Author’s Purpose is a reading strategy that is commonly taught in elementary schools across the country. According to the Common Core State Standards, beginning in second grade, students need to be able to determine why an author has written a passage.
Additionally, as students advance, they are expected to be able to use text evidence to show what the author’s purpose is, distinguish between different author’s purposes in texts with the same topic, and identify changes in author’s purposes within the same text or in different sections of a newspaper.
Whew! All of this requires the students to have some really good language skills. Students need to comprehend a text, need vocab of the text and the different purposes, and also recognize keywords in the question to know what is expected. This can be really difficult for students with speech and language deficits. But the good news is that there are some concrete ways that we can help our speech and language students with this skill. As SLPs, we are always trying to incorporate our students’ general education curriculum into our speech time, so these are perfect steps to take in order to help with that.
What is Author’s Purpose?
First, students need to understand that everyone writes for a reason. Authors of textbooks, newspaper journalists, and other writers don't just write for no reason! As teachers, we teach students that those reasons are:
- to teach the reader about something
- to make the reader want to do something
- or just for fun!
Some of the most common examples of these types of writing that your students may see on a daily basis are textbooks to inform, novels or picture books to entertain, and something like a poster encouraging hand-washing to persuade.
How Does Understanding Author’s Purpose Help With Comprehension?
With all of the reading skills and strategies that students have to learn, why is author’s purpose one of them? Why should students (or we!) care why somebody wrote something? To answer this, let’s think about the statement “The floor is wet.” If we just read that statement without any context, and without understanding why the author wrote it, we have no idea what to make of that statement.
If the statement “The floor is wet” is written in an informational context, we know that the author is simply telling us that the floor is wet. If that statement is prefaced by the word “Stop!”, we know that this is a warning and that the author is trying to persuade us to stop or slow down. And if the statement is written in the context of a comedy for entertainment purposes, we can make a prediction that a character might slip on the floor upon reading that statement. It’s important for students to know in what context things are written in order to gain a greater understanding of the text.
What Difficulties Might a Speech Student Face in Learning Author’s Purpose?
Author’s purpose can be especially difficult for students with receptive language and nonverbal learning disabilities, especially if the text is being presented as a read-aloud. Determining author’s purpose involves putting yourself in someone else’s (the author’s) shoes and making a determination as to why they wrote what they wrote. They may also miss tone and infection that helps determine the author's purpose.
How Can SLPs Help?
Fortunately, there are some really concrete ways that we can help students recognize the nuances needed to determine the author's purpose. These can include the following:
- Reviewing and role–playing what it means to inform, entertain, and persuade. For example, you can model what it would sound like for you to persuade someone to do something, and then let the student role-play the same thing back. You can also use body language and gestures to help get your point across.
- Determining the type of text. A good indicator of author’s purpose is the type of text that the student is reading. For example, fiction books are mostly to entertain. Textbooks are mostly to inform. By determining the type of text, the student will get a better idea of what the author’s purpose is.
- Giving word clues. Specific words can provide clues as to what the author’s purpose is. For example, the word “should” is used frequently in persuasive essays. Things like units of measure and dates are used frequently in informative text, and adjectives are used a lot in a text to entertain. Students can highlight words they think may be clue words, and match them to a list of clue words that you provide.
- Do a sort. Students can read short passages and then either cut and paste or drag and drop the passages into the correct category.
If the last idea sounds interesting to you, then check out this Author’s Purpose activity! It’s available as a printable OR in a Boom Card version. Check out the preview to see a sample activity.
Another option is to join my membership program, SLP Elevate, which is chock-full of monthly, minimal-prep activities older speech students love, including Author’s Purpose activities!
You’re all set to teach author’s purpose! Your students will be identifying the purpose of all sorts of texts in no time.