Your Reading Comprehension Toolkit: Identifying the Author's Purpose

Identifying the author’s purpose is an important comprehension strategy for all readers to master. Luckily it’s an easy strategy to teach. That’s because identifying the author’s purpose is pretty intuitive.

Ask a first grader who loves the pigeon books why Mo Willems is such a good author and they’ll likely tell you he’s a good author because he’s funny. Likewise, a fifth grader who’s into books about the American Revolution will tell you that they read the books to learn facts about the war. Both students know why they enjoy what they’re reading. And if they can tell you why they enjoy a text, they can easily identify the author’s purpose.

Identifying the Author’s Purpose Is Easy as Pie

Start by talking with students about the reasons why an author writes. In general, there are 3 basic reasons for an author to write something: to persuade their reader, to inform their reader, or to entertain their reader.

Most students learn to use the following acronym when thinking about the author’s purpose:

  • P is for Persuade - the author shares their opinion with the reader

  • I is for Inform - the author presents facts to the reader

  • E is for Entertain - the author amuses the reader

The PIE acronym is a helpful tool to use when introducing readers to the concept of the author’s purpose. You can use it to build an anchor chart or as a springboard for a whole-class activity like the one outlined below:

Make a PIE to Track Author’s Purpose

Display 3 large paper circles (pie pans) on your wall. Label each circle with an author’s purpose “flavor” (persuade, inform, entertain). Then begin to fill your pies:

  • Read a variety of texts with your students

  • Work with students to identify the author’s purpose for writing the text

  • Make a slice of pie for each text. Write why the text is an example of a specific author’s purpose

  • Add the slices of pie to the correct pie pan

  • Track author’s purpose throughout the year and discuss any trends across the books and articles that you read.

Moving Beyond PIE

Once readers are familiar with the basic reasons for an author to write a text they can use what they know to deepen comprehension, think critically about text, and just plain enjoy what they read.

Connect Author’s Purpose to Genre

An author’s purpose for writing is almost always connected to the genre of the text they write. By teaching students to connect common genres to the author’s purpose, you can help them set a purpose for reading and set expectations for the text.

Fiction and Author’s Purpose

When an author like Doreen Cronin seeks to entertain her reader, she does so with a fictional cast of silly animals who make laugh-out-loud mischief. Duck for President, for example, was clearly written to entertain the reader. The basic premise of the story is that Duck becomes frustrated with Farmer Brown and holds an election to take over the farm. If this book featured a cast of human characters, it would not be nearly as funny. But through personifying farm animals, Cronin is able to write a truly funny and engaging book thereby achieving her purpose of entertaining readers.

But what happens when a fiction writer has more than one purpose?

What happens when an author seeks to both entertain their reader and share a message or a lesson with readers? With fictional storytelling, expert authors like Kevin Henkes can craft stories that work to share life lessons with readers. Take Chrysanthemum, for example; a highly relatable story about teasing, self-esteem, and acceptance. Through relying on basic story elements and a cast of appealing characters, Henkes is able to both entertain his reader and persuade them to treat people with kindness.

And so, as a result of sharing fiction books like Chrysanthemum with readers, you can teach your students that an author’s purpose can be two-fold. Not only can fiction be entertaining, but authors can also use fiction for the purpose of persuading readers to consider important life lessons.

Nonfiction and Author’s Purpose

Nonfiction by definition is all about the facts. Strict nonfiction, like National Geographic Kid’s Planets, uses features of nonfiction text and matter-of-fact language to present facts – and just the facts. But nonfiction is not always simple. Some authors use it to persuade and entertain readers as well. Here are some examples of authors who blend their purpose of sharing information with another author’s purpose.

Doreen Rappaport is the author of dozens of books that seek to tell the stories of influential and inspiring people in history. Through her writing, Rappaport shares information. She also seeks to persuade her readers to consider the lessons we can learn from the people she writes about. In Martin’s Big Words, for example, Rappaport shares many facts about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. She also tells his story in such a way that readers can’t help but acknowledge that King was a strong leader who worked hard to change the world. As a result, students should be able to identify Doreen Rappaport’s two-fold author’s purpose for writing.

Similarly, authors like Judith St. George seek to share information by way of comedy. In her book, So You Want to Be President?, St. George tells fun and interesting facts about each of America’s presidents. She pairs those facts with illustrations done in the style of political caricature. By blending these two elements together, Judith St. Geroge is able to inform and entertain her reader.

Focus on the Facts and Opinions

Moving students to think about the author’s purpose beyond PIE can make it easier for readers to comprehend what they read. That’s because you’re helping them to think critically about the texts they read and set a purpose for reading based on the author’s goals as a writer. However, for many students, the task of distinguishing between facts and opinions can be a stumbling block that interferes with the comprehension of nonfiction. Why? Because opinions can easily be disguised as facts. Here is an example:

Flamingos are interesting birds. Their bright pink color makes them more beautiful than other birds.

Because the sentence is about Flamingos, many students will identify it as nonfiction. This quick categorization might also lead students to believe it is a fact that Flamingos are interesting and more beautiful than other birds. But they would be wrong. These two statements can not be researched and proven. Therefore they are not facts. Instead, these statements are two examples of opinions, because other people might disagree with them.

So, how can you help your students become better at separating fact from fiction?

Give them plenty of practice separating facts from opinions. You can invite students to write fact and opinion statements they find while reading on a class anchor chart or you can play a quick game of I Have… Who Has…? Click here to download your printable. Both options will help readers identify the author’s purpose when reading nonfiction.

Identifying the Author's Purpose in the Real World

Chances are students don’t think of authors as real people. We rarely see pictures of the authors we read or know what they have to say beyond the pages of their books, so it’s easy to think of an author’s purpose as isolated to the books they write. Help your students draw connections between the text they read and the authors who write them by following the author’s social media profiles.

You can collect tweets, interviews, and other short pieces of content that will deepen your student’s perspective on the authors they read. Try using these short pieces of content to identify whether or not an author’s purpose is visible across all the content they write. And, as an added bonus, you’ll begin to teach them to think critically about all of the media that surrounds us.

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