Category Archives: Discourse Communities

Attempting Contact With Today’s High Schoolers

On a typical day I wake up, go to work, where I spend quite a bit of time talking to other English teachers, some time talking to teachers of other disciplines and other school staff members, and majority of my time conversing with my 16-18 year old students. Then I go to the gym where I don’t talk to many other LA Fitness members, yet I still feel connected to them as we’re all there battling through pain in order to be healthy and fit. After that, I go home where I talk with my roommates (one middle school science teacher, the other a sales representative for a lucrative internet company) about our day, and then at least once per week I head to a craft brewery where I get greeted by the familiar staff and enjoy a cold beer. Each of these different communities and audiences or community members signify a Discourse with a capital “D” as defined by James Gee (13). These are the groups within which we act and communicate in a certain way, making us a member of that Discourse. We are recognizably a teacher or a student or a gym member.

Within many of the Discourses to which we belong, there is not only verbal but also written communication. I write and read emails all day long, in correspondence with parents, students, administrators, and other teachers. My roommates and I leave notes for each other and send text messages. I leave reviews for the breweries I frequent, recommending people to try them out. In each of these discourse communities, knowing who my target audience is key when using written communication. If I were to write emails to parents using the same style and informal language that I use when I text my roommates, I doubt the response would be at all favorable.

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Writing to serve early literacy interests

Books on a platter Early literacy and children’s literature are near and dear to my heart, so as a professional writer in-the-making, my associated discourse communities include people who already enjoy or are curious about how to incorporate early literacy in their life or the lives of those around them. This may include early literacy groups (like Make Way for Books in Tucson, Arizona), libraries, bookshops, teachers, parents or anyone with children in their life, and of course the children to whom we want to serve a feast of books for them to devour.

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Discourse Communities in Different Organizations

“Language has a magical property: when we speak or write we craft what we have to say to fit the situation or context in which we are communicating.”

– James P. Gee


When we write or speak to others throughout our daily lives, we practice tailoring our messages to the situation. Our conversation takes shape based on the situation: the topic of the conversation, the person or people we are communicating with, the setting in which the conversation is taking place, and your relation to the person or people you are communicating with. Just as our spoken communication is shaped by the audience, when we write we must also consider the audience and tailor our messages to them. However, without the audience member being present in the conversation, you must anticipate their needs and their expectations without them being right in front of you. That is why it is so important to have some understanding about the audience of your message when writing anything such as a quick text message, an academic paper, a proposal, or an email to a client. Continue reading Discourse Communities in Different Organizations

College Prep Discourse

My parents are well-educated, and when I was growing up, common conversations at the dinner table included college.  I remember in my early years, we would discuss mascots and school colors. As an “tween” our conversations gravitated towards the NCAA, and throughout my high school career we discussed colleges and out-of-state opportunities.  I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do when I turned thirty, but I knew that I would be looking back at college memories.  When I graduated high school, 86% of my graduating class was going to a community college or university.  After graduation, I began teaching in a district were college was not discussed at the dinner table.  In fact, college was viewed as taking  young adults away from earning money and their families.  At my current site, only a percent of students go to college.  Ten years ago, eighteen percent of students went to college, currently about twenty-eight percent go onto college. Although the number of students going onto college has risen, the small percent of post-secondary education was shocking.  As previous discussed on my last blog post, AVID has  changed the college going culture at my school site.  However, the curriculum is part of the success of the program.  There is also a great deal of hidden curriculum or discourse that is included in our system.

As stated by Gee, discourse is “the different ways in which we humans integrate language with non-language, such as the different ways of thinking, acting, interacting, valuing, feeling, believing, and using symbols, tools, and objects in the right places and the right time…” (Gee 22).  A great deal of the discourse in AVID comes from the instructors.  To begin, AVID teachers must be asked to join, each instructor must be dedicated to the program.  Additionally, after each academic year AVID instructors must agree to teach AVID again so a to avoid boredom or fatigue.  This changes the culture of how these teachers are viewed by the rest of the faculty.  I have been told many times by teachers that I am so dedicated to my students.  I work with some of the most dedicated people in the business, however, the discourse of AVID makes me appear differently to my co-workers. Continue reading College Prep Discourse

Constructing a Discourse Community

James Gee says “how we speak or write create [the context in which we are communicating]” (p. 11). This is important when writing about Magic: the Gathering because for the most part the Magic community is very insular. The Magic Community naturally gathers around plays that encourage them to play, this might be a group of friends you meet in middle or high school, or people at the local game or comic shop that help support the casual and tournament players. One could do a search on the internet and find a wide network of people who share passion for the game. But the words take on different meanings to a player; this shared discourse helps to create the community. I would like to see the community grow and this insular language means that this can be hard to do. Continue reading Constructing a Discourse Community

According to Martha


James Paul Gee, a modern rhetor says that, “Language has a magical property: when we speak or write we craft what we have to say to fit the situation or context in which we are communicating.”  If this blogger can take a few lines to show my gratitude for this man to say such a wonderful thing. As an English teacher I advocate for a world where people understand this point exactly. Or even, I will go further to say this: more than a magical property, words are magic. So this blog goes out to all my educating colleagues. This blog is to show how all my fellow educators can use their words in order to bring about magic. I feel we can do this through discourse communities, or perhaps it would be more accurate for me to hope that we teachers will use our discourse communities to bring about magic for the people we educate. Continue reading According to Martha

Understanding Patagonia


All I’ve wanted to do this week is go surfing. Sitting on my board, water pooling in my lap, and the sun beating off my wetsuit — then, when you’re ready, get those arms moving and hop on a wave.  It is one of the most serene things in the world.

Which is why reading about Patagonia and Ivon Chouinard has been such a tease. Imagine, a career that allows you to surf and work when you want. Then,  after crashing the waves with your co-workers, you get to head back to the office and casually talk about the next blog concerning the over-construction of dams that will be published the following weekend.  Welcome to Patagonia.  Inside the clothing and outdoor gear company is an entire community of passionate, outdoor enthusiasts looking to better, not only their products, but the environment that stirred their beliefs when they were young. Together, the people at Patagonia have created an admirable company built on rock-solid ethics. Continue reading Understanding Patagonia