An Application of Genre-Based Approach in Pre-writing




††††††† Many language teachers in China are aware that teaching writing is more difficult than teaching other language skills. This is cultural interference due to the difference in the style of literacy and rhetorical patterns of expression in their native language and the target language. Consequently, when students write in English, they do not create the text themselves; they only translate their thoughts word by word from their native language into English, often with grammatically incorrect results.

††††††† However, producing a successful piece of written work obviously involves competence in a number of connected spheres. There is the knowledge of the topic, knowledge of the audience, particularly the extent to which the writer relies on the reader sharing knowledge, and finally there is knowledge of language conventions.

††††††† My students are four-year English majors who are expected to start their writing course in the second year. At this stage, they have acquired a relative range of command over Basic English grammar and have a satisfactory performance on the sentence-level. But they still cannot do a good job on the discourse-level. I usually have two periods (50 min. each) of contact with the students each week. And a usual school-term lasts 17-18 weeks. Although being exposed to a writing task frustrates most of them, my students are in urgent need of a good mastery over writing for different purposes. They actually wish to attain a wonderful performance on writing.

††††††† In my teaching context, inadequate understanding of how to organize their written assignments often handicaps students. They are simply unable to master the structural conventions of the various text types they have to produce. But, part of the rhetorical context and part of the content of student writing is determined by who the audience of the writing is and what the purpose of the writing is. Assignments that direct students to write for the general public or for anyone who might be interested tend to be much more difficult to write than assignments in which students have an idea why they are writing and who will be reading their writing. Are they writing to entertain someone? Are they writing to inform? To persuade someone? Or simply to explore their own thoughts? Depending on the answer, the content and structure of the writing will be quite different.

††††††† In response to these questions, Iíll try to introduce a genre- based approach into teaching practice. Although it is new to Chinese teachers and learners, the approach has been proved an effective method in improving learnersí writing abilities. This approach has been influential in ESP teaching of writing and begun to attract attention in L2 field.



††††††† Genre-based approach is relative newcomer to ELT. It shares some similarity with product approach. It emphasizes that writing varies with the social context in which it is produced. The central aspect is purpose and audience in addition to the subject matter, the relationships between the writer and the audience, and the pattern of organization.

††††††† In the field of genre research, Australian theories have developed from systemic functional linguistics, which is concerned with the relationship between language and ití s function in social settings. The forms of language are said to be shaped by key features of the surrounding social context, defined as field (the activity going on), tenor (the relationship between participants) and mode (the channel of communication).

††††††† The Australian systemic functional literature has promoted several instructional frameworks for implementing genre pedagogy. The most widely recognized model is derived from the LERN project. This model maps out a ďteaching- learning cycleÖin the figure of a wheelĒ (Cope & Kalantzis, 1993). The teaching-learning cycle outlines the process of genre instruction in three phases: modelling, joint negotiation of text, and independent construction of text. In the ELT field, Dudley-Evans (1997) also identifies three stages in genre approach to writing. First, a model of a particular genre is introduced and analysed. Learners then carry out exercises, which manipulate relevant language forms and, finally produce a short text.

††††††† It is widely recognized that if students are expected to write in a particular genre, they first need to become familiar with its purpose and features through immersion in the genre and the explanation of sample texts. The familiarization and immersion will lay a solid basis for the students to develop into next stage in the cycle. At the stage of deconstruction in the cycle, the students will be instructed to do genre analysis so that they will be familiar with language features and procedural stages of a typical genre.

2.1. What is Genre Analysis

††††††† Genre analysis is the study of how language is used within a particular context. Genres differ in that each has a different goal and they are structured differently to achieve these goals. The organizational stages of these genres can be individually characterized. A genre has a particular schematic structure: a distinctive beginning, middle and end. It is this which constitutes the genre of a text.

††††††† The aim of genre analysis is to identify how linguistic features are chosen by expert users of the genre to realize their communicative purpose and explain these choices in terms of the social and psychological context. The aim of genre-based language teaching is to raise learnerís awareness of both the rhetorical organization and the linguistic features closely associated with the genre.

††††††† Genre analysis attempts to reveal the similarities between texts written for the same reason. By analysing how writers conventionally sequence material to achieve particular purposes, we can begin to describe characteristically schematic types and show how they are realized linguistically. This information can then be used by students as models to develop writing skills.

2.2. Benefits of Genre Analysis in Pre-writing

††††††† Studies of the role of examples in learning other cognitive skills have shown that the major benefits of examples accrue to students who invest more time in analysing them. In genre teaching, active analysis of a model†† before taking on a specific writing task may help students construct new textual patterns or enrich the patterns they know. Student writers are able to infer linguistic and procedural features from models. And those who actively look for and contemplate such features in the models they read are more likely to construct reliable new structures.

