Click play below to hear what to consider when teaching nonfiction text structure:
I value teaching nonfiction text structure so much that I couldn’t fit all of the information in just one episode. Last week, in Episode 116, I explained that there are five things to consider when teaching nonfiction text structure.
But since it was part 1, I only shared two of the five elements, which were the use of exemplar or mentor texts and how to use graphic organizations or visualizations. In today’s episode, I’m sharing my final three elements when it comes to explicitly teaching nonfiction text structure.
Understanding the keywords, asking focused questions, and connecting text structure to other reading skills are the three main points of this episode. I provide examples, practical tips, and other key information as it pertains to those three elements for teaching nonfiction text structure.
Ultimately, the reason why we teach text structure is so students can have a deeper understanding of the topic that they’re reading about. Ways students master that still is through the five elements explained throughout this miniseries about teaching nonfiction text structure. Apply these concepts and your students will have a deeper understanding of texts and relationships between them.
In this episode on nonfiction text structure, I share:
- How signal words are used for more than just identifying a certain text structure
- A variety of ways to show which questions relate to certain text structures
- 4 reading skills you can connect to text structure while explicitly teaching
- Reminder of the real end goal of text structure
- My TPT Text Structure Resources
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 116, 5 Things to Consider When Teaching Nonfiction Text Structure: Part 1
- Episode 85, What is The Science of Reading & Why is it Important?
- Episode 49, Nonfiction Text Structure: The Ultimate Road Map For Reading
- 7 Tips for Teaching Nonfiction Text Structure
Connect with me:
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Hey, there, happy Monday, and welcome back. We are going to waste no time jumping into our content today. Because this is a two part series. This is actually week two of a two part series on how to explicitly teach text structure. And so since I did my little intro on text structure last week, we’re going to just jump right in.
So if you missed last week’s episode, or if you are a new listener, I would encourage you to go back and listen to episode number 116 to catch the first part, and then come back and listen to today’s episode. You obviously can listen through today’s episode, you’re still gonna get value out of it. But this is like a follow up from last week’s episode.
So if you did listen to last week’s episode, then you remember that I shared at the very beginning that there are five things that you can keep in mind and do when you are teaching nonfiction text structure to your students. And last week, I covered the first two pillars or elements.
And that is to use exemplar text or mentor texts that are really clear examples of each of the specific nonfiction text structure types, and then use graphic organizers and I shared a really good tip to use graphic organizers before, during and after reading, to help students really visualize and organize the information in the text.
And today, we’re going to be digging into talking about teaching keywords, asking focused questions and then connecting text structure to other reading skills. And just because I can’t help myself, and I wanted to sort of drive home how important text structure is. You know, I shared this last week, and I’m going to share the exact same sentence. And that is when students have a strong understanding of text structure, they are able to anticipate, organize, and recall central ideas found within a text.
And I feel like that just sums up, you know, reading comprehension so well like we want students to be able to have an idea of the information that’s going to be shared in a text, we want them to be able to organize in their brains and on paper, you know, the information that they read, and we want them to be able to remember and recall the important ideas, you know, that’s the end result of what we want them to be able to do.
And when students have a strong understanding of text structure, it just helps elevate their comprehension of a nonfiction text. So when you focus on text structure, your students comprehension will improve. And I think the other thing that makes it so important to to really just focus on text structure, really, anytime you’re reading nonfiction is the fact that in upper elementary, students are exposed to much more complex texts.
And we really want our students to be equipped with the tools that are going to help them to unlock and understand the ideas presented in the text and text structure, really is the roadmap to helping students understand nonfiction.
And so we want to spend intentional instructional time focusing on text structure, because that is going to give your students a huge boost when it comes to being able to tackle these complex texts. So that is really why we want to focus on text structure and why we’re digging into text structure in this two part series.
So we’re gonna go ahead and jump into the last three things that you can do to explicitly teach text structure.
So the third thing that you can do is teach signal words or keywords. And signal words are those specific words in the text that give the reader a clue about the text structure. And most of the time, if you’re teaching text structure, you’ve probably seen the keywords before but for example, if you’re reading a compare and contrast text, you probably are going to see the signal words both, similar, different, but if you’re reading a cause and effect text, you might see the signal words because, since, if, or, then.
