How to Teach the Types of Text Structures

Teaching non-fiction text structures effectively can seem overwhelming, but teachers can (and should!) break the reading strategy into manageable chunks. The main purpose of learning text structures is not to be able to identify them, but rather internalize them to improve reading comprehension. When students understand how a passage is organized, then they can better identify the key topics and main ideas in the passage.
Learn best practices for teaching nonfiction text structures to students. Blog post includes a variety of lesson ideas as well as mentor texts.
How to Teach the Types of Text Structures

What Is Text Structure?

So what exactly is text structure? It's the way an author organizes information in a non-fiction reading passage. It gives purpose to the reading, and as a result, the reader can more easily identify the the author's purpose and main ideas in the text which increases reading comprehension

How to Teach the Types of Text Structures

Research has very specific suggestions on how to teach text structures to students.

1. Teach One Type at a Time

Research states that it is much better to teach one text structure at a time, allowing students to have a lot of practice identifying one type before introducing another. Students should have mastered the first type before moving on. Vertical teaching teams may want to meet and assign different text structures to each grade as an instructional focus.

2. Teach Text Structures in Order

There is a specific order which is most effective for teaching text structures: description, sequence & order, problem & solution, cause & effect, and then compare & contrast.

3. Teach the Signal Words

There are specific words, or signal words, that students can look for to help them identify the structure of the passage. Students should also learn that some text structures have more signal words than others, and that signal words might appear in multiple types of structures. In other words, students should not depend upon the signal words alone to identify the structure. Teachers could use articles from Newsela or donated kids magazines such as Time for Kids or National Geographic Kids.
Mentor Texts for Teaching Text Structures
Mentor Texts for Nonfiction Text Structures

4. Use Graphic Organizers

Once students can independently identify the signal words in their passage, they should be introduced to graphic organizers for the text structure. Teachers must model using the graphic organizers for their students. Otherwise, students will not understand how to effectively use this strategy. 

Teachers should provide students with many opportunities to use the graphic organizers for each text structure. One activity would be to fill in the graphic organizer using an article. Another idea is to give students a completed organizer and ask them to determine the type of text structure the author is planning to use. 

5. Practice Writing with Text Structures

Teachers should connect reading and writing by having students write their own articles using specific text structures. This is a great way to integrate science and social studies into writing. However, students should master the purpose of the graphic organizer before moving into the actual writing of an article. 
  • There are many activities that could be used to provide students practice using the graphic organizers. Teachers could have students just plan an article using the graphic organizer, as well as plan and write an article. 
  • Another idea is to have students write an article from a completed graphic organizer (based on a real article), then have them compare their passage to the original passage.
  • Also, students could research and plan a few articles, but only require that students complete one using the writing process. 
  • Teachers could also reuse the graphic organizers from #4 and have students write an article using them. 
As students learn the text structures, teachers should begin instruction with a lot of support and slowly move toward independent work. For example, teachers could begin with a whole class read aloud, modeling how to identify the signal words of the text structure. After students have practiced this step together, students should work with a partner, then finally practice on their own. This process should repeat when the graphic organizer is introduced.

Text Structure Unit on TPT
Text Structure Unit on TPT
If you would like some print-ready text structure activities, I have a complete Text Structure unit in my TPT store. The unit includes practice for both the signal words and graphic organizers of the text structures.

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