Click play below to hear what to consider when teaching nonfiction text structure:
We are starting off the new year with one of my favorite reading topics: nonfiction text structure. As literacy teachers, we put a lot of focus on students’ reading comprehension, but we don’t always think about how understanding text structure is beneficial for that skill as well. When teaching nonfiction text structure, there are five things you should consider during your instruction.
Since there’s so much to unpack with this topic, I’m breaking this up into two episodes so we can fully dive into all the different aspects. We’re starting this series off with the use of exemplar or mentor texts and graphic organizers or visual representations.
In general, text structure is when students understand how authors set up and organize information and details in a text. By examining the different components on how to explicitly teach nonfiction text structure, it will provide your students a detailed roadmap to reading nonfiction texts.
Even though it’s in the middle of the school year and you probably already talked about text structures in your classroom, it’s never too late to redefine or refocus, but this time, applying it to nonfiction texts. That’s exactly what this episode will provide for you! Stay tuned to next week’s episode where I share strategies and ideas on the three remaining things to consider when teaching nonfiction text structure.
In this episode on nonfiction text structure, I share:
- The 3 categories for using exemplar or mentor texts
- Ideas on how to use graphic organizers to teach text structure
- A tip for the best way to help students utilize graphic organizers
- My Aha moment when it came to teaching 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 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:
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey, there. Happy Monday. And I am so excited. And seriously, I think I’ve used that phrase approximately 116 times to start my podcast episodes.
But today, I really am excited because we are beginning a two part mini series all about nonfiction text structure. And nonfiction text structure seriously happens to be one of my favorite reading topics to talk about.
If you’ve not already done so I would highly recommend you go back and listen to episode number 49, where I talk about how nonfiction texts structure is really your ultimate roadmap for reading nonfiction. And since we are trying to read more nonfiction in 2023, I thought it would be a great time to jump in a little bit deeper into all things text structure.
Now we know that text structure which really refers to how a text is organized is such an important part of becoming a strong reader. And if you remember my series back on the summer, all about the science of reading, one of the episodes I did was really digging into language comprehension, which is one of the it’s the lower strand of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. And one of the aspects of language comprehension is literacy knowledge. And text structure is a part of that literacy knowledge.
And really, text structure is when students understand how authors set up and organize information and details in a text. And when it comes to nonfiction or informational text, there are really five different organizational structures that authors regularly use. And those are compare and contrast, cause and effect, description, problem and solution, and sequence of events.
And all of these organizational structures are used to communicate, you know, obviously specific nonfiction information and really talking about the relationship between these ideas. And when students have a strong understanding of text structure, they are able to anticipate, organize and recall central ideas found within a text. And if you think about what we want our students to be able to do when reading nonfiction text, I feel like that list is pretty comprehensive.
We want students to be able to anticipate details, you know, that has to do with being a confident reader, we want them to be able to organize the details that they read. And we want them to be able to recall what it is that they’ve read, you know, all of that right there really kind of sums up this idea of like comprehension.
But in addition, and just really thinking about, I guess how text structure helps our students get to that end goal. You know, when students have an awareness of text structure, it really helps students to be able to identify and zoom in on the key ideas and concepts within a text, specifically, their relationship to each other. And I think this idea of like the relationship between ideas and concepts, and being able to understand that relationship side of things is huge, you know, when it comes to text structure, and ultimately understanding nonfiction texts.
Because if students are reading a compare and contrast text, it’s not just about identifying the attributes of you know, topic A and the attributes of topic B, but it’s understanding the similarities they have to each other and the differences that they have to each other. So it really has to do with like that relationship. And these organizational structures help students focus in and sort of like just zoom in on that relationship.
But having knowledge of how text organized also helps students anticipate how the information is going to be presented, which is just really going to lead to a greater level of comprehension. And text structure also can include students into the purpose for which the text has been written, you know, text structure is really connected to so many of the other like reading skills that we think about and author’s purpose is a big one.
And so if students can identify the author’s purpose because they know the text structure, they are you know, sort of given a heads up and understand okay, well what are the key takeaways the author wants me as the reader to get from reading this text. And when they know what the text structure is, it’s like, okay, the author wants me to understand something important about this relationship. So really, text structure is just a huge like I’ve said before, it’s the roadmap to reading nonfiction. And it’s such an important part of becoming a skilled reader.
And since it is something that that is so important for our students, especially in upper elementary, we want to make sure that we are being really intentional when it comes to explicitly teaching text structure. And more than likely at this point, because this episode is coming out in January, and so more than likely, you’ve probably already taught text structure, but you’ll also probably be reviewing it and reading more nonfiction, you know, this semester.
