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Teaching Genre in the Primary Classroom

It’s no secret that I LOVE books. I think most teachers do, right? When I decided to become a teacher, one of the things that felt most important to me was translating my love of reading to my students. I wanted them to have the same excitement and joy for books as I did. I quickly learned that when it comes to primary students, one of the best ways to do this is to show them all the variety the world of books has to offer. And what better way to do that than by teaching genre? Come along to explore how I’ve approached teaching genre through the years with my students.

This image says, "Teaching Genre in the Primary Classroom" and includes examples of graphic organizers that can be used when teaching fiction and nonfiction texts.

The Importance of Teaching Genre

So why does this matter? Helping students understand different genres opens up a new world of learning and excitement for books. By allowing them to explore both fiction and non-fiction books in depth, we’re helping them discover the types of books they like best. Aside from this, teaching genre is a great way to weave in other skills too. As you explore biographies, you’ll learn about gathering information for research. When you read fairy tales you can dive into story elements. The learning opportunities are endless!

Best of all though, teaching genre to primary learners is FUN! When approached with the right activities and lessons, your students will naturally learn to distinguish the differences between genres as they get lost in a good book. And really, what could be better than that?

Getting Started with Teaching Genre

One of my favorite ways to get started teaching genre is with a quick, instructional video. This helps give a high-level overview to students and gives some examples of literary genres.

This image shows an example of a video that can be used when teaching genre in primary grades. Students will learn about fiction, nonfiction and more through the video.

This video does a great job of illustrating different genres. It also explains that genres mean that there are many types of books out there. Whether we’re interested in made-up stories, factual information, history, or poetry – there is a genre to fit! After watching the video as a group, I like to have a discussion with kiddos and brainstorm some of the ways we can identify books by genre. If you have time to make an anchor chart to compare and contrast a few genres, this is a great idea as well!

I also make a point to chat about the two main types of books – fiction and non-fiction. While these are genres themselves, they also act as an umbrella category for other genres too. For our youngest learners, the foundational place to start is books about real things and facts versus stories that are made up. While it goes so much deeper than this, this is perfect for the introduction.

There is a lot to cover here, so don’t get too bogged down in all the details. Remember, this is just an introduction so don’t worry about making it stick just yet. Students will gain a deeper understanding of these concepts once they get started with practical application in your lessons.

Practice Identifying Fiction & Nonfiction

While fiction books are favored among primary students, I think we can all agree that we read our fair share of non-fiction books too! Many of our read-alouds are fiction, and most students love listening and following along. But, with science and social studies topics to cover, we definitely need a mix of both!

This photo shows a teacher sharing a read aloud book with her class.

One of the easiest, and most practical ways to teach students to recognize the difference between fiction and non-fiction is by talking about the books you read aloud. After introducing the concept of fiction and non-fiction, I like to ask students some strategic questions. Some of the things you might ask are:

  • Does this book contain facts?
  • Does this book seem like an imaginative story?
  • Does this book have pictures or photos?
  • Does this book seem like fiction or non-fiction? Why?

That last question on the list is my favorite. The open-ended nature of the question gets your students thinking about genre! I love asking these questions after we read because it helps students think about the differences they see between fiction and non-fiction and learn to verbalize them aloud. This will translate into your lessons later and even your library visits too. It’s fun to watch those wheels turn as students learn about genre.

Teaching Genre with Fairy Tales

Let’s talk about one of my favorite genres – fairy tales! This is a favorite topic in the first-grade classroom and it was always one of my favorites to teach! Aside from being fun, it’s an excellent example when you’re getting started with teaching genre. Once students understand fiction and non-fiction, they’ll likely be able to identify which category fairy tales fall into quickly. In my classroom, I use this fun Fairy Tales Unit to dive a little deeper.

This image showcases resources that can be used when teaching genre, specifically fairy tales.

