Have you ever heard the saying that “author’s purpose is as easy as pie” before? That’s because the purpose an author has for their writing is either to persuade, inform, or entertain: p-i-e. It is important for students to know the reason an author writes a text because it helps them understand what that text is about. The author’s intent and motivation also create expectations of what should be learned by the end of the text. Understanding an author’s purpose is a standard that students are required to master, but they don’t tend to recognize the value of this skill until they participate in something meaningful to make the connection. To encourage this connection and effectively evaluate the text with my middle school students, I conduct a special pie-eating experience in the classroom.
3 Ways to Talk About Pie
At the front of the room, I set up a table with a tablecloth covering the contents. With a touch of fanfare, I dramatically tell the students that we will be learning about author’s purpose using what’s underneath the cloth. First, I explain what author’s purpose is and refer to a pre-made chart that shows the acronym PIE hanging above the table. About this time, a student will usually ask, “Are we going to eat pie?” To which I respond, “Yes! But as we eat the pie, we must also analyze it. Can you do both with me?” They emphatically agree.
For the first piece of pie, I tell them all the amazing qualities of the pie. I begin with how it was tenderly made with a perfectly cooked flaky crust; mention the delectable, gooey insides; and then remind them not to forget the blissful feeling that it creates as they enjoy it. After this detailed explanation I ask the students what I was trying to do with this description—persuade, inform, or entertain? The students record their answers.
Now we have a second piece of pie. This time, I tell them all the facts about the pie. The size, the nutrition information, and the ingredients. Then I ask them what I was trying to do with this description—persuade, inform, or entertain? The students record their answers.
For the last piece of pie, I tell them a funny story about a time when my grandmother had an entire lemon meringue pie pushed into her face on her birthday at my house. The students usually ask me questions about it, often concerned for my granny, and I answer them. But finally, I ask them what I was trying to do with this description—persuade, inform, or entertain? The students record their answers.
Discussing Clues to the Author’s Purpose
Now it is time to talk about those answers. There is usually a small debate about whether the first or second piece was meant to persuade or inform. This gives me an opportunity to unveil the adverbs and adjectives from my description on the board. We discuss that words like tenderly, perfectly, delectable, and blissful are opinions and that opinions are used for persuading.
Next, I point out that to inform is to use facts. Ingredients and nutrition information are facts. It even says “nutrition facts” (or possibly “information”) on the label.
Now that those are sorted, we talk about how we can know that the last piece was to entertain: because it was a story that made us feel something. In this case, most of us felt amused since we thought it was funny. Sometimes a few students think it was mean, but I promise you, my granny laughed her head off. She even ate the pie that she scraped off her face!
Putting this all together, eating actual pie when discussing figurative pie helps the struggling learner make connections and creates a memorable experience. Now anytime we discuss author’s purpose, students will undoubtedly remember our pie investigation—something that helps them recall the concept and apply it to new texts.
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