Teach Readers to Discern Text Structure


Teach Readers to Discern Text Structure

Posted on March 11, 2014

Teach Readers to Discern Text Structure

Authors organize their information intentionally. They present their ideas in an organized pattern. This is called text structure.

Understanding text structure empowers readers. When students can identify a specific structure, they know how to categorize all the details coming at them. And seeing relationships between all these ideas improves overall comprehension.

Recognizing the structures of all texts

Literature (narrative text) always reveals its plot in a chronological sequence. Because it has such a predictable pattern or organization, it's easy for students to follow.

However, informational text (expository writing) can be presented as chronological, categorical, compare-contrast, cause-effect, problem-solution, or proposition-support.

Because informational text structure is not predictable, students have to read for more than just ideas and details. They have to read for how the details are related to one another.

However, recognizing text structure doesn't come naturally. This kind of inferential thinking requires explicit instruction.

Revealing mentor texts

The easiest way for students to see the difference in organizational patterns is to show them similar information presented in different text structures.

For more examples of mentor text:

Identifying relationships with transitions

We can help students discern what structure a text is written in by noting key words. Transitions act as road signs to help readers navigate a text; they signal to the reader how the next detail or idea is related to the previous one.

By highlighting the transition words in a passage before reading it, students begin associating certain transitions with particular text structures. For practice applying signal words accurately, check out this transitions word game.

Advancing from simple to complex examples

Most texts are not pure examples--meaning the entire passage is NOT written in one text structure. Most informational texts contain a mixture of text structure types. A paragraph or two may be organized as a compare-contrast. Then the next paragraph block outlines a sequence. The last paragraphs may be patterned as a problem-solution.

That said, it's important to first teach text structure in simple texts that are short and use only one text structure before challenging them to navigate longer more complex texts.

Scaffolding text structure

Not all text-structure types are to be taught in all grade levels. Scaffold your instruction honoring developmental readiness. Organized below from simplest to most complex, provide instruction in the following order. NOTE: Primary teachers teach 1-2. Intermediate teachers teach 1-4. Secondary teachers teach 1-6.

1. Chronological Structure--Use the train image with its sequenced beginning, middle, and end to show a series of events that happen over time. If the sequence includes numerous steps, use this longer train image. (This text structure could also be applied to literature specifically using the image of the train climbing the mountain to symbolize the chronology of plot development.) Access all versions of the matching Chronological graphic organizers.

Fine-tune students' ability to retell the sequence of a text. This will include retelling stories (literature) or processes (informational text) like explaining the life cycle of a butterfly or the change in the seasons.

2. Enumerative/Categorical Structure--Use the vegetable tray image with its different sections or categories to explain that enumeration is an ordered collection, naming items one by one. Access the matching Enumerative graphic organizer.

Show students how to sort information in the text, grouping like ideas and clustering details about similar facets. Foldables are great for taking notes while reading about the different facets of a big concept.

3. Compare-Contrast Structure--Use the railroad track image to compare the similarities and differences of two topics, feature by feature. For more than two items being compared, flip the tracks horizontally. Access the matching Compare/Contrast graphic vertical organizer and the matrix/horizontal version, too.

Using T-Charts, show students how to separate comparable information about each of the topics. Here's an example completed after reading about two birds--eagles and owls.

4. Cause-Effect Structure--Use the dominoes image to demonstrate one or more reasons why something happened. The chicken foot image is perfect for one cause with multiple effects. Access both versions of the matching Cause/Effect graphic organizers.

Using the concepts of before and after, teach students to identify the relationships of cause(s) and effect(s).

5. Problem-Solution Structure--Use the puzzle image to reveal a problem (the unfinished puzzle) and how to solve it (add the missing piece(s)). If you flip the image, then you can show how multiple problems can have a single solution. Access both versions of the matching Problem/Solution graphic organizers.

The concepts of problems and solutions are not foreign to students. They have heard from an early age that they need to compromise and cooperate. Teach students to read for the problem first, and then read for the solution(s).

6. Proposition-Support Structure--Use the measurement scale image to explain how the balance of argument/claim is weighed by the amount of support or evidence given to the thesis. Access both versions of the matching Proposition/Support graphic organizers.

All argumentative writing is organized in this single text structure. The opening paragraph identifies the author's claim--what is his topic and stance on the topic? And all the information that follows supports that proposition. It's someone's opinion for how to solve a debatable issue that has no "right" answer.

Teaching text structure gives students a glimpse behind the scenes of what they're reading to discover a framework of meaning.