Because ChatGPT and other automated writing technologies are trained to generate text from large language models on the basis of algorithmic likelihood, they are predictably good at producing texts that reproduce very common forms or genres. This can pose both a challenge and an opportunity for teachers who want their students to produce original work but who, for whatever reason, expect that work to conform to the conventions of established genres. Some genres are very tightly defined, as with lab reports; sometimes they are more approximate, as with five-paragraph essays or short stories; and sometimes they are more rhetorical than formal, as with “arguments.”

How can teachers make use of the ease with which automated writing technologies reproduce these genres and forms while still engaging students to produce original work? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Teach the genre as a genre. Rather than present the conventions as automatic, inevitable, and without origin, spend some time explaining history and problems the genre both solves and potentially creates. The less students assume any given form is natural, the more usefully suspicious they will be of how easily automated writing technologies reproduce genres. Denaturing the genre before asking students to work with it can be useful.

  2. Analyze samples of automatic text as a group. Since it’s so easy for chatbots to produce multiple examples of generic forms quickly, generating and analyzing multiple prompts and examples and discussing successes and failures in their execution can illuminate both the purposes of the genre and the limitations of chatbots.

  3. Ask students to compare their own attempts at the genre to those generated by the automated writing technologies. Since the automatic texts will always reproduce the most common expressions, comparison can help the students recognize average work and thus identify opportunities to exceed it.

  4. Encourage students to think about ways to complement or supplement generic writing. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate all writing genres and their uses; genres exist for a reason! However, they aren’t complete in and of themselves: we need to use them thoughtfully, and that involves developing writing that does what those genres cannot. Ask students to think about and practice writing that identifies those gaps and limitations and enriches the work of the genre with novel and innovative approaches and language.