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Lesson Plan

Exploring Audience and Purpose with a Single Issue

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Exploring Audience and Purpose with a Single Issue

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



Students explore the rhetorical concept of audience and purpose by focusing on an issue that divided Americans in 1925, the debate of evolution versus creationism raised by the Scopes Monkey Trial. Students first become familiar with the case by reviewing a newspaper article and other resources with details about the trial. They then identify the purpose and audience of a newspaper article about the trial, and explain how the purpose and audience for the article shaped the text. Then, students brainstorm a list of positions someone writing about the trial might take and the audience they might address as they consider how audience and purpose might shape other communication on the issue using an online Audience Analysis Inventory tool.

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The NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing offer principles that should guide effective teaching practice in English language arts and across the content areas. These guidelines include the recognition that "Writing grows out of many different purposes." These purposes, the Beliefs explain, "grow out of and create various relationships between the writer and the potential reader, and relationships reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience is already shared, and what needs to be explained." In short, the purpose of every piece of writing is closely tied to the readers, the audience for that piece of writing.

Because of the significant role of purpose and audience, teaching must directly address these rhetorical aspects. As the Beliefs explain, "In order to make sure students are learning how writing differs when the purpose and the audience differ, it is important that teachers create opportunities for students to be in different kinds of writing situations, where the relationships and agendas are varied." This lesson plan offers students the chance to explore the range of audiences and purposes that a single issue can yield as well as to explore the ways that audience and purpose shape messages.

Further Reading

Writing Study Group of the NCTE Executive Committee. 2016. Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing. February 2016. Web. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/teaching-writing

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