So both, similar, different is going to be a clue to the reader that okay, we’re comparing and contrasting two ideas here. And because since, if, then, is a clue to the reader that this is a cause and effect text. And so we want to clue our students into these signal words, because it can help them Identify the text structure.
But I think oftentimes we stop there. And we want to keep on going when we talk about signal words. And we don’t just want to use signal words as a clue to identify the text structure, but we really want to use it, you know, to help understand and even discuss the text.
And so, when you are teaching signal words, you first of all want to make sure that you explicitly introduce and teach the specific signal words to the students. So when you’re introducing the different text structure types, make sure students understand signal words that they might see in the text. And I think it’s really important for students to understand that not every compare and contrast text is going to use the words both, similar, or different, but those words could indicate that it’s a compare and contrast text.
So make sure your students understand that the signal words might indicate text structure, but it’s not always the case. And make sure students also understand that this is just one strategy that they can use to identify text structure students, we don’t want to train our students to look for words, and then be like, Oh, great, I see the word both in the text, this is automatically compare and contrast text, or I see the word since this must be cause and effect, because those words really could show up really anywhere.
And so we want to make sure that students understand that it’s one strategy to identify, but they also want to be able to confirm the text structure through other avenues. But I think beyond identification, you want to model and think aloud and show your students how signal words can help you identify text structure, but also they can help you when discussing and really communicating and analyzing the text.
You know, signal words can also help you identify the author’s purpose. Signal words can also help students state the main idea and the signal words can also help students summarize the text. And so if there is a signal word in the text, it is going to be important to the relationship in the text and text structure really is all about having students understand the relationships.
You know, if you think about the different organizational structures of nonfiction texts, they all have to do with relationships and ideas. And the signal words help students understand that idea. So we want them then to use the same signal words when they are identifying the main idea, summarizing the text, talking about it. So teach students to also use the signal words when they’re responding to a nonfiction text.
And I also think looking at the signal words is an opportunity to like connect your reading instruction back to sentence structure. You know, we want to make sure that students understand that the signal words are going to help us as readers connect ideas together. That word both is going to connect to different ideas that share you know, have a shared similarity, you know, the the signal words, if and then help students understand a cause and effect relationship.
You know, so I think making sure that students understand that signal words, you know, help us at the sentence level, understanding the text as well.
So there are really two things that are important when teaching signal words. And you know, I kind of mentioned these before, but we don’t want students to rely just on signal words, we don’t want that to be the only clue that helps them to identify the text structure. Because like I said, you know, the word, seeing the word because in a text isn’t always a guarantee that that is a cause and effect text. And so we don’t want students to get in the habit of just scanning a text and be like, Okay, I see the word because that’s causing effect.
But we want them to understand that it’s one clue, but they should really be paying attention to, you know, the entire text and the ideas presented, and you know, author’s purpose and all of those things as well.
But the second thing is, is we don’t want students to only use the signal words to identify the text and then ignore them. Like I said, oftentimes we teach signal words as an identification tool, which is great. But we also want to use signal words when we’re writing and discussing about a text. And we also want to use signal words, when we’re creating graphic organizers. You know, you can help your students understand, you know, the whole goal of a graphic organizer is to visually organize information in the text, and students can add in the signal words, to help them with that organization of ideas.
So make sure when you’re teaching text structure that you do focus on explicitly teaching signal words.
Okay, the fourth thing that you can do when teaching nonfiction text structure is to incorporate focused questioning. And we know in general, that questioning helps students monitor their comprehension and understanding of the text and questioning is also a really helpful tool that is going to help build background knowledge on a topic. And it’s an effective reading strategy that we want students to do before, during and after reading.
And I can pretty much guarantee that you are probably asking your students a lot of questions with every reading experience. So I know that you’re asking your students questions when you’re reading aloud, when you’re doing small group, you know, it’s a natural part I think of teaching reading is to incorporate questions.
Now, what we want to do though, is if we want questioning to be effective, we need to make sure that students understand that the questions we ask when reading nonfiction text really should be related to the text structure. And not that they can only ask text structure related questions, but we want students to understand that not every question can be asked of every single text.
For example, oftentimes, you know, at least when I was in the classroom, we would have a list of, you know, here’s a list of questions you can ask or, you know, here’s questions, you can ask for fiction in questions, you can ask for nonfiction, or here’s this set of like, you know, question stems. And so we give students these questions, but we want to make sure that students understand that certain questions lend themselves to the different text structures.
