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Use the prompt to determine the genre

March 23, 2021

Many ELA standardized assessments include a complex task. These often require students to combine several reading and writing skills in order to produce a longer written response.

To succeed at such a task, students must first be able to decode the prompt. This includes accurately interpreting the meaning of the academic vocabulary. However, this alone is not enough.

The next step is to teach students how to present their written responses in the appropriate structure based on the genre indicated in the prompt.

Pre-write more than beginning, middle, & end

Decode the prompt - Match text structure - Student HandoutYes, this includes pre-writing an introduction, body, and conclusion. However, every genre has those three components. The real secret is to teach students the specific ingredients or type of information per genre and also the order that information should be revealed within the body paragraphs.

Many rubrics include criteria on whether the student “accomplished the task.” This means the student not only wrote about what he was supposed to, but also wrote how he was directed to. This comes down to writing in the correct genre, for the correct purpose, and with the correct text structure.

Visualize the body paragraphs

Depending on the assigned genre, the type of information and the order it is presented varies. Teach students the unique structure and ingredients found within the body paragraphs of each genre.

  • How-to responses will feature body paragraphs organized into steps.
  • Explanatory or descriptive responses will have body paragraphs organized around big ideas.
  • Compare-contrast responses will be organized into broad categories applicable to both items.
  • Persuasive responses will start with an overall opinion, followed by reasons and corresponding evidence.
  • Argumentative responses include the same ingredients as a persuasive, with the addition of a paragraph for the counterclaim.

Teaching students how to attack the read-write task on standardized assessments is essential. Once they can decode the important words within the prompt, then they should immediately begin thinking about how they will shape their response in terms of information and order.

To ensure this, add a second set of questions to your prompt-decoding exercises. Ask students, What will your response look like? How will the paragraphs be organized? This leads to further instruction on how to frame the sentences using key transition words.

Depending on whether the prompt indicated an informative or argumentative response or a how-to or a compare-contrast genre—they should immediately begin to visualize what their body paragraphs will include.

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Decode a prompt in 3 steps

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Decode a prompt in 3 steps

Identify 10-15 general academic words per grade level


Identify 10-15 general academic words per grade level