To help your students become lifelong readers, you are going to have to teach them about different genres of literature. This lesson will provide some strategies, techniques and activities for teaching literary genres to your students.

What are Literary Genres?

What kind of books do you like reading? Do you like stories about someone trying to solve a mystery? Or perhaps something scary that gets under your skin? Maybe you like to read about true events in an attempt to learn something new about the lives of others. Regardless of what you like, everyone probably has a few favorite genres of books. A literary genre is essentially a category of books that share common elements and themes.

As an adult, you are probably familiar with the many genres of books out there. You have your favorites, and you know the ones you really don’t like. However, your students don’t have this knowledge. It is up to you to teach them about different literary genres, so they can become lifelong readers and find their favorites, just as you have. There are several useful techniques, strategies, and activities you can use to teach literary genres that will be covered throughout this lesson.

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Imagine being in an elementary school classroom where, every day, your teacher read aloud to your class for 10 minutes. This is probably something you do as a teacher now or have experienced as a child. Now imagine that your teacher only ever read biographies to your class. As soon as she finished one, she picked up another and started reading.

To some of you, this may sound great! That’s probably because you like biographies. To others, this may sound awful! Either way, this is not a good teaching practice because it only exposes your students to one literary genre. One of the most important things you can do to teach your students about literary genres is to expose them to as many as possible.

For example, you can be like the teacher above and read aloud to your students often, but instead of only reading one type of book, you cycle through many different genres. One week, you may read a science fiction book. The next, a mystery. The following week, you may read a biography. What’s important is that students are exposed to all of these different genres, so they can begin to identify the salient aspects of each.

Breaking Down the Genres

As mentioned, books and pieces of literature are categorized into genres because they have some common elements among them. For example, books in the science fiction genre usually involve advanced technology, events set in the future, or stories about distant planets. If you see a book about a princess of a planet called Flaxxon, you’d probably assume it was a science fiction book.

Every literary genre has several elements that are associated with books in that genre. To teach students about literary genres, you should help them identify these different elements. By knowing these elements, students can identify the genre of books they’ve never read before.

A good activity to do this would be to split students into groups and assign them a genre to research. The students should spend time learning about the genre, identifying common elements and themes, and finding literature that exemplifies that genre. Students can then present their information to the class, so every student can learn about the different genres.

You can also have students compare and contrast genres that are similar, but different in important ways. For example, science fiction and fantasy are similar in that they are about stories that probably don’t take place in our time on our planet, but they also have some clear, defining qualities. Allowing students to explore these similarities and differences will help them differentiate between the genres.

Whichever activity you use, it’s important to ensure that students are focusing on the key aspects of each genre. If they know those aspects, they can better identify which genre a piece of literature belongs to. This will also help them decide which genres they enjoy, which encourages them to read more, making them lifelong readers.

Write the Genre

Reading and researching different genres is not the only way you can help your students learn about literary genres. You can also engage them in writing their own stories that fit into a specific literary genre. This gives students practice identifying and employing the common themes and components of each genre.

For example, you can give students a simple prompt such as ‘write about someone named Diana.’ For this prompt, students have to decide which genre of literature they want to write and go from there. One student could write a fantasy story about a witch named Diana who curses a princess. Another could write a realistic fiction story about a student named Diana struggling to fit into school. Still another could write a biography about Princess Diana of Wales.

For this activity, you could also flip the script and tell students to write a story that fits into a certain genre. You could give students specific elements of the story they should include. For example, students could be tasked with writing a mystery story. They could be required to include a crime, a detective, and a culprit. These are also key elements of many mystery stories; therefore, you students will be exposed to them through writing.

Lesson Summary

Teaching literary genres, or categories of literature that share common elements and themes, can be fun and exciting for both you and your students. By exposing students to different genres, breaking down the genres into their key elements, and writing stories that fit into different genres, your students can explore different kinds of literature to find their favorites, helping them become lifelong readers.