For example, if you ask a student to identify the problem in a text, that isn’t going to help them if they’re reading a descriptive text, you know, if they’re trying to figure out the main idea and the central idea of a descriptive text, they’re not going to be able to find the problem. But if they’re reading a problem and solution text, they absolutely have to be able to identify the problem in the text.
So you know, the question, what is the problem is an essential question if they’re reading a problem in solution text, but it’s not going to help them if they’re reading, you know, descriptive text or a compare and contrast text. You know, so making sure that students understand that for each text structure, there are really, you know, specific focused questions that are going to be essential to helping them understand the text.
Because you know, it’s not when we, when we teach text structure, this is not just teaching our students to identify the text structure, and then move on. And we kind of talked about that a little bit more in the next key point. But you know, ultimately, we want students to be able to identify the main idea, to understand the key points, and asking questions that are really relevant and connected to the organization of the text is going to help students identify those ideas.
So, you know, it’s important that students understand that the questions they ask while reading should be connected to the structure of the text. And there are tons of ways that you can do this. And I think about on a really practical level, you know, some things that you could do is you could give students a list of questions that are connected to each text structure.
This could be in the form of an anchor chart, this could be in the form of a bookmark, this could be in the form of a reference sheet that students glue in their reading journal. All of those we have available inside the Stellar Teacher Reading membership for our teachers, if you’re a member listening, definitely go check out the text structure section.
But I think making sure that they have access to questions that are essential to understanding the specific text structure, because then if they’re reading, and they are like, Okay, this is a compare and contrast text, let me identify some questions that are going to help me better understand the topic of this text. So make sure first of all, that students have a list of questions that are connected to each text structure.
And the other thing that you can do that’s really practical, is model asking text structure aligned questions when you’re doing a shared reading. So whether you’re doing a read aloud, or if you’re going through a small group text with your students, make sure when you’re talking about the text, and you’re talking about the text structure, you also then connect that to okay, because this is a compare and contrast text, here are the questions that I want to ask.
By asking these questions, I know that I’m going to be looking for the most important ideas in the text, the ideas that are central to me understanding the topic of this text. So make sure that you model and you show students, okay, I’ve identified the text structure and now I’ve also identified questions that I can ask while reading this text to help me understand it.
And you can also do things like brainstorm relevant questions with your students as you’re reading. So you know, if you are, and again, I hope that every time you’re reading nonfiction, the conversation of text structure comes up. But if you’re reading, you know, a cause and effect text with your students, you can say, okay, great, we’re reading a cause and effect text, what are some questions that we should ask that are going to help us get to the heart of this of this text and really understand the important ideas?
And have your students practice brainstorming, you know, because that’s going to really empower them. If they know how to come up with their own questions that are related to text structure, then they’re not going to have to rely heavily on the lists that you’ve given them. So make sure you brainstorm text structure focused questions with your students when you’re reading.
And then another thing that I think is really helpful is to, you know, spend time evaluating the effectiveness of questions that you ask. I think sometimes we get in the habit of asking questions, and I know I did this when I was teaching and it’s, you know, the teacher brain is going a mile a minute, we’re always thinking ahead, and it’s like, okay, I should be asking questions. And so, I would read and I would just sort of ask the questions and you know, just sort of like go through the motions of questioning.
But I think sometimes it can be really helpful to pause and ask, you know, even ask your students, okay, we just asked this question, is it a strong question, you know, will asking this question help us understand the relationships in the text? Considering does this question help me understand the main idea the author’s trying to communicate? And not just go through the motions of asking questions, but asking questions, and then taking a step back, and evaluating.
Okay, was this a helpful question? Is this a question that, you know, helped me improve my understanding? Or are we just asking questions for the sake of asking questions. So I think slowing down and really paying attention to the types of questions you’re asking and evaluating, are they helping me grow as a reader and understand this text can be super, super powerful.
And one of the questions that I often encourage students to ask is, did this question help me identify and understand the most important idea in the text? And it’s, I feel like this is very like meta, because we’re questioning our own questions, right? We’re encouraging students to ask questions, and then we’re having them ask questions about the questions. But I think that sort of drives home the fact that we don’t want to just go through the motions and ask questions for the sake of questions, but we want to make sure that our questions are guiding us to understanding the most important ideas in the text.
