How are you doing with teaching non-fiction, informational texts? Do you feel you have a good grasp on expository text structures? With the Common Core ELA standards, students are expected to be proficient in reading complex informational texts. State assessments are also becoming more non-fiction focused, to evaluate student abilities in navigating these complex texts. So what can we do to help our students meet these standards?
The purpose of this post is to provide a few resources for teaching non-fiction, in preparation for the higher levels of achievement students are expected to reach! The ideas shared are perfect for upper primary grades, but can be easily adapted for earlier grade-levels. It is never to early to introduce non-fiction, so even if you are Kindergarten teacher you can start exploring the structures and helping your students build a foundation for content-area learning!
The Non-Fiction Text Structures:
What are text structures?
Non-fiction text structures refer to HOW an author organizes information in an expository text. When faced with a new text, students can observe the organizational pattern of the text and look for cues to differentiate and pinpoint which of the text structures was used by the author. Students can then organize their thinking to match the structure of the text, allowing for effective comprehension of the subject matter.
Why are the text structures important?
Understanding non-fiction text structures is critical for “Reading to Learn” (i.e., reading for information). Students should be familiar with the five most common text structures and should be able to identify each structure using signal words and key features. Understanding which text structure is used helps students monitor their understanding, while learning the specific content that is presented. These text structures need to be explicitly taught in the classroom.
Introducing & Reviewing Non Fiction:
It is important to note at this point that students need to understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction BEFORE jumping into learning about text structures. Please make sure your students have a good grasp of fiction/non-fiction features and can easily identify both!
Here are a few resources to introduce or review non-fiction with your students:
- Nonfiction Genre Study (Scholastic)
- Introducing Nonfiction (Extension Activity using free digital texts via We Give Books.org/Pearson Foundation)
- PowerPoint: Introducing Nonfiction (Weber School District blog)
Introducing the Text Structures:
- Sensory and descriptive details help readers visualize information. It shares the who, what, where, when, why, and how of a topic/subject.
Sequence & Order:
- Sequence of Events: Chronological texts present events in a sequence from beginning to end.
- How-To: How-To texts organize the information in a series of directions.
Compare & Contrast:
- Authors use comparisons to describe ideas to readers. Similarities and differences are shared.
Cause & Effect:
- Informational texts often describe cause and effect relationships. The text describes events and identifies reasons (causes) for why the event happened.
Problem & Solution:
- The text introduces and describes a problem and presents one or more solutions.
(FREE Non-Fiction Text Structures Student Reference Sheet)
As with most concepts and skills, students benefit greatly from modeling and practice! Becoming familiar with text structures involves interaction with a variety of informational texts. Perhaps you can begin with a book pass or non-fiction literacy centers to build their schema of non-fiction text structures. With these activities, students preview texts, make observations, and share their findings. To prepare, you will need to select a variety of books ahead of time for each text structure to place among the chairs (book pass) or stations.
Here are a few resources to help you with these two activities:
Book Pass Resources:
- Book Pass Log (Scholastic)
Nonfiction Center Resources:
- Mrs. Russ’ Classroom (w/task cards)
(FREE Building Schema with Non-Fiction Text Structures Student Graphic Organizer)
Once students have interacted with a variety of books exemplifying each of the non-fiction text structures and have had the opportunity to build their schema by making their own observations, you should then explicitly teach the text structures individually!
Some teachers prefer to teach text structures as ELA units (one day/week/month per structure), whereas some teach these in conjunction with non-fiction writing. It is your choice, so customize the instruction to meet the needs of your classroom! Keep in mind… the resources shared here are resource alone, and do not provide a program for instruction.
Digging Deeper into Text Structures:
After students experience different text structures and organizational patterns, you should introduce one text structure at a time. Introduce each using a mentor text (a great list can be found here!) and by showing students how each text structure will guide them in collecting information. Through modeling and practice, students will learn which graphic organizers correspond to each text structure and how to complete them.
According to AdLit.org, teachers should teach text structures as a strategy for comprehension. A few ideas include:
- Showing examples of different paragraphs/texts that correspond to each text structure
- Examining topic sentences and key words that clue the reader in to a certain text structure
- Modeling using text clues to identify text structure during a text preview
- Model using graphic organizers to collect information
- Students use graphic organizers for each text structure to collect information.
- Model the writing of a paragraph that uses a specific text structure
- Students write a paragraph using a specific text structure
Analyzing Text Structure:
The ultimate goal is for students to know how to analyze text to identify the text structure and choose the appropriate graphic organizer to go with it. Analyzing text involves previewing a text to observe the organization, features, key words, and any clues that may be helpful in determining text structure. A step-by-step guide may be helpful at first, to walk students through this process!
(FREE Analyzing Non-Fiction Text Structure Student Guide)
Students should also explore the common signal words and topic sentences that correspond with each text structure. Being able to identify signal words quickly during a quick scan of the text will help tremendously in preparing students for information collection. Use this reference sheet (same as above) to remind students of the signal words they may find for each text structure!
Extension — Writing with Text Structures:
To reinforce student understanding of non-fiction text structures, consider bringing an informational text writing unit into your Writing Workshop! Students can study non-fiction as a genre of writing, and use various mentor texts as models for good non-fiction writing. After studying the key features and vocabulary of each text structure, students can practice integrating the structures into their own writing.
Assess their knowledge of text structures using writing and informal assessment activities.
For example, students can complete a sort, matching the definition with the text structures to show their understanding of each of the five text structures. (An example is shared below!)
(FREE Scramble N’ Sort Student Practice/Assessment)
You could also have students complete an “I Can…” assessment in their reading logs or on an exit slip to assess their knowledge of applying text structures as a strategy!
(FREE “I Can…” Strategy/Skill Assessment)
Resources! Resources! Resources!
Here are a bunch of websites, blogs, and direct links to materials that may be of some help! Many are for upper grade-levels, but feel free to adapt materials to meet the needs of your students!
- Text Structure Resources (Literacy Leaders)
- Teach Text Structure for Nonfiction (Scholastic Lesson Plan)
- Lesson Ideas & Sequence (AdLit.org)
- 20 Strategies to Teach Text Structure (ESSDACK.org)
- Identify & Analyze Text Structure (Journey North)
- Identifying Text Structure (West Virginia Depart of Education)
- Non-Fiction Reading Strategies (Mrs. Rosequist’s Class Website)
- Introducing Text Structures in Writing (Utah Education Network)
- Flash Cards (Quizlet)
Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR):
- FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 2-3)
- FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 4-5)
- FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 2-3)
- FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 4-5)
- Teaching Text Structures: A Key to Nonfiction Reading Success (2007) by Sue Dymock and Tom Nicholson
- Non-Fiction Text Structures for Better Comprehension and Response (2013) by Gail Saunders-Smith
If you are looking for additional materials to support your instruction of Non-Fiction Text Structures, check out the resources I have created for each! Each instructional packet includes student posters/reference sheets, an instructional poem, graphic organizers, and student prompt cards.