††††††† Second, consulting models actively before the writing process may provide the students with a database for testing whether a candidate idea should be included. The students may infer that the practice of the writer who produced the model is typical and may include or exclude information on the basis of whether or not it shows up in the model.

††††††† Genre analysis can also help students consciously structure their texts and develop effective control over different writing tasks for different purposes. As Swales (1987) claimed: genre analysis promoted ďmore effective negotiations and consultations as well as providing each child with their own individual scaffolding that can be developed to produce successful textsĒ.

††††††† Genre analysis can therefore provide the vocabulary and concepts to explicitly teach the text structures the students are expected to produce. It places language at the centre of writing development by allowing shared understanding and explicit guidance. Actually, control over the conventions of a genre is a prerequisite for creativity, and students simply require more information on the features that constitute good texts in order to improve their own writing skills. It can thus provide a methodological environment that develops writing skills and encourages creativity. It can provide opportunities for students to reflect on and discuss how language works in a given context and how it can most effectively be employed to meet particular goals.



††††††† So far we have discussed on the genre Ėbased approach to teach writing, specifically focusing on genre analysis in pre-writing stage. According to the teaching cycle proposed by Australian School of genre theory, I will apply the theoretical concept of genre analysis in designing a practical lesson plan. Owing to the time limit, I will only focus on the deconstruction stage in the Teaching-Learning Cycle, which I would like to define as pre-writing stage in the process of writing development.

††††††† The lesson plan is designed in the light of genre-based approach, which focuses attention on the purpose and the audience of a writing text. Genre analysis will be the main task, which is expected to be accomplished by students following different steps instructed by the teacher. The reason for this arrangement is that Iím sure the students will be enlightened and exposed to a new way of development in writing skills. The way is quite different from a conventional one and is supported by an established theory.

††††††† The general plan of a 90-min. class will be described as in the following: (Appendix 1)

3.1. Stage1: Introduction††

This is a preparatory stage before the students are introduced into more specific analysis of genre. The aim of this stage is to create general impression on the students for what they are expected to do in the class. The focus is on the general explanation of the organization of a genre. The following steps will be included in this stage

††††† Step 1: Teacherí general introduction of the topic. This may still be a traditional†††††††††††††††††††† opening of a class in China. However, I think it necessary because an explicit introduction about what the students are going to do in the class will help to release their pressure and protect them from the shock of encountering with an unfamiliar topic.

††††† Step 2: Ask students to discuss questions which are intended to make sure how much they already know about the genre theyíre going to study.

††††† Step 3: Observation on model genre text. Students are expected to do a brief observation of the model text by themselves. (Appendix 2)

††††† Step 4: Presentation of the students on the results of their investigation.

††††† Step 5: Teacherís comment and brief summary.

3.2. Stage 2: Familiarization

††††††† At this stage, students will be instructed to do a specific reading and detailed analysis on the features of the target genre. Although linguistic features are also expected to be observed by the students, the main task will be on the organizational features of the genre. This will enable the students to be more familiar with the genre they encountered in the first stage.

††††† Step 1: Individual reading of a model text. Students are asked to read while preparing for questions proposed by the teacher on organizational features of the genre. (Appendix 3)

††††† Step 2: Group discussion and evaluation. The students will collaboratively work together with group members in order to add sufficient information about the genre into mind.

††††† Step 3: Representative presentation. The student representative of each group is invited to report their ideas on the observation of the genre.

††††† Step 4: Evaluation on the proposed ideas of representative student. This will enable the students to pool into mind as much information about the model genre as they can.

††††† Step 5: Teacherís comment and summary. The teacher shows the students transparency of a model analysis so that they may deepen their understanding in the discussion. (Appendix 3, Transparency)

3.3. Stage 3: Reinforcing

††††††† The concept of the genre established in the first two stages may be loosely laid. And it is a fact that the students would easily forget new information unless they can restructure or reinforce in the mind so as to select and store in the Long Term Memory (LTM). Thus, this stage will require the students to rethink and reinforce through all kinds of activities.

††††† Step 1: Reordering activity. The students are expected to do a reordering exercise delivered by the teacher for the purpose that they can use what they have learned in the previous stages to do a genre analysis by themselves. Each group should be given a differently ordered version of a same text. (Appendix 4)

††††† Step 2: Presentation. A selected member of each group is allowed to present their reasoning on the order of the text.

††††† Step 3: Checking. The teacher will show the original text and ask the students to check their own results. (Appendix 5)

††††† Step 4: Teacherís analysis and explanation on the model text.††



††††††† As is claimed at the beginning of this paper, genre-based approach is new to Chinese teachers and learners of English writing. Whether it is applicable or practical in Chinese teaching context is still unknown. However, it is the authorís belief that the approach will greatly enlighten pedagogical issues and open a new door to the teaching of writing in China. It is worthwhile risking to pioneer in this field by teaching practice. And more theoretical arguments and empirical studies should be encouraged in the future.