So just make sure that you know, when you’re teaching nonfiction text structure that you consider the questions that you’re asking and make sure your students understand that we want to use really focused questions and ask questions that are specific to the text structure, because that’s going to help us understand the most important ideas and details in the text.
Okay, and then the final thing that you can do when you are explicitly teaching nonfiction text structure, is to help students understand the connection that text structure has to other reading skills and strategies. And I’m sure this is all starting to come together for you now. But when we think about this, you know, the end goal, when we’re teaching text structure, or really any reading skill, the end goal is not for students to complete that specific tasks, right.
So if we’re focusing on text structure, the end goal is not for students to identify the text structure of an informational text. Ultimately, the reason why we teach text structure is so students can have a deeper understanding of the topic that they are reading about. You know, so it’s not, we’re not teaching text structure, we’re teaching text structure so students can understand the topic of the text.
And, you know, we know that comprehension is a really complex process. And it involves a lot, you know, there’s so much that goes into it, being able to understand a nonfiction text is not dependent just on text structure, there’s so much more that goes into it, students have to have the background knowledge, they have to have the vocabulary, they have to have a variety of other reading skills, things like asking questions, and being able to understand the main idea and summarize the text, you know, so there’s a whole lot that goes into it.
But I think because text structure is, you know, kind of like this overarching umbrella that all of these other sort of like elements connect to it really is like the perfect vehicle for you to show students how so many other comprehension and literacy elements connect together and are essential for our understanding of the text.
You know, so when you are teaching and talking about text structure, try to be really intentional about how you can connect in other comprehension skills and literacy elements to your conversation. And I often think that when we’re teaching reading, especially because we’re looking at our standards, and because we have that dreaded end of year state test, a lot of times we teach reading concepts in silos.
So we’re going to do an individual lesson on text features. And we’re going to do an individual lesson on summarizing. And we’re going to do an individual lesson on main idea. And, you know, while I think that we probably need to provide these individual focus lessons to introduce these concepts, and the skills and the strategies to our students, the reality of it is is that reading does not happen in individual silos in our brain.
And so even if we’re teaching an individual lesson, we don’t want our teaching, and students practice to remain isolated. So we don’t want you know, let’s teach a lesson on text structure, and then practice text structure. And that’s the only thing we’re going to talk about. And so I feel like text structure, like I said, is really a great vehicle to show students how everything ties together. And you know, reading isn’t this isolated concept.
So when you’re teaching text structure, a couple of things that I think yeah, and here’s the thing, you can connect it to anything, you know, just the section before this was all about questioning and how questioning connects the text structure. And so this is not the definite list. There’s an unlimited set of skills and standards that you could connect back to text structure.
But there really are four that I sort of like to think about when you’re teaching text structure that you can connect to. And the first is author’s purpose. So anytime you’re teaching text structure, it’s a really great opportunity to talk about author’s purpose and the purpose for writing the text is going to influence the way the author organizes the text.
And a lot of times when we think about author’s purpose, we think about something like PIE to persuade, inform or entertain or maybe something like the acronym INDEEP inform, describe, explained, entertain, persuade, and I think that’s fine. And you know, that sort of like helps students understand why the author wrote the text. But I also think we don’t always have to connect it back to one of those specific, persuade, inform, entertain, purposes.
You know, but when considering author’s purpose, I really like to have students think about this following question: what is the big idea that the author wants you to understand after reading this text? And if students can answer that question that is usually going to help them figure out the author’s purpose, but it’s also going to help them figure out the main idea, which is kind of the next thing that ties into it.
And the thing is, is if students can identify the text structure, and they can, you know, be able to say, okay, the author is here, comparing and contrasting two different ecosystems or whatever are the authors sharing that problem about pollution and sharing the solution, like that’s going to give them a clue to the author’s purpose. But it’s also going to give them a clue to the main idea. So again, author’s purpose and main idea are very connected, and they’re very connected to text structure.
You know, if you just think about sort of the purpose for writing in general, authors are going to write to share a big idea with their audience. And they’re going to organize the text in a way that’s going to help communicate that big idea in a clear and concise way. And so if students really understand that the organization is how authors communicate the big idea, you know, text structure is going to give them a clue about what this big idea, the main idea of the text is.
