The Importance of Audience for Language Learners
It’s July, and it’s time to get ready for the fall. Isn’t it? Well, this being my first year out of the classroom, I’ve been spending most of my days preparing and perfecting the two graduate courses I will be teaching at Hunter College. As I was refreshing my memory of assigned readings, I came across this quote by Mary Cappellini.
“Children need to see the importance of using language for real functions.” (Cappellini, 2005)
Whenever I begin planning a literacy unit, I always start by looking at the Common Core State Standards, and then I ask myself: Who uses those skills regularly? When would s/he use those skills in real life? Who would be his/her target audience? This allows me to contextualize learning. Then, I think of how students could use those skills themselves. Who could they write to? What type of format will this writing have? How will we publish/celebrate it? Children love to play make believe. So it’s great to make believe that you’re writing to a certain audience, but nothing compares to writing to someone real.
Last year, we studied Early Humans in my fifth grade class. When I launched the unit, I presented the writing project: students would each write a letter to the Director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and convince him of either re-opening or closing the museum. I built background knowledge around Early Humans through short video clips, shared readings and independent research time. When it was time to visit the American Museum of Natural History, students knew so much and really appreciated the spectacular exhibits that the museum had to offer. When we returned, they wrote with purpose. Students were able to pull on their prior experience of museum exhibits, and put to use their growing knowledge of early humans. What I found most interesting was how they really took to writing to an audience. Their opinion pieces were extremely convincing and included so much voice as 95% of them persuaded the Museum Director to re-open his museum.
Potential Audiences for Young Writers
Opinion Writing Audiences: any decision-maker such as a politician, a company executive, a family member, the principal, a community member, a school committee… It can also be a fictitious person. My colleague, Natasha McCabe, had our students imagine they were pioneers. A relative asks them whether they should or shouldn’t move out West. Our students had to write a persuasive letter to a former relative arguing one way or the other. Some students also find a lot of pleasure in creating marketing tools for a potential client such as creating posters to grab attention to their chocolate sales fundraiser for their end of year trip.
Informational Writing Audiences: a younger student, a younger family member, a parent or grandparent, a community member, a friend, a student from another classroom, a pen pal…
Narrative Writing Audiences: a younger student, a younger family member, a parent or grandparent, another teacher, a mentor author, a pen pal, a student from another classroom…
Cappellini, M. (2005). Balancing Reading and Language Learning: A Resource for Teaching English Language Learners. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.