Demystifying Audience and Genre: A Classroom Activity

The concepts of audience and genre tend to be challenging for second language writers. Even when students seem to understand them theoretically, they struggle applying their knowledge to practice. We can help them demystify these concepts through simple classroom activities. Let me share one of them.

For this easy-to-prepare activity, you will need the following:

  • Sets of cards from 1 to 4 (Each student will receive a set).
  • PowerPoint slides with a type of audience and 4 genres displayed on each slide (see examples below). Alternatively (for low-tech contexts), you can write them on larger pieces of paper (e.g., size A4) and show them to students instead of slides.


1) Give each student a set of cards from 1 to 4.

2) Display one PowerPoint slide (or show a paper copy) with the type of the audience and 4 genres. For example, on the first slide, students will see:

A potential employer

  1. a memoir
  2. a résumé
  3. a cover letter
  4. a business report

3) Have each student hold a number that indicates the genre that they think may not be considered appropriate to the type of the audience on the slide. In the example above, students will hold number 1 because they wouldn’t send a memoir to a potential employer.

4) Discuss students’ choices.

5) Ask students to identify similarities between the three genres that are appropriate for that particular type of the audience. In the example above, students will identify similar features between a résumé, a cover letter, and a business report. These similarities may pertain to language, purpose, design and media, and so on.

Examples for PowerPoint slides:

A potential employer

  1. a memoir
  2. a resume
  3. a cover letter
  4. a business report

College undergraduate students

  1. a university library report
  2. an e-mail
  3. a book review
  4. a children’s picture book

Professionals from your field of study

  1. an academic journal article
  2. a wedding invitation
  3. book review
  4. an annotated bibliography

High school students

  1. a peer’s draft
  2. a chapter from a textbook
  3. a summary of an academic article
  4. an obituary

Readers of a popular magazine

  1. an annotated bibliography
  2. a pie recipe
  3. song lyrics
  4. an advertisement

Graduate students

  1. a ghost story
  2. an encyclopedia article
  3. a critique of an academic source
  4. a department newsletter

Tourists in your country

  1. a travel brochure
  2. maps
  3. minutes from a business meeting
  4. a top five list of local restaurants

An editor of an academic journal

  1. a letter to the editor
  2. an annotated bibliography
  3. a parody
  4. an autobiographical essay

An academic advisor in college

  1. a thank-you note
  2. an essay draft
  3. a flyer to a department social event
  4. a ghost story

Option: If you have more advanced learners, you can have a follow-up interactive activity. After you complete this activity, you can divide students into small groups and have them create their own examples, similar to the ones on the PowerPoint slides, for another group of students in class. From my experience, students really enjoy creating their own “quiz” for another group, and they usually come up with funny examples.

How might you use this activity differently for your particular teaching context? Or how might you teach your students about audience and genre? Please share!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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