For high school students, traditional conversations regarding an author’s audience, tone, and purpose sometimes prove to be too tedious. Too often teachers may rush through the process of discovering these elements or only address them on a surface level, approaches which will ultimately prevent students from becoming adept at the critical thinking required to analyze non-fiction.

In their NCTE 2012 Convention session “Name It To Claim It” Martha Keller and Stephen Heller, teachers from Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, offered a much more dynamic route to ensuring students grasp these three essential elements.

By assigning category names to an author’s purpose, teachers provide an opportunity for students to immediately make decisions about tone and audience, giving them something palpable with which to work when explaining their choice. Names such as plea, threat, accusation, instruction, defiance, and challenge are included on their comprehensive list.

According to Martha Keller, the most effective way to introduce the categories is limiting the selection to six or seven in a single period for approximately fifteen minutes and then supplying students with sample texts with which to practice. She also recommends applying the new categories to a continuum with the most confrontational names at one end and more amicable names at the other end to help students differentiate the levels of power the pieces give to the speaker and the listener.

Asking students, “Which category is this piece?” leads to more complex thinking regarding the text and provides teachers a viable opportunity to assess their students’ mastery of identifying an author’s audience, tone, and purpose.