented to us by Heidi Byrnes in a workshop in Mendoza, Argentina, in 2011.
  4. Further readings include: Feez (1998), Christie and Derewianka (2008), Martin and Rose (2007).
  5. Martin and Rose (2012) provide a complete and accessible account of the Sydney Pedagogy.
  6. A complete and accessible account of the cycle can be found in Martin and Rose (2012).


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