I remember a professional development session where the presenter projected a piece of text with lots of blanks where words should have been. A quick glance at the format told us that it was a letter. The first line said, “Dear ______,” Someone instinctively said, “Dear John!” The presenter filled in the word “John.” It went on: “I’m _____ to say that…” We figured the missing word should be “sorry.” We continued through the whole letter filling in missing words with relative ease based completely on what we already knew about break up letters and what made sense in the context of each sentence. The point was that if you approach a text with some background knowledge, if you already know what to expect, then figuring out tricky (or in this case missing!) words isn’t nearly as difficult. You’re also more ready to comprehend the material being presented if you have some clues about how it’s going to be presented. This is why teaching students to recognize genre, story elements, and text structure is so powerful.
(Noticing text structure fits perfectly in close reading lessons.)
What are Nonfiction Text Structures?
Nonfiction text structures refer to the way that a text is organized. Recognizing text structures helps student know what to expect next in the text. For example, if an author wrote a fact about one way that zebras and horses are different from each other, a student trained to notice text features might think “hey, this author might be using compare and contrast. As I continue reading I’ll be looking for other similarities and differences between horses and zebras.” Suddenly the student has developed a purpose for reading and they are more actively engaged in the text. (Focusing informative writing around the text structures makes a great reading/writing connection!)
There are five main text structures that students are likely to encounter.
What is it? – A descriptive text structure gives the who, what, where, when, and why about a topic. In the diagram shown, the main topic would go in the center with facts in the surrounding circles. “All About” text falls under this structure. A text that tells what penguins look like, what they eat, and where they live would have a descriptive text structure.
Recognizing It – If students see characteristics, features, or examples of a topic in a text, it is probably descriptive. Signal words/phrases like “such as,” “in fact,” “features,” “looks like,” and “characteristics” are all clues that a text is descriptive.
How to Read It– Students should be looking for important facts about the topic as they are reading descriptive text.
What Is It? – The sequence text structure is when steps, directions, or ordered events are layed out. How-to text including recipes and recounts of historical events are examples of the sequence text structure.
Recognizing It – If students see a list of materials needed or numbered steps they have probably found a sequence text. Chronological terms such as “first,” “during,” “after that,” and “finally” are all signal words for sequence text.
How to Read It – Instead of looking for important facts, students should be paying attention to events/steps and their order.
What Is It? – A compare and contrast text presents similarities and differences about two or more things/concepts/ideas. A real-life example would be a review of competing products on the market. In the diagram above, each circle represents a different thing (perhaps mammals and reptiles). Where the circles overlap, similarities would be noted. The remaining parts of the circles are for differences.
Recognizing It – Signal words such as “different,” “same as,” “alike,” or “in contrast” all indicate that the compare and contrast structure is being used.
How To Read It – Students should be looking for what is being compared and important differences and similarities between those things/concepts/ideas.
What Is It? – A cause and effect text demonstrates how actions or events can bring about other actions, events, or results (think the domino effect). Several causes can lead to one effect or one cause can bring about several effects. Texts that explain how a historical event came about, what lead to a river becoming polluted, or what makes a rock change from one form to another all have cause and effect structures.
Recognizing It – Signal words/phrases like, “as a result,” “reasons why,” “leads to,” or “outcome” all indicate that the cause and effect structure is being used.
How To Read It – Students should be looking for the main event/result and what brought it about. I’ve found that sometimes it’s easiest to notice the effect first and then go back and look for the cause(s).
What Is It? – In a problem and solution text structure, a challenge or issue is presented along with one or more ways to fix or address it.
Recognizing It – Signal words/phrases like, “the problem is,” “answer” “dilemma,” “puzzle” or “advantage” indicate a problem and solution structure.
How to Read It – Students should be looking for what is wrong and the possibilities for correcting it.
(Read more about reading strategies you should be teaching HERE)
Free Anchor Chart
For graphic organizers and passages featuring each structure, check out this product: