When asked, “What is different about informational text?” many students readily respond by listing informational text’s obvious text features. Students are familiar with its features and make comments like:
“It has headings.”
“Informational text has pictures of real things.”
“You see maps and charts.”
“It has an index and glossary of words.”
While informational text features are easily recognizable, text structures require further training for most of our students. Focusing on text structures is worth the effort because research suggests that understanding text structure strengthens overall comprehension and may also provide students with models for writing, according to Marjorie Lipson at the University of Vermont. Common Core Standards require students to “Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.”
Since informational texts are written to inform, persuade, or entertain the topic covered and author’s purpose determines the text structure. For example, a second-grade science text about the life cycle of a frog is written to inform and fits an obvious time order sequence pattern. The Civil War chapter in a history text for upper grades may follow different organizational structures within the same chapter, including time order for sequence of events and cause and effect when discussing the causes of the war. There are five basic text structures that authors use as they craft their informational texts including descriptive, problem/solution, time order sequence, compare/contrast, cause and effect.
Think about how you use text structures to guide your understanding when you read informational texts. If you pick up a travel guide about Hawaii you probably flip through it to see how it is organized. Are the chapters or sections focused on geographic regions of the island you are visiting or by recreational activities (eating, snorkeling, hotels etc)? Is a map included and then some descriptive text? Text structures help you gain information about the topic.
Text structures play an important role in comprehending informational text. When you teach text structures using engaging mentor texts, graphic organizers, along with interactive think-alouds and partner or group practice, your students’ comprehension will soar. Here are some practical student-centered ideas to bring text structures to your students throughout the school year!
Use graphic organizers
Using graphic organizers throughout lessons helps students to improve their comprehension and good readers use graphic organizers to summarize texts. By posting the five basic informational text structures in the classroom and referring to them often, students become familiar with how authors choose to organize their texts with examples from my book, Best Ever Literacy Survival Tips.
Share mentor texts for each structure
When you use catchy high interest mentor texts with engaging illustrations to demonstrate each of the text structures, students have a hook to remember the structure! Read the text aloud and show students how the graphic organizer above fits the text organization. The mentor texts become models or examples you return to all year long!
Mentor Texts to Teach Informational Text Structure
Animals Nobody Loves by Seymour Simon
Students will remember the facts about each of the creatures on the least favored list!
Liberty Rising by Pegi Deitz Shea
The wonderful illustrations show the sequence of how the great Statue of Liberty came about.
Jimmy the Joey: The True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue by Debora Lee Rose
A little orphaned koala is rescued and learns to survive on his own. Students are introduced to koala endangerment organizations for letter writing and project-based learning!
Electrical Wizard by Elizabeth Rusch
Whether Nikola Tesla was observing the sparks from petting his cat or studying the power of Niagara Falls, he lived in an inventor’s world of cause and effect!
Lincoln and Douglass by Nikki Giovanni
In spite of their differences, these two friends had much in common! What a great compare/contrast story.
Pay attention to text structure throughout reading
Encourage and guide students as they read to use text structure to comprehend text. Before reading text walk to predict the text structure. During reading fill in the appropriate organizer or verbally summarize the learning so far. After reading summarize using a graphic organizer either verbally or in writing.
Conduct frequent think-alouds
Explain to students that good readers use text structures often to guide their reading. Show how to text-walk before reading to anticipate which structure will be used by saying, “I think the author wrote this ( article, book, chapter, section) by using (one of the five structures) because I see (clues, clue words, etc).” Anytime the class is reading informational text, pause to consider which structure fits the text.
Assign a text structure to groups or pairs
Students work in teams to hunt for text structures to identify in weekly student newspapers, online articles, and content area textbooks. Read aloud from informational texts and have students stand up if their assigned structure is named.
Lori Oczkus is an independent literacy consultant, speaker, and author. Her most recent book is Just the Facts: Close Reading and the Comprehension of Informational Text. She can be reached at email@example.com.