Why Teach Text Structure? A Strategy I love with Upper Elementary Students

A picture of student reading with text that reads, "Why Teach Text Structure?"

Have you ever thought, “What is text structure and why teach text structure to my students?” My current reading series only briefly addresses text structure. So much so that it seems like an afterthought. I think this is a shame because understanding text structure can help students better understand and organize information from nonfiction texts.

We already know that nonfiction texts can be challenging for students. There are so many facts to keep organized and students come with a variety of background knowledge. I have found that the majority of my students prefer fiction texts and have higher reading comprehension of fiction vs nonfiction reading because they can follow a plot. I found that front-loading and practicing text structures with my students helped them with reading comprehension of nonfiction reading. 

What is Text Structure?

Text Structure refers to the way an author organizes information in a text. It relates to the main idea that the author hopes the reader understands about a given topic. 

List of 5 main text structures as part of why teach text structure. Each list includes a corresponding graphic organizers. List is: Descriptive, compare & contrast, sequence, problem & solution, and cause & effect.
There are 5 main text structures that appear in nonfiction writing. Some of these text structures will be used in fiction writing as well.

There are 5 main text structures that are commonly used. They are Sequence (Chronological Order), Descriptive, Compare and Contrast (Comparative), Cause and Effect, and Problem and Solution. 

Nonfiction text can use all of these text structures and additional ones. Fiction text also uses sequence, cause and effect, and problem and solution. 

Image of a chart with text structures and features that match each texts tructure.
Thinking about text structure can help students understand the text they read.

Text Structure is Commonly Used 

While not all text clearly relies on the common text structures, it is fairly common. Sometimes paragraphs will vary in their text structure but once you and your class start looking for text structure, you’ll find it in many nonfiction texts. 

For example, if students were reading about frogs various text structures might be used. During a section on a frog’s life cycle, a sequence structure might be used to go from stage to stage. There might be a section that compares frogs to toads or other animals. Problems and potential solutions might be addressed when looking at frogs’ habitats and frogs’ futures. 

Image for Why Teach Text Structure with a picture of frog and text except and Venn Diagram. Text says, "explore the same topic written in different text structures."
Information about frogs can be presented in all 5 text structures. Grab my frog packet from TpT here.

There are different keywords that often signal which text structure is being used. Not only will students start finding this in their readings, but they might also notice how they use these keywords in their writing as well. 

Many of the graphic organizers students use relate back to text structure. For example, the Venn Diagram or sequential recording sheet help students understand the structure of a text. 

Text Structure Improves Reading Comprehension 

When students start to understand and identify text structure, they improve their reading comprehension. The reason why is that understanding the structure the author used to write the text guides students as they read the text. It helps them see how facts are related. This allows students to group the information in a way that focuses on the relationship between facts. 

If you think about comprehension questions students often have to answer, you will notice that text structure is often embedded in these questions, too. For example, questions often ask about cause and effect or supporting details for the main idea. If students are already engaging with the relationships of presented facts, these questions become easier.

Image about Why Teach Structure shows student taking a fill in the bubble test with text that reads, "Comprehension questions often relate to text structures."
Text structure questions are often embedded in questions on tests and reading discussions we have in class.

Having a good grasp of text structure, also helps students categorize and summarize the information they are learning about. Using graphic organizers that match the corresponding text structure makes processing (and remembering) the information easier for students.. 

A book is shown with a descriptive text structure graphic organizer. The text says, "Graphic organizers help students focus on the most important information."
Graphic organizers support students as they organize the information they read. Grab these graphic organizers by clicking here.

Not only did I see my students’ reading comprehension improve when I started teaching text structure but, it is also backed by scientific research. If you are interested in additional information about the research behind text structures, you can do so on one of my go-to sites for reading the information, Reading Rockets, by clicking here. 

Much of the research starts using text structure in fourth grade, but I introduce it to my third graders. We practice identifying text structure and using graphic organizers. I hope this helps give them a strong base for future grades.  In the Common Core State Standards, different text structures are mentioned and started in fourth grade, and the term “text structures” is included. 

How to Get Started with Text Structures

I hope that you are no longer thinking, “Why teach text structure?” and have started thinking, “How do I teach text structure?” instead. If that’s the case, here is a great way to get started!

Teaching keywords and using graphic organizers is the best place to start when teaching text structures! Luckily, I’ve got you covered. Click here to grab an easy-to-use organizer with keywords and graphic organizers that match each text structure. 

Check out these lesson plans on how to get started teaching text structure here.

Text Says "Get Started Here" with a picture of graphic organizers and text structure chart. A "free" sticker has been added.
These graphic organizers and text structure chart are available for free. Just click here! It is a great way to get started!

From there, I move onto  simple texts that are clearly related to one of the text structures. I find it especially helpful to look at a single topic written in different text structures.

Signature that says, "Love, Julie from Llama with Class"

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