This resource covers much more than introducing the fairy tale genre. Students learn about story elements, character analysis, setting, sequencing, and more! Included, you’ll find centers, re-telling activities, story element cards, and even props for a class play. Plus, it offers a fantastic, fun way to target reading comprehension as well. As we study each of the fairy tales in our focus lessons, we’re able to truly dive into the material and explore it as a class. As a first-grade teacher with limited time to spare, I always appreciated resources that allowed me to target multiple skills at once. This one definitely fits the bill!

As you work through the unit, don’t forget to ask students specific questions about the fairy tale genre. You can ask them questions about the storyline and if the story seems real, as well as other ways they’re able to tell the book is a fairy tale. These simple questions might seem obvious, but remember to ask them! We want to cement the characteristics of each genre as we go!

Introducing Poetry to Primary Students

This image features a book, "Poems Out Loud", which can be used when teaching the poetry genre to young students.

Poetry is a great way to showcase another genre to your students. Most children love songs, fingerplays, and rhymes – so poetry is a great way to capture their attention. Try choosing a book like The Cat in the Hat to introduce poetry-style writing and then have a discussion about poems. Chat about how to identify poetry as well as how to look for patterns and rhymes in the text. And don’t forget to talk about meaning within poems too! Students always seem to get a kick out of poems meaning something a bit different than how they first appear.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to teach students to recognize and appreciate poetry is by a daily, short reading during your morning meeting for a couple of weeks. It is a fun part of the day that everyone looks forward to, and it presents an opportunity to chat about the characteristics of poetry. Try a book like this one or this one if you’re looking for a fun place to start!

Using Biographies To Teach Genre

This image shows a graphic organizer that can be used when teaching genre. It focuses on Benjamin Franklin, a historical figure that can be used to learn about the nonfiction genre.

Biographies are another fun tool to use when teaching genre to your primary students. In first grade, we learn about many historical figures in our social studies lessons. As we read non-fiction books about Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, I use the resources in this unit. There are many helpful materials included in the unit to help students understand the biography genre including:

  • Instructional PowerPoints
  • Timelines
  • Reference Posters
  • Graphic Organizers
  • Informational Readers and more!

I love using these materials alongside books we read because they help students see the value in biographies. They begin to understand the type of information they can expect to find in biographies and how to look for it. As we scour the pages for information, they become better detectives and strengthen reading comprehension skills too! That’s a win-win if you ask me!

Reading Response Activities

This image shows a student completing a graphic organizer about the book "The Wizard of Oz". Graphic organizers like this one are great tools to use with your students.

Another great way to help students understand different genres, and work on reading comprehension is with reading response activities. Graphic organizers like these will challenge your students and make them think deeply about the books they are reading. They’ll work on identifying the title, main idea, characters, details, and more! Inside this resource you’ll find:

  • 21 different graphic organizers for literary text
  • 13 graphic organizers for any text
  • 14 graphic organizers for informational text
  • plus editable pages!

Whether you’re working on fiction, non-fiction, narratives, or informational reading, there are plenty of options to choose from. Best of all though, there are no-prep printable choices, as well as DIGITAL slides as well! These activities make it fun and easy to explore different types of books and texts with your students. Before you know it, they’ll be analyzing and categorizing books by genre all on their own!

Get Started Teaching Genre

I hope you enjoyed reading through these ideas for teaching genre to primary learners. This is such a valuable and fun addition to your reading lessons. I know you’ll love exploring different genres with your students and helping to instill a love for reading as much as I have! You can find all of these resources and many more in my TPT Shop. Have fun building your own lessons around different genres and diving into all kinds of new books!

Save These Ideas for Teaching Genre

Be sure to pin this post on Pinterest to keep these ideas handy!

When teaching genre in the primary classroom, it is so important to use tools like graphic organizers to dive deeper into genres like fiction, nonfiction and even poetry. In this post, I share some ideas for using resources to help students better understand these genres!

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