How Can I Help My Students Become More Aware Of Audience When Writing?

Students who are used to writing only with the teacher in mind may initially have difficulty visualizing an authentic audience for their writing. In fact, Dornan, Rosen, and Wilson (2003) write, "Shifting secondary students from a writer-centered mode of thinking to an awareness of their audience and the role of the reader is very difficult. One reason is that young writers care more about expressing themselves than being understood" (p. 133). However, by helping students become more aware of audience, teachers can encourage them to make intentional choices in their writing related to content, tone, and purpose.

One way of helping students become aware of the effect of audience upon a piece of writing is to have them compose a short piece of writing for multiple audiences. For example, a student can write an explanation of why he or she was speeding with the following audiences in mind: the traffic cop who makes the stop, the parents who loaned the car, and a friend who wasn't there. The teacher can help students see how they naturally chose formal language to address the traffic cop and informal language to address the friend. Likewise, the writer probably changed the main focus of the explanation depending on who would be hearing it. Finally, the purpose of each explanation differs. The writer may want to attempt to persuade the cop not to write a ticket, beg the parents for mercy, and gain sympathy from the friend.

Students can also be encouraged to analyze the needs of the audience as a way of becoming more aware of the audience while writing. Students can think about what information the audience already knows, what kind of tone is appropriate for this group of people, and what the audience is going to want to understand by the end of the piece. Likewise, they can consider the degree to which they can use specialized language or may need to define terms based on the audience's needs.

Example In Vocal Music IV (A Capella Choir), students work in small groups to create a multimedia presentation for the class on a capella singing in a variety of cultures. First, students in each group identify an a capella singing group representative of a culture other than that of the United States. They then examine patterns and trends of acapella music found in that culture and examine how this particular group draws upon historical traditions and challenges or extends those traditions through their music. Students work in their groups to generate audience awareness by discussing what the students in the choir already know about the topic based on previous course content, what they need to know about the historical and cultural context in order to understand the presentation, and what kind of technical terminology they need to define for the audience.

Example In Biology, students are instructed to describe a biological process in a way that someone who was unfamiliar with the process would understand how it works. They "check out" the effectiveness of the piece by having three different people (parents, younger siblings, teachers in other content areas) read it and tell them whether or not they understand the process clearly.

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