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Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Different Audiences

Investigate the role audience plays in writing for a language arts class, across disciplines, and in preparation for lives beyond high school.

This session begins by examining the “self” most writers address, showing how the concept of writing for an audience is threaded throughout the dynamic and nonlinear processes of writing. From there, the session looks to a wider range of audiences, examining the demands the student writer encounters in addressing audiences in language arts and other disciplines, and audiences on other levels, such as those encountered in college and the job world. Classroom experiences show how writing community members think about, plan around, and address audience expectations. The teachers tackle the same theme for different audiences in a writer’s workshop led by Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Key Points

I want students to start thinking about who’s reading their writing and how that person is going to respond.

— Kelly Quintero

Kelly Quintero

These are the key points the teachers, educators, authors, and students consider:

This workshop focuses on the different audiences for which students write. It explores the ways in which young writers should pay attention to the people who will be reading their work, both in their academic careers and in daily life, and how their teachers can support them.

  1. Writing is a nonlinear and dynamic process. It proceeds at its own pace. Each step takes only as long as it needs to. It involves multiple processes, even for the same writer and/or the same writing task.
  2. In the processes of writing, the first audience many writers address is themselves.
  3. Teachers should have strategies in place to help writers at every step in the processes of writing. One of these strategies should be devoted to identifying the audience for a piece of writing.
  4. Students should write for many audiences, including their teachers and peers, their friends and family, and the extended community around them.
  5. Students should expect to write across the curriculum for audiences in specific disciplines. If they are exposed to the processes of writing, they can adapt them throughout their academic career. Writing across the curriculum stresses one important benefit from writing: when students write about content, they understand it better and remember it longer. Writing generates thought.
  6. Students need help from their teachers in being prepared for the transition from writing for high school audiences to writing for college audiences, to writing in their professions, and to writing in everyday life (email, letters, and reports) for myriad audiences.

Try this interactive activity, Workshop 3 to practice writing for different audiences. It’s part of A Writer’s Notebook, an online writer’s workshop led by noted author Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Things To Consider

When I’m thinking of audience, I always ask, ‘What is the purpose of the reader in coming to that piece?

Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Ruthanne Lum McCunn

  • Some people feel that identifying an audience and writing to them at the very outset of the writing processes unduly inhibits a writer. Others believe that identifying an audience is the first task a writer should tackle. What do you think?

Select the choice that most closely reflects your thinking.

I believe writers should ignore their audience until they have a firm idea of what they want to say and have written at least a first draft.
I believe one of the first tasks writers should handle is identifying their audience and thinking about their expectations and needs—even before writing a first draft.
I believe that the decision of when and how to consider an audience is an individual one, dependent upon the writer and the writing task.
I believe that people should pay more attention to what they want to say even if it means they completely ignore their audience.


  • In cross-curricular projects, students have to consider the expectations of audiences different from the ones they traditionally address in English language arts.
  • Should high school writing teachers be worried about preparing their students for writing tasks in college or other career paths, and meeting the needs of other audiences? Lucy Calkins doesn’t completely agree. In an interview for this project, she stated:

    “I think everybody worries a great deal about giving kids experiences that will prepare them for the task, prepare them for college. And that then in the name, . . . the worry over getting kids ready for college or getting kids ready for the task or getting kids ready, I think sometimes leads teachers to teach in ways that aren’t necessarily giving kids an opportunity to do the work they need to do. High school kids are teenagers. They’re trying to develop a sense of who they are, to author their own lives, to develop a relationship with literacy which is a new kind of relationship as they become adults. And I think that we need to say, ‘How can writing help high school kids to compose a sense of who they are and where they’re going in life?’ I don’t think it should be always writing for the task or writing for the college. And I think that the truth of the matter is, if you ask colleges what they’re looking for, it’s kids who love to write, who write well, who have a connection to literacy, who can use words with flair and with delight and pleasure and power. So I think we should probably spend less time trying to predict what the colleges want, and more time trying to make sure that our kids are using writings in ways that are really powerful for them right now.”


  • Personal stories often speak volumes.
     Read college sophomore Kendra Jones talk about what happened to her when she transitioned to college and encountered new audiences and more complex writing assignments.

In the Classroom

I think students really need more of an audience than just the teacher.

— Lori Mayo

Lori Mayo

  • The first audience any writer addresses is herself or himself. To get a handle on how you and your students perceive the processes of writing, use this inventory as a starting point for classroom discussion.
  • This questionnaire can help students think about audience in regard to numerous writing tasks.
  • In pointing his students’ attention to audience, Charles Ellenbogen used an activity using newspaper articles that you might like to try with your students. Read and talk about it.
  • Kelly Quintero used a similar activity to help her students explore the issues of writing for a specific audience. This activity builds on a writing exercise that was part of a writer’s workshop led by Judith Ortiz Cofer. You can participate in this activity through the interactive A Writer’s Notebook.
  • Do you have a favorite tip for helping students identify and work toward the expectations of an audience?

Additional Resources

Getting kids to think about how audience changes their purpose, changes how they write, is absolutely critical.

— Kyleen Beers

Kyleen Beers

Read or Listen to: 

  • Kylene Beers’s thoughts on helping students deal with a blank page—for many, a first step dealing with the gamut of processes included in writing. Her thoughts were expressed during an interview for this project.

On the Web:

  • Bedford/St. Martin’s, a college text publishing house, offers a bibliography of texts related to audience. Some of the works cited are also available through NCTE’s journals.
  • Colorado State University provides expert online tutorials on topics such as identifying audience and writing to meet their expectations. Look under the tab for “Writing Processes” to find information on audience.

In the Library:

  • Farrell-Childers, Pamela, Anne Ruggles Gere, and Art Young, eds. Programs and Practices: Writing Across the Secondary School Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/ Cook Heinemann, 1994.
  • Fulwiler, Toby and Art Young. Programs That Work: Models and Methods for Writing Across the Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/ Cook, 1989.
  • Herrington, Anne J. and Marcia Curtis. Persons in Process: Four Stories of Writing and Personal Development in College. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2000.
  • Mayer, John S., Nancy Lester and Gordon M. Pradl. Learning To Write, Writing to Learn. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/ Cook, 1983.
  • Thompson, Thomas C. ed. Teaching Writing in High School and College; Conversations and Collaborations. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2002.