A. Michelini

(more to say)

Getting a Taste for Genre

The words “genre” in application to writing has always given me a bad taste in my mouth. As an English professor, I’ve found this to be unusual, but my own experience with genre as a student was not a pleasant one. I always felt like I didn’t know what my professors were talking about exactly, because I felt like I never had a clear example, even though I continued to excel in those courses. Consequently, I haven’t directly inserted the word “genre” into my two years of teaching so far. However, after reading Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, I realized I’ve been using genre all along, without calling it that.¬†Chapter three “Helping Writers Think Rhetorically” lays out a chart defining examples of genres. It then follows this with a discussion of open and closed form prose and details how it relates to and is linked with genre.

Having clear definitions for the topics I cover is invaluable.¬†In every chapter of Bean’s book so far, I have found something I wish I had known two years ago when I began teaching. This should definitely be a required reading at the master’s level. I cannot wait to share some of the open-form writing and closed-form writing strategies coupled with genre in my classes.

Unfortunately, with so many good ideas, I’m left wondering: how do I prioritize what needs to be taught? My students already write four major essays throughout the semester, along with many smaller writing assignments. My instinct is to try them all and see what works best! But different methods work for different groups. Needless to say, I am excited to try this genre thing out.


  1. It’s so interesting to read what you’ve written here about genre, Abby, because my initial reaction to the term was exactly the opposite. So much of writing to me years ago seemed whimsical, fickle, and completely inaccessible. When I started teaching international students learning English more than ten years ago, the idea of using genre seemed to offer an inroads to help students be more successful in the courses I taught.

    Personally, I don’t care for the idea of freedom in writing or particularly value expressing myself creatively in writing. The fact that genre presupposes that “when one writes in a certain genre, one’s structure, style, and approach to subject matter are influenced by the hundreds of previous writers who have employed the same genre,” is refreshing to me. I like the idea that if I need to write a cover letter, for example, that I don’t need to dream up how to do it from the beginning. The fact that my cover letter isn’t radically different from other cover letters, and that any creativity or individuality is expressed in the details, rather than from the outset, is quite comforting.

    • Abigail

      June 5, 2017 at 12:06 am

      Interesting! Yes, we definitely come at this from opposite ends of the spectrum! It’s good for me to hear that so that I can be more balanced.

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