I love to talk about nonfiction text structure and how it is the road map for teaching nonfiction. Today I want to share five things to consider when planning your instruction around nonfiction text structures.
Why should I spend time teaching nonfiction text structure?
First, I want to review the five nonfiction text structures your students quickly should be aware of:
- Compare & Contrast
- Cause & Effect
- Problem & Solution
- Sequence of Events
When our students understand these five nonfiction text structures, they will feel more confident identifying central ideas and key details when they read nonfiction.
The more knowledge your students have about nonfiction text structures, the greater their levels of comprehension will become.
If a student can identify the structure of a nonfiction text, they are more likely to understand the purpose behind why the text was written.
What should I focus on when teaching nonfiction text structure?
- Use of exemplar texts.
- Use of graphic organizers
- Teach keywords
- Ask focused questions
- Connect to other reading skills
Along with the strategies covered in this blog post, you can find more support with teaching nonfiction text structure on the Stellar Teacher Podcast – be sure to check out Episodes #116 and #117 of the podcast, where I go more in-depth about the information covered in this blog post!
Also, if you are a part of The Stellar Teacher Membership, you will find text structure resources to teach your students more about nonfiction text structures!
You should check out my nonfiction text structure resources on Teacher Pay Teacher if you are new here.
Use Exemplar Texts
When teaching nonfiction text structure, start with clear examples of each type of text structure and then move into more complex texts.
Imagine the frustration and confusion your students (and you!) will face if you attempt to teach the text structure compare and contrast with an example text that is not clearly written in that structure.
Help your students build understanding and confidence in identifying the types of nonfiction text structure by using
- Picture books
- Short Passages
- Science/Social Studies Texts
- Nontraditional Teaching Texts (cookbooks, how-tos, etc.)
Shorter passages, articles, or task cards are great to use when introducing the key attributes of each nonfiction text structure. Using shorter, exemplar text structure passages will help prepare your students for reading longer, more complex texts with multiple structures.
In more complex texts, authors will use a different text structure paragraph to paragraph. Before you show your students more complex examples, it is key that they know and understand the attributes of each text structure. And how to identify them!
- Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams is a great picture book to use when your students are ready to identify multiple text structures within one text. It follows a compare and contrast and sequence structure.
- Use advertisements from a magazine or even social media to help your students understand the attributes of description.
Use Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are such helpful tools when it comes to teaching nonfiction text structures! A graphic organizer can help our students visually organize and better understand the information presented in nonfiction texts.
Graphic organizers will help your students track information while they read nonfiction texts. The more you reference visuals like graphic organizers, the more familiar your students will become with the unique attributes of each nonfiction text structure.
Of course, full-page graphic organizers are great but don’t discount the effectiveness of a graphic organizer printed on a sticky note! My reading response sticky note templates are a quick, easy, and engaging way to hold students accountable during independent reading.
To be most effective, I recommend using graphic organizers before, during, and after reading a nonfiction text.
- Use Venn Diagrams to teach compare and contrast, fill in a few details as a whole class, then ask students to complete the Venn diagram as an exit ticket.
- Creating Timelines is a fun and meaningful way to support your students’ understanding of the text structure sequence.
- Flow charts are great for organizing cause and effect OR problem and solution details from a text – cut out arrows and have students write cause and effect/problem-solution details, then mix them up and match them.
Teach Key Words for Nonfiction Text Structures
Signal words are specific words in a text that act as hints. These keywords can help readers identify text structure. Teaching your students single words, or keywords, for each of the five nonfiction text structures will help them know what to look out for when reading nonfiction.
Text structure keywords are a tool students can use to help them identify the text structure of a nonfiction text.
It is important that students know it is one of the many tools they can use to help them determine a structure. They shouldn’t rely only on the signal words in a text.
Teaching text structure is about helping students understand the relationship between ideas in a text, and signal words can help them identify those relationships.
- Highlighters are a fun, tactical way to encourage your students to engage with a text. Students can assign a highlighter color to each type of text structure and highlight specific keywords as they read.
- Don’t stop at identifying signal words; encourage your students to use keywords when they write and discuss nonfiction texts. Doing so will help them reinforce their understanding of the types of nonfiction text structure.
Incorporate Focused Questioning
Questioning helps us monitor our student’s comprehension of a text or understanding of an objective, right?
Questioning is also a way to help our students build background knowledge on a topic.
Students must understand the questions they ask while reading need to be connected to the structure of the text. If you want students to use questioning to identify text structure, you need to teach them the right questions to ask.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to teach your students how to evaluate their questioning skills. When you practice using focused questioning, don’t forget to ask follow-up questions like:
- Did this question help me understand relationships in the text?
- Did the question help me understand the main idea the author is trying to communicate?
- Use a list of questions connected to each type of nonfiction text structure (anchor chart, bookmark, trifold).
- Model asking text structure-aligned questions when you read a text as a whole class.
- Brainstorm relevant questions with your students before reading a text.
Connect Text Structure to Other Reading Skills
Sometimes we overlook the end goal: we want our students to understand the texts they read more deeply.
Instead of teaching reading concepts in silos, I encourage you to be more intentional about talking with your students about how everything is connected!
When you teach nonfiction text structure, talk about how it connects to:
- Author’s Purpose – The purpose of writing the text will influence how the author organizes the text.
- Main Idea & Details – Authors write to share a big idea with their audience… and they organize the text to help them communicate that big idea.
- Text Features – Authors include text features that reinforce and support a text’s overall structure. For example, a timeline would support a text written in the sequence text structure.
- Summarizing – If students understand how a text is organized and can visually organize key details, they can translate these skills into writing a summary. And don’t forget to download the Summary Nonfiction Checklist for free!
Summarizing Nonfiction Checklist
Summarizing nonfiction can be really challenging. There are SOOOOO many things your students need to be able to do in order to successfully summarize a nonfiction text. But, with the help of this checklist, your students will remember the important characteristics of a nonfiction summary.
- When considering the author’s purpose, have students think about the following question: What BIG idea does the author want you to understand after reading this text? Discuss how the big idea connects to the text structure.
- Analyze a text feature – choose a text feature from a text and have your students write a paragraph explaining how it connects to the text structure and why the author included it.
- Have your students mimic a text’s structure in their summary. This will challenge students to think like an author, use keywords, and write in specific text structures.
Think about your next steps…
- Here’s your challenge! Choose one of the activities discussed in this blog post and plan to implement it this week or coming week – leave a comment telling us how it went! We love to hear classroom experiences from teachers.
- Check out Episodes #116 and #117 of the podcast to hear more about these nonfiction text structure tips in more depth!
- Join us inside The Stellar Teacher Reading Membership, where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources that you can use with all the picture books you’ll be using in your classroom!
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