And anytime we’re reading nonfiction, we want to think about how can we bring up the the topic of text structure, or just reinforce our students understanding of it.
So anytime you’re teaching text structure, or anytime you’re reading nonfiction, there are really five things that you can consider doing to explicitly teach or focus on text structure. And I’m going to quickly run through the five things and then I’m going to explain sort of how I’m going to explain those five things.
So the first thing you want to be able to do is use exemplar texts or mentor texts to help highlight and teach text structure. You want to use graphic organizers or visual information, you want to teach your students the specific key words for the different text structures, you want to make sure that you are asking focused questions based on the specific text structure.
And you want to make sure that you are intentionally connecting text structure to those other reading skills, kind of like how I mentioned, text structure, and author’s purpose are so closely linked. So we want to make sure that we’re highlighting those things.
So those are the five things that you really want to do anytime that you are teaching text structure, or when you’re thinking about reading nonfiction. And in order for me to be able to go in depth and share really practical suggestions for each of these five elements, I’m going to break up these five things really into two different episodes. So this is going to be a two part series that’s going to cover all five.
So today, I’m going to cover number one and number two in episode number 116. So we’re going to talk about using exemplar text and how to use graphic organizers and visual representations. And then next week and Episode 117, you’re going to hear about teaching keywords, asking focused questions and then connecting to other reading skills. So that’s kind of how we’re going to break up these topics.
Now, the good news is if you are a part of our Stellar Teacher Membership, or if you have been using some of my text structure resources from Teachers Pay Teachers to teach text structure previously this year to your students, then you’ve already been doing a lot of these five things. Because the resources that we have created, we’ve really kind of kept these five things in the back of our mind. So give yourself a high five for rocking your text structure instruction.
But even if you’re part of our membership, or have been using the resources do keep listening, because I promise that I have some tips that are going to make using these resources for your students even more powerful. And if you are new to our Stellar Teacher community, I love how this podcast just brings in new teachers to our community.
And you want to check out some of these tech structure resources, you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teacher’s store, the easiest way to do that is to go to stellarteacher.com/textstructure, or you can learn more about joining our reading teacher membership site at stellarteacher.com/membership. And we will link to both of those in the show notes.
But let’s jump in to the first two sort of elements attributes of explicitly teaching text structure. And the first one is using exemplar texts or using mentor texts. And really, when we think of like a mentor text or an exemplar texts, both of those kind of mean the same thing, what we’re doing is we are looking for a really clear, concise and easily identifiable piece of text.
And so when we think about text structure, because there are these five different organizational text structures, and I think especially in upper elementary, this can be a new way of analyzing texts. If we think about the narrative text structure, most narrative stories follow the same story mountain, and the same sort of story arc.
But because there’s really five different text structures for informational texts, it can be difficult for students to become really confident and their ability to identify them. So you want to use mentor texts or exemplar texts, which means you’re going to start with texts that are really clear examples and exemplars of each text structure. And then as your students become more confident in identifying these really basic examples, you’re going to move into more complex texts.
So when you first start teaching text structure, or if you find your students struggle with this and you need to reinforce it in small group, it can be a good idea to look for texts that are short, so maybe just a single paragraph or a short article, short passage. And you could do this by looking for a specific resource that has short passages or you could even extract a paragraph from your science or social studies text or an article that does a really good job of highlighting that specific text structure.
One of the resources that we have in sort of our text structure collection is this sort that students can use to categorize the different texts. And each, each type of text structure has a very short little paragraph, I think it might be three sentences, but within those like three to four sentences, each text structure is very clearly identifiable for the students, you know, we intentionally use specific key words and set up the information, so it would be easy for students to identify the text structure.
So a short little three to four sentence paragraph would be a great way to introduce it. And then when students can sort of get the hang of it, you can bring in a longer text, maybe something that’s like a half page using, you know, a task card or something that has a little bit longer example of a text. And then as students become more confident, you can bring in articles, you know, or picture books or things that are longer and more complex. And then as students become even more confident, you can bring in texts that have multiple text structures as examples.
But the idea is, is when you’re first introducing and teaching text structure to your students, you want your examples to be really clear and easily identifiable for your students.
And when you’re thinking about exemplar texts, there’s really three categories of texts that I want you to search for and use in your classroom. And the first category are short passages or articles. And this would be kind of like what I mentioned, paragraphs, task cards can be really good examples, reading passages that are written specifically for text structure, or even short articles that you would find online.
