Although it is most commonly known for its use in film and literature, the genre is a key concept in many areas of education, particularly in literacy education. The idea of ‘genre’ has complicated origins, owing to its use in other fields. This makes definitions of genre challenging. One of the most common definitions comes from the Australian Sydney School which finds that “genre is a staged, goal-oriented, purposeful activity in which speakers engage as members of our culture” (Martin & Rose, 2007, p. 34). As the first part of the definition suggests, the Sydney School sees genre first and foremost as something people do to get things done, and as such, there is a strong emphasis on the form of genres. Meanwhile, the Rhetorical Genre Studies school originating in America was formed around the following definition of genre as  “typified rhetorical actions based in recurrent” (Miller, 1984, p. 236). In this school, the genre is more about the situation to which one responds, than the response itself, even if that is a matter of relative emphasis, not absolute difference.


One of the key ways in which genre is classified is between cognitive and social genres. Social genres are types of text classified according to their social purpose. For example, a novel, a newspaper editorial, and a cookbook are all social genres because we think of them according to their use and their identity as complete texts. Cognitive genres, on the other hand, are defined according to their rhetorical purpose. For instance, one purpose might be to recount a narrative, another to explain a process, or to persuade someone to do something. Whereas social genres are more commonly perceived as single texts, cognitive genres are very often only parts of texts, and any one social genre might contain many cognitive genres.


The most common area of application for these ideas about the genre is in schools. Whereas school children were once taught about social genres alone, they are now routinely taught about cognitive genres. Literacy teachers of all levels teach students to recognize how texts achieve their purposes. Primary teachers teach students to read by asking them questions about the text, such as “is the purpose of this text to inform, entertain, or persuade?”. Literacy teachers help students to master these skills, building from simple and familiar, such as instructions, to complex and unfamiliar, such as forms of persuasion. The instructors guide students in understanding larger social forms of reading and writing. High school teachers use scientific reports, for example, to build on students’ knowledge of hypothesizing, process explanations, narrative recounts, and summarizing.

Local example

One area in the UAE where the concept of genre has become important in the past 10 years is in higher education. As universities began to close Academic Bridge Programs in the UAE, academic literacy professors have increasingly turned to raise genre awareness to teach local high school leavers the kinds of language skills that will enable students to be successful in their academic careers. This has meant teaching students to recognize different kinds of genres, and to ask the kinds of questions that will enable them to successfully deal with the new genres they meet in their studies at university. At Zayed University, this course is called Academic Language and Literacies and it has helped over 1000 students since its inception in 2019 (Institutional Data, 2021).




Reference list

Institutional Data. (2021, 11 July). Institutional Data. Zayed University.

Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2007). Working with Discourse: Meaning Beyond the Clause (Open Linguistics (Paperback)) (2nd ed.). Continuum.

Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151–167.



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