Writing a report
A study of preadolescents’ use of informational language
Keywords:genre, informational text, literacy education, systemic functional linguistics, writing
Reading and writing informational genres is a literacy skill highly valued in school, workplace and society. One key to the development of this skill is mastering the lexicogrammatical resources that are functional for realizing these genres. Drawing on a genre-based theory of learning and using analytical tools provided by systemic functional linguistics, this cross-sectional longitudinal study examined patterns of language use in Grades 3–5 students’ writing of report, an informational genre whose main function is to present factual information on a topic. Quantitative and descriptive analyses of their written reports on a common, familiar science topic reveal that the preadolescents demonstrated considerable expertise in instantiating certain features of report (e.g. timelessness, non-particularization), but were much less successful in using language to construe its other features (e.g. technicality, density, thing-focus, abstraction, objectivity). Instead, the students tended to draw on the grammatical resources of everyday spontaneous speech, presenting information in an interactive, non-authoritative and unconventionally structured manner. Furthermore, while considerable variation existing between and within the three grade levels in the students’ working knowledge of report, no clear, consistent developmental pattern emerged from the analyses. In fact, the development seems best characterized as non-linear and feature-specific. These findings raise a number of important developmental and pedagogical issues that have practical implications for language and literacy educators.
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