And the benefits of using this type of text is, first of all, a lot of times it can be really easy, defined very specific, like the shorter the text, the easier, it’s going to be for you to find a text that has a very specific text structure focus. It’s going to be easier for your students to identify the attributes that make up that specific text structure. And, of course, if a text is shorter, it’s going to be easy for you to model, you know, reading and comprehending that text to your students. But then it’s also going to be easy for your students to practice reading and responding to a text.
So you guys know, I’m a huge fan of using picture books and chapter books and just real books in instruction. But things like specific reading passages or task cards, you know, or articles do have a place and can serve a really important purpose when you are teaching nonfiction text structure. So look for you know, passages and articles that are specific for each of the text structures.
And like I said, a lot of times, you have a little bit more control over the structure of the text, because you’re searching for, you know, nonfiction passages that are in the compare and contrast text structure, or cause and effect nonfiction passages, whatever it is. So that’s the first category of text.
The second category of texts are picture books. And I, you know, I love using picture books for a variety of reasons. But identifying picture books that are of the nonfiction text structure, I think are great for a couple of reasons. You know, first of all, when you’re reading a picture book, it’s more than likely going to be a more complex example.
And this could be complex for a variety of reasons, it might be considered more complex, because picture books usually aren’t always written in, you know, the paragraph format. So students are going to have to work a little bit harder to keep track of information that spans across multiple pages.
But oftentimes, a picture book can include multiple text structures in a single example. And this is going to be a sort of more advanced text structure concept that we do want our students to know. Because while we can introduce and teach text structure in very specific examples, the reality of it is is not every text students read is going to be a single text structure or going to be a clearly identifiable text structure.
And so we want students to be exposed to and realize that it’s like, okay, a single text might go between or you know, it might oscillate between multiple text structures where it might have you know, one section or one paragraph that’s a certain text structure and then moves into another, you know, text structure later on in the book.
So realizing that a single text can have multiple structures is an important concept for them to understand and picture books oftentimes can be a great vehicle to get them to that conclusion. A specific example of a picture book that does this is the book Sisters and Champions, the True Story of Venus and Serena Williams. This is just a really fun picture book story.
But the picture book uses both compare and contrast and the sequence text structure. So throughout the book, the author walks the reader through the lives of Serena and Venus Williams in a chronological order. So it talks about, you know, when they were young, when they started playing tennis, when they were in their teenage years, all the way up until their adult lives. So it goes through, you know, the basically the sequence of events that were important to them, as you know, children and as tennis players.
But at each stage in their life, it compares and contrasts the two sisters and how they were similar to or different from each other. So throughout the books, students are able to identify the sequence of events, but then they’re also able to compare and contrast Venus and Serena. And so again, a great example of that’s a picture book. And you can use it though, to show students, you know, the multiple text structures within a single example.
So using picture books can just be a great way to really reinforce student’s understanding of text structure. Plus, I always love you know, anytime that you can really connect just all aspects of your literacy block together. And so if you do a daily read aloud, and you want to identify, you know, you want to do a read aloud that’s also connected to text structure, bringing in nonfiction picture books, as examples of text structure can just be a great way to really connect all aspects of your literacy block together.
So the third example of texts that I want you to consider incorporating into your nonfiction text structured teaching unit are what I like to refer to as non traditional teaching texts. And this simply refers to real life examples of nonfiction texts that aren’t typical texts we read in school. So these are not the picture books, these are not the passages, these are not articles.
Examples of this might be bringing in a cookbook to show students how recipes are written in sequential order, or bringing in a how to manual, if it’s like how to fix something, or how to assemble something, you know, bringing in an advertisement or a catalog, that shows the description of an item and how it you know, really highlights the features and you know, includes describing how it’s going to, I don’t know, whatever it is, it’s like, you know, it’s trying to sell this item to the buyer by describing it in depth and explaining what is included.
You know, even if you looked at like an Amazon posting, it shows like all of the features and the elements and what’s included and how it’s going to solve all your problems. Or even looking at like a social media post that might highlight a real world problem. And a lot of times, if a social media post has like a problem, there’s going to be a call to action for, you know, the viewer or the consumer that would include a solution.
And, you know, the benefit of including these non traditional teaching texts is, first of all, they’re going to be interesting for your students. It’s something different. It’s, you know, not the typical passage, it’s not the typical picture book even. But I think also too, it challenges our students to pay attention to texts they see in real life.
And we often think about reading comprehension in terms of reading a book, or reading a text or reading an article and understanding it. And understanding it by way of answering multiple choice questions or summarizing it or responding to it. Basically, we think about reading comprehension in terms of school. But really, you know, we want the students to be able to understand any type of text they encounter, even if it is a book or an article format.
