The Dress-up Doll of Formality

As already mentioned when blogging about the previous booklet, genre is a really important consideration when teaching writing. When putting together The Butterfly Challenge, half of it was trying to make readers aware that the different genre of writing follow different rules that a novice might not be aware of.

This was something that warranted further exploration, so the Northampton workshop looked into this in a bit more detail. And for that I was putting another book together, this time just concentrating on the consideration of genre.

The Dress-up Doll of Formality likens the choosing of appropriate communication channels to dressing for the occasion. Some occasions are very strict as to what outfit is appropriate, others not so much. Using a Gingerbreadperson as model, the book goes through suggestions of how particular genres of writing could be visualised as clothing, for example a business report could be seen as a three-piece suit: it should be formal, tailored to the business, there are certain elements that makes it complete (like a waistcoat and a briefcase completes the outfit, executive summary and appendices make the report).

The most important of these (from the perspective of my teaching) was the academic essay, that by students often seems to be seen as a prison uniform (complete with ball and chain), but really I think they should consider it more like an Elizabethan outfit – yes, it is a bit old-fashioned (conventions mostly are), but it has a lot of structure in it, as well as pleats and layers, just like a carefully crafted argument should.

D:DCIM100DICAMDSCI0454.JPGThe teaching activity that goes with this is giving students a ‘model’ and asking them to draw genre out of a hat, and let them then design an outfit that would reflect that genre. here it is really useful to use a Gingerbreadperson as ‘model’, because if using a proper paper doll students can get sidetracked by trying to make their outfits beautiful. A Gingerbread-doll will always be funny, and that lets students focus on the idea rather than the design. of course the most important part of the activity is getting them to explain why they chose this particular outfit.

I have done this with the delegates at the Northampton workshop as well as with students and I think it is a really good way of getting them to think about different types of communication, which makes them think about the inherent rules each of these types gets constructed by – it helps them see the difference between an academic essay and the text for a website, for example.

I have also used this at a workshop where people were trying to figure out how they wanted to communicate to the world. Through the creative activity of putting together these outfits in small groups, they really started thinking about whether the traditional option they started out with was what they needed and wanted.

This booklet was produced in a preview edition of 31 given out at the workshop, including the paper doll and four A5 sheets that reproduced the outfits in the book as a starting point for making their own.

Here are some outfits which have so far been produced (can you spot the ones that are Tweets?)

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