1. Badger, R. & G. White. (2000). A Process Genre Approach to Teaching English. ELT Journal 54 (2).

2. Charney, D. H. & Richard A. Carlson. (1995). Learning to Write in a Genre: What Student Writers Take from Model Texts. Research in the Teaching of English. Vol. 29 (1): 88-156.

3. Christie, Frances. (1999). Genre Theory and ESL Teaching: A Systemic Functional Perspective. TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 33 (4): 759-763.

4. Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (eds.). (1993). The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

5. Derewianka, Beverley. (1996). Exploring the Writing of Genres. Minibook Series. No.8. United Kingdom Reading Association.

6. Dudley-Evans, T. (1997). Genre Model for the Teaching of Academic Writing to Second Language Speakers: advantages and disadvantages. In T. Miller (ed.) Functional Approaches to Written Texts: Classroom Applications. Washington DC: united States Information Agency.

7. Henry, Alex & Robert L. Roseberry. (1998). An Evaluation of a Genre-Based Approach to the Teaching of EAP/ESP Writing. TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 32 (1): 147-156.

8. Hyland, Ken. (1992). Genre Analysis: Just Another Fad? English Teaching Forum. April 1992.

9. Hyon, Sunny. (1996). Genre in Three Traditions: Implications for ESL . TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 30 (4): 693-716.

10. Marshall. Stewart. (1991). A Genre-Based Approach to the Teaching of Report Writing. English for Specific Purposes. Vol. 10: 3-13.

11. Reid, Jey. M. (1993). Teaching ESL Writing. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Regents/ Prentice Hall.

12. Teo, P. (1999). Process Writing: Peer Evaluation Revisited. In REACT, June 1999. NIE, Singapore.

13. White, R & V. Arndt. (1995). Process Writing. London: Longman.









Aim: The aim of the plan is to teach students how to write a clear and persuasive explanation.

Objectives: At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

†††††††††† 1. Understand the purpose for which the genre of explanation is used in different contexts.

†††††††††† 2. Have a proper knowledge of the structures and linguistic features of an explanation.

†††††††††† 3. Lay a solid basis for the actual writing stage coming next.

Language focus: Organization

Student level: First year English majors.

Class size: 45

Length of time: 90 minutes








































Discussion on the organization of the genre of explanation.

Step1: Teacherís general introduction of the topic (2min.)

Step2: Several questions to investigate how much they already know about the genre (4min.)

Que.1 How do you usually make an explanation in writing?

Que.2 What strategies do you usually use to make an effective explanation?

Que.3: Why do you use explanation in writing?

Step3: Deliver the model text of the genre to the students with questions focused on the features of the organization. (10min.)

Step4: Ask students to present their own results of investigation on the model text. Encourage other students to argue and add new information. (10min.)

Step5: Teacherís comment on the presentation of the students and brief summary on the features of the organization. (5min)












         Teacher talk

         Individual work by students

         Group work by students




























To enable the students have a basic concept of the organization of the genre through their own investigation







































Familiarization of the concept of explanation genre discussed in last stage.

Step1: Deliver another text to each of the students and ask them to read individually. The students are expected to follow the following questions while reading:(5min.)

Que.1: What is the main feature of the text?

Que.2: How does the text successfully achieve to be an effective explanation?

Que.3: What are the advantages of the organizational strategies applied in this text?

Step2: Ask the students to share their own results with partners in the same group. The partners should be encouraged to evaluate the work of each member in the group. (5min.)

Step3: A representative student from each group will be invited to present his (her) ideas to the whole class and write down on the white board. (5min)

Step4: Ask other students to come to the board and evaluate on the points presented by the representatives. The evaluation should be composed of merits and demerits. (10min.)

Step5: Teacherís comments on the merits and demerits proposed by the students and lead them to find out the reasons for demerits. Then show a sample analysis of explanation genre. (9min.)





















         Individual reading

         Group discussion

         Teacherís talk










































To familiarize the students with the concept which has been established in the previous stage






















(Transparency, OHP)





















Reinforcing practice and exercises on the topic

Step1: Divide the students into 3 groups (10 students each group). Each group will be given the same piece of explanation writing with different paragraph order. Ask each group to read the text and discuss on the structural ordering. No peering of the other group is allowed. Each group is encouraged to rearrange the order of their own text. (5min)

Step2: Ask each group to present their final decision on the order of the given text and explain to the whole class the reasons for their decision. Unique ordering should be encouraged. (5min).

Step3: Show the students the original text and ask them to check their own results. They should make comments on their own results, focusing on the structural features. (5min)

Step4: Teacherís analysis and explanation on the organization of the text. (5min)





















         Group reading

         Group discussion

         Teacherís talk







































To reinforce the studentsí knowledge of the organization of analysis text.
























