6 steps to help students master the author's purpose and point of view

Teaching students how to determine the author’s purpose or point of view was always something that I realized was important and could do myself… but to teach it? To twelve-year-olds? Cue the moaning and groaning. I never seemed to have the right approach to make it stick! But, like most things related to teaching, ingenuity came from a bit of struggle. 

What was my lightbulb moment? Teaching poetry using TPCASTT. Wait, what?! Yep, that’s right. It was the strategic step-by-step peeling back of the layers of a poem that had me thinking, “How can this process be applied to the deeper complexities of informational texts?”

So I gave it a shot over the course of a week’s worth of lessons. At first, I was unsure how I was going to tie it all together to make it make sense, but by the end of the week? Students were digging deeper into nonfiction texts and determining the author’s purpose and point of view with plenty of textual evidence to boot!

To make it happen, I mashed up several streams of pedagogy – the Common Core informational text standards (RI.6.6), Notice & Note for Nonfiction, TPCASTT, and the Depth and Complexity Icons. It sounds like so much work, but now that I’m on the other side of it – I can tell you it was worth it.

Since we’re all looking to avoid unnecessary struggles in the classroom and make our teaching lives a little easier, I’m sharing my step-by-step procedure in hopes that you can make it work for your students, too!

Step #1: Get Clear on Author’s Purpose vs. Point of View

The first step towards identifying the author’s purpose and finding the author’s point of view is understanding what those terms mean. 

ensure students understand the difference between author's purpose and author's point of view

For the author’s purpose, discuss the different reasons why authors write. Introduce or review the acronym PIECE–Persuade, Inform, Entertain, Compare, Express–to explain the primary purposes for nonfiction writing. Then, take a moment to look at real-world examples and see if you can categorize them into a different piece of the pie. Show students different examples of real-world texts like billboards, flyers, restaurant menus, or even your local library’s website.

Next, tie in what students already know about point of view based on what they’ve learned when reading fiction. With nonfiction, it’s a matter of expanding from first-person or third-person narration to examining how the author thinks or feels about the subject they are writing about.

To further cement student learning between author’s purpose and point of view, you could generate a series of statements and have students sort them by author’s purpose or author’s point of view.

Step #2: Introduce a Relevant Text and Complete a First Read

determining the author's purpose and point of view starts with reading a text for the gist to understand the central idea and key details

When I’m teaching a skill for the first time, I like to use a whole class anchor text that we can go through together and refer back to later on. I recommend collaborating with your science or social studies/history teachers to choose a topic that is relevant to what students are learning about elsewhere for cross-curricular connections. If that’s not possible, choose a text that students are likely to find interest in!

With our first read, the goal is to read for the gist and identify the central idea of the text as well as the key ideas that developed it. We cannot peel back any other layers of the text if we aren’t sure what the text is about. (This is very similar to the first two steps of TPCASTT, in which students identify the topic of the poem and paraphrase it).

Step #3: Zoom In On Word Choice and Tone

determining the author's purpose by examining their use of extreme or absolute language, exaggerations, and connotations

Once students understand the gist of the text, they can peel back another layer to reveal the author’s point of view or how the author views the topic or subject

This is where I incorporate the Notice and Note nonfiction signposts. With a quick mini-lesson, I teach students that how an author feels about something can be detected by looking at word choice and tone.

We make an anchor chart of extreme and absolute words such as all, none, everybody, always, never, etc. We also talk about words that have positive or negative connotations, such as determined vs. stubborn, decisive vs. bossy, etc. Once they’ve built up a toolbox of words to look for, we dive back into the text with our highlighters. 

Students skim the text in search of extreme or absolute words, exaggerations, and words that might have a negative or positive connotation. 

Once we have our clues highlighted for all to see, we look at them as a whole to determine the author’s tone – or attitude toward the subject or topic. (This is very similar to steps three and four of TPCASTT, in which students identify connotations and attitudes).

Step #4: Examine the Author’s Techniques

Next, I have students zoom out of the text. I invite them to examine the text from afar – looking specifically at the structure. The author’s techniques can be quite revealing!

examine author's techniques to determine the author's purpose and author's point of view

I invite students to look closely at:

  • How is the article organized?
    • Look specifically at the heading titles/sections
  • How did the author use text features?
  • Did the author quote or cite another person? If so, how? And why?
  • Did the author use numbers or statistics? If so, how? And Why?

These last two questions, again, rely on the Notice and Note nonfiction signposts. The purpose is to get students to notice when an author uses evidence to support their ideas and consider why.

Step #5: Determine the Author’s Point of View

examine the evidence to form a conclusion about the author's point of view

After reviewing word choice, tone, and the author’s techniques, students can evaluate the evidence to form a conclusion about the author’s point of view on the subject in the text.

This is the penultimate step before determining the author’s purpose, so it’s worth spending a bit of time on this step!  I like to have students imagine they are detectives, and this is the moment in which they must consider all of the “evidence” laid out before them.

When students are ready to make their declaration, I believe it was Scarlett with the wrench in the ballroom, they must be prepared to use evidence to explain why. Ideally, they are referring to word choice, text structure, quotes, or statistics to back up their claims. 

Step #6: Determine the Author’s Purpose

And for the grand finale, students must determine the author’s purpose or motivation

This final step requires students to consider all the parts revealed in each of the previous steps. They are near-experts on the text and should have solid inferences about the author. It’s time for the big reveal.

The main question students should answer here is, “Why did the author write this? What did they hope to achieve?” And, of course, the follow-up to this is to include some relevant evidence to support the finding(s). 

determining the author's purpose and point of view using a multi-step trifold.

For some students, the author’s purpose will be obvious; for others, they might need to return to the acronym PIECE–Persuade, Inform, Entertain, Compare, Express. But don’t be afraid to push your students to elaborate on this final step. If they believe the author is trying to persuade the reader to do something, require them to elaborate on what exactly the author wants the reader to do. 

With all of these steps complete, students will be well on their way to identifying the author’s purpose and point of view in any nonfiction text. I’ve found this process is so much more manageable for kids if you give them a trifold (like the one pictured above) with each step occupying a single column. This breaks down the process into one small, bookmark-sized task at a time! You can see more information on mine, along with a few high-interest & ready-to-use nonfiction texts, here.

How do you teach students to determine the author’s purpose or point of view in a nonfiction text? Share your tips, advice, or strategies below!