You know, so for example, the reason why an author writes a problem and solution text is to explain the problem and share a solution. So if students are able to identify a problem and solution text, they should know that the main idea of the text is going to highlight the problem and share a possible solution in a condensed, you know, one sentence.
And the author’s purpose. If they’re reading a problem in solution text, the author’s purpose might be to persuade the reader to take action to solve the problem. Or it might be just to inform the reader of a problem that is impacting either their community or a different part of the world. You know, but all three main idea, author’s purpose and text structure are so closely connected. And so I think we can’t really teach one without the other.
Other sort of reading concepts that are connected are text features, I feel like the text features that are included in a text can often be a really good clue to text structure, and just helping students understand this big idea. And not always, but I think helping students, you know, pay attention to it’s like, okay, what is the text structure? And are there any text features that will elaborate or extend or develop and deepen my understanding of the text structure?
You know, so if students are reading a sequential or chronological texts, like the author might include a timeline that highlights the different events, if it’s a descriptive text to there might be a photograph or a diagram of whatever is being described. You know, if it’s a compare and contrast texts, there might be a table or a chart that shows the two things side by side with the different features.
You know, so having students understand that, again, when authors are constructing a text, and they’re thinking about the text features that they want to include, they’re thinking about, again, this, this main idea and the organization and how can they structure their text to continue to communicate these ideas, and the text features are part of that. So the text features aren’t this secondary add on thing that authors include as an afterthought, but they’re essential to understanding the main idea and are usually connected to the structure as well.
And then the fourth reading skill that you can connect back to text structure is summarizing a text. And I’m pretty sure that I mentioned this a little bit more in depth back in episode 49, when I talk about how text structure is the roadmap to understanding nonfiction. But, you know, identifying and understanding text structure is going to help students summarize the text.
And if students understand how a text is organized, and they can visually organize the key details, they should have no problem summarizing the text and I say no problem sort of loosely because I know summarizing is a really difficult skill for students. But here’s the thing, I feel like text structure just makes it easier for them to summarize, because when students summarize nonfiction, their summaries really should mirror the structure of a text.
So if the text is a compare and contrast text, and it’s all about crocodiles, and alligators, and the text describes a unique attribute of crocodiles, and then it describes the unique attributes of alligators and then at the very end, it explains how the two animals are similar, then that exact same formula is how students should summarize the text. So in their summary, they should start by sharing a unique attribute of crocodiles they should share a unique attribute of alligators and share how they are similar in a condensed summarized version.
But text structure just gives students a starting point it’s like okay, this is how you start your summary you use summarize in the exact same order that you read the text. So you know, focusing on text structure and how it connects to other reading skills can really empower students, I think, especially when they’re trying to summarize a text which can be challenging, especially if they’re trying to summarize a text that’s about a topic or a concept that they aren’t super familiar with.
So, text structure, it is literally the key that holds everything together. So let’s just do a big recap here as we come to the end of this episode.
You know, text structure is a key part of the language comprehension strand on Scarborough’s reading rope. And it is really something that we need to explicitly teach our students if we want them to become skilled readers. And there are five things that you can do to explicitly teach text structure. And that is using exemplar or mentor texts, using graphic organizers and other visual representations, teaching keywords, asking focused questions, and connecting to other reading skills.
You know, when students have a strong understanding of text structure, then it’s going to be a lot easier for them to anticipate, organize and recall the central ideas found within a text, which is what we want for all of our students. You know, when we when all of our students read a nonfiction text, we want them to be able to anticipate, organize and recall these most important details.
So there you have it. I hope that you enjoyed this little text structure miniseries, I mentioned this before, but this is one of my favorite topics to talk about. So I enjoyed putting this two part series together, and I hope you enjoyed it as well.
And before we wrap up this episode, let me just ask a real quick favor of you. You know, if you have been a longtime listener of the podcast, and you’ve enjoyed listening to the podcast, I would love to have you consider leaving a review on Apple podcasts or on whatever platform you listen to. And when you leave a review of my podcast, it helps the search algorithms and the search engines know that this content that I am sharing is valuable, and helpful for teachers. And it’s going to allow us to continue to grow and expand our podcast audience.
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And I hope you tune in next week because I have our very first guest of the New Year joining us. And we are having a really great conversation on how you can say no without feeling guilty. And I feel like that’s something that we could all use more of this year. So I hope to see you back here next Monday.