And the reality of it is, is our students are exposed to a variety of texts in their everyday life. And we want them to be able to understand how to read them, how to interpret them, how to apply them to their life. And so bringing in these examples of you know, non traditional teaching texts and talking about, okay, what type of text structure is this? You know, how can we use our knowledge of text structure to understand how to read and understand and apply something in the real life?
So for this type of text, you could really challenge your students to look for examples in their everyday life and bring them in. And then you know, you don’t have to do this necessarily every day or every week. But it could be something fun to do, but you know, discuss them talk about, okay, what text structure could this be? How can we use what we know about text structure to understand these? You know, why is it important for us to pay attention to this type of text?
You know, so like I said, this type of texts doesn’t have to be the bulk of your teaching material, but it really can be an interesting type of text to incorporate into your nonfiction text structure lessons.
Okay, so that is all about really tip number one, which is using exemplar texts, or mentor texts to introduce and teach text structure.
So the second aspect of explicitly teaching nonfiction text structure is to use graphic organizers or visual representations, they kind of mean the same thing. And I love using graphic organizers. I think graphic organizers are such a helpful tool when it comes to reading comprehension. But they’re also such a really helpful tool to explicitly teach nonfiction text structure.
You know, so oftentimes, I think when we use graphic organizers or sort of my default when I was in the classroom, we want to use them as like a response tool, or like a form of independent practice or even like assessment, but it’s like, okay, students have read something and now they’re going to respond through this graphic organizer. But they’re also a really amazing teaching tool.
And ultimately, when we think about, you know, when we teach nonfiction text structure, we want students to know that they can use graphic organizers to help them visually see information presented in the text. And, you know, kind of talked about this before. But one of the most challenging things about assessing and teaching comprehension is because it’s really abstract, and it takes place in a student’s mind. And we aren’t always in their brains, and we can always see what exactly is going on.
And so any tool that you have access to that can help students make their thinking visible, is going to be both valuable to you and your students. So here are really some ideas on how you can use graphic organizers or visual representations to help teach text structure.
I think, first and foremost, teaching your students a specific graphic organizer layout for each text structure. And there’s a variety that you could do, I would suggest picking one graphic organizer layout and teaching your students to associate that layout with the specific text structure, that’s just going to help for consistency, but then it’s also going to help them visually how the picture or how the information will be presented a nonfiction text.
So when they read a compare and contrast text, you can show them the Venn diagram and explain that a Venn diagram we can use to organize information in a compare and contrast texts. We can use a like an idea web or a concept map to organize information in a description text, we can use a timeline to help us organize information in a sequence text.
And for both cause and effect and problem and solution, I like to use a flowchart you know, these tech structures are very similar. And oftentimes, they can be categorized as both you know, cause and effect could also be a problem and solution and vice versa. And so I like to show students that really, a flowchart can be used to categorize information for both cause and effect and problem and solution.
And the way that I set up the flowchart is simply, students see a box, and that is where they put details about the problem. And then there is an arrow that leads to another box that shows details about the solution. And it can be the same sort of structure for cause and effects box for cause arrow that leads to another box for the effect. So first of all, make sure your students have an idea for how they can visually organize each specific text structure.
And then you can give students organizers to help them track and document you know, their reading of a text or when you’re doing a shared reading, whether it’s small group or whole group. You know, anytime students are reading a nonfiction text, we want them to start to organize their information using these graphic organizers.
So it could be as simple as a sticky note with a graphic organizer template printed on it or sticky note that they draw the graphic organizer complete on it, it could be a full page graphic organizer, it could even be giving students a whiteboard and having them create their own graphic organizer as they’re reading.
You know, the important thing is not necessarily that it’s a specific template or a size, but really that students know how to either create or access or find a graphic organizer that they can use to visually keep track of information they’re reading. And the best way really to help students use graphic organizers and understand how they help us with information is for you to regularly use graphic organizers before, during and after reading a nonfiction text.
And this this tip that I’m sort of going to dig into, honestly might be one of my favorite teacher tips that I’ve shared on this podcast because it really makes I think such a huge difference and how students process the information in a nonfiction text. And like I mentioned, we often use graphic organizers as a post reading activity. And while they are a great option for post reading, they are also an excellent tool for teaching nonfiction text structure when you are pre teaching or before, during and after reading. So they’re great for all sorts of parts of the reading process, we’ll just say it like that.
So this is how you can use a graphic organizer. First, you can use a graphic organizer before reading to help students anticipate the text structure. And when we do this, we are helping students to really see the organization of a text; it’s going to help them anticipate the information that we read.
