Learn what works

Reading comprehension and retention can be improved through explicit instruction of narrative and expository text structures.
Narrative text structures are often thought of as story elements: characters, setting, problem/goal