Teacherís summary of the features of analysis genre.

         Teacherís talk


To close the class.














††††† ††Hearing-impaired people cannot hear sounds well. How do they ďhear words and talk?

††††††† Many hearing impaired people use American Sign Language (ASL). They talk with their hands. Sometimes two hearing-impaired people talk to each other. They both use ASL. Sometimes a person who can hear interprets for hearing-impaired people. The person listens to someone talking, and then he or she makes hand signs.

††††††† There are two kinds of sign language. One kind has a sign for every letter in the alphabet. The person spells words. This is finger spelling. The other kind has a sign for whole words. There are signs for verbs, things, and ideas.

††††††† Some of the signs are very easy, for example, eat, milk, and house. You can see what they mean. Others are more difficult, for example, star, egg, or week.

††††††† People from any country can learn ASL. They donít speak words. They use signs, so they can understand people from other countries.

††††††† ASL is almost like a dance. The whole body talks. American Sign Language is a beautiful language.




  1. What is the purpose of this text? Is it to entertain? To inform? Or to explain?
  2. Who do you think is the audience of this piece of writing?
  3. Do you think the author successfully achieve the intended purpose? How ?
  4. What are the striking features in the structure of the text? Try to explain in detail about how these features affect the effects of the text.
  5. What is the specific language characteristics represented by this text? Try to find out the words that you think can effectively achieve the intended purpose of the author.









Have you ever wondered what makes a seed grow?


Seeds need air, water and heat to grow. If a seed has the right amount of warmth, air and water, then it will begin to germinate or sprout. Germination begins when water from the soil enters the seed causing it to swell. The baby plant inside the seed (the embryo) then begins to get bigger and breaks out of the seed coat (the testa).


First the embryo sends out a little root or radicle which grows down into the soil and acts as an anchor. Then from the embryo, a small green shoot called a plumule is sent up above the earth. The fragile green leaves at the end of the plumule open up to get energy from the sun.


Beneath the earth, the radicle sends out tiny roots which take in water and food from the soil.





APPENDIX 4 (Studentís Handouts)




Directions: The following sentences are disorderly arranged. You are expected to rearrange them according to the structure of explanation. You are allowed to do the work in groups. Each group may include no more than 4 persons. And each group will be asked to present your result to the class.



1. People all over the world eat rice.

2. Farmers grow rice in many countries, even in the southern part of the United States and in eastern Australia.†††††

3. No one really knows where rice came from.

4. Some people eat almost nothing but rice.

5. Rice is a kind of grass.

6. Another kind probably grew in West Africa.

7. There are more than seven thousand (7,000) kinds of rice.

8. Most kinds are water plants.

9. Millions of people in Asia, Africa, and South America eat it every day of their lives.

10. Some scientists think it started to grow in two places.

11. Other scientists think rice came from India, and India travellers took it to other parts of the world.

12. They also make baskets, brooms, rugs, sandals, and roofs for their houses.

13. There are two main ways to grow rice.

14. Upland rice grows in dry soil. Most rice grows in wet soil.

15. People in many countries do all of the work by hand.

16. This is the same way farmers worked hundreds of years ago.

17. The farmers all use fertilizer. Some insects are enemies of rice.

18. Farmers poison them.

19. People use every part of the rice plant.

20. Some countries now use machines on their rice farms

21. They make animal feed and rice oil from it.

22. Someone in China wrote about it almost five thousand (5,000) years ago.

23. They burn dry rice plants for cooking.

24. They think that one kind of rice grew in southern Asia thousands of years ago.

(Note: Some more versions of rearrangement exercise may be designed basing on the original text. And group work is especially encouraged)



APPENDIX 5 (Teacherís Copy)






††††††† People all over the world eat rice. Millions of people in Asia, Africa, and South America eat it every day of their lives. Some people eat almost nothing but rice.

††††††† Rice is a kind of grass. There are more than seven thousand (7,000) kinds of rice. Most kinds are water plants. Farmers grow rice in many countries, even in the southern part of the United States and in eastern Australia.

††††††† No one really knows where rice came from. Some scientists think it started to grow in two places. They think that one kind of rice grew in southern Asia thousands of years ago. Someone in China wrote about it almost five thousand (5,000) years ago. Another kind probably grew in West Africa. Other scientists think rice came from India, and India travellers took it to other parts of the world.

††††††† There are two main ways to grow rice. Upland rice grows in dry soil. Most rice grows in wet soil. People in many countries do all of the work by hand. This is the same way farmers worked hundreds of years ago. Some countries now use machines on their rice farms. The farmers all use fertilizer. Some insects are enemies of rice. Farmers poison them.

††††††† People use every part of the rice plant. They make animal feed and rice oil from it. They also make baskets, brooms, rugs, sandals, and roofs for their houses. They burn dry rice plants for cooking.