You know, so if you’re going to read a compare and contrast text that is talking all about crocodiles and alligators before you read that show your students a graphic organizer that is a Venn diagram that has alligators on one side and crocodiles on the other. And tell them as we’re reading this, we are going to be looking for details that are unique about crocodiles, and we’re gonna be looking for details that are unique about alligators. And then we’re gonna be looking for details that are shared between both animals. And the text that we read is going to help us you know, organize this information,
You know, and then you could even use a graphic organizer to assess background knowledge of that topic before you start reading. So before you read the article, you can ask your students you know, what do you already know about crocodiles and alligators? Is there any information that we can already add to this graphic organizer?
Maybe have them share a fact or two or something that they know and then you know, either highlight that In a different color or put a star by that where it’s like before reading, so that way they know that that is a piece of information that they had before reading. And then they could of course, always add to it as they’re reading.
So before reading, the graphic organizer really can sort of clue students into how the text is going to be organized. And you can use it to assess or build background knowledge on the topic of the text.
So during reading, you can have students fill out the graphic organizer while they are reading or listening to the text. So this is a great tool for students to use, as they are monitoring their comprehension. And, you know, whatever the graphic organizer is, you know, for the structure, it really is going to serve as a marker for the details that students should be paying attention to.
So again, if they’re reading a text on crocodiles and alligators, but they they’re noticing they only have details about crocodiles, that means they either haven’t read far enough in the text, or they missed a section completely, and they might need to go back and reread it, because they know that they’re going to be getting details about both animals. You know, so during reading, the graphic organizer, really can serves as an awesome tool to help students monitor their comprehension and making sure that they’re paying attention to the most important details in the text.
And then after reading, the graphic organizer really serves as sort of a touch point to review the information that you’ve learned, and then also assess your understanding of the text. So once students have completed the graphic organizer, even if you close the text, you know, they should be able to use the information in the graphic organizer to have a conversation about you know, what’s the main idea? What’s the most important information? What’s the author’s purpose? Like, what did we learn from this text?
And, you know, really, students should be able to use that information in the graphic organizer to help them summarize what they have read in the text. And one of my biggest aha moments I had while teaching text structure is this idea that our summary of the text should mirror and be written in the same way that the author organized the text. So really, our summary should be written with the same text structure that the text was written in.
So a graphic organizer that has been completed is going to give students enough information and details that is going to help them summarize the text. So pretty cool, right? So you can use graphic organizers to help your students both before, during and after reading. And that’s going to go back to if you think about like at the very beginning, how I talked about how nonfiction text structure helps students to be able to anticipate organize and recall information. Graphic organizers is such a great tool to help students get to sort of that end goal.
So from today’s episode, we have been reminded just how important it is to explicitly teach the five nonfiction text structures to our students. And hopefully, you got some ideas from today’s episode for how you can find and use exemplar texts, as well as how you can use graphic organizers to explicitly teach text structure to your students. And be sure to tune in next week so you can hear the next three parts of this episode.
But I don’t want to end this episode without giving a Stellar Teacher a shout out, which is one of the things we’re trying to focus on this year. So back in November, we were focusing on nonfiction during one of our PD sessions inside the Stellar Teacher Membership. And Missy who is one of our members, she shared the following comment after a Facebook live training on text structure.
And she said, “I can’t thank you enough for all of your amazing resources. I recently moved to fifth grade after many years at sixth grade. And my coworker turned to me onto your podcast this summer. It has helped me to completely transform my classroom, and I joined the membership and have been implementing your strategies one at a time. I love everything. And as a math person, your expertise has been invaluable.”
And so Missy, let me just give you a huge shout out and a huge kudos for tuning in each week and consistently building and expanding your content knowledge. It can be really hard making the switch from teaching math to teaching reading, and there is so much to learn when it comes to teaching literacy. But I love how she said I have been implementing your strategies one at a time. And it is transforming my classroom.
And I am so excited for this transformation that Missy and her students have experienced and I want her little testimonial to be an encouragement to you. You don’t have to change everything overnight. And you don’t have to become an immediate expert in everything that you are teaching. But if you slowly implement one strategy, one new idea, if you you know, slowly learn one new thing that can transform your classroom, over time, you are going to see a huge difference in your student’s performance and your confidence.
So pick one thing from this podcast and try to implement it this week. Because we are after slow and steady growth here. This is not a sprint we are in this literacy marathon. So be sure to join us next week for part two of this mini series where I’m going to dig into teaching signal word, incorporating focused questions, and how to connect text structure to other reading skills. So I hope you’ll tune in next week and in the meantime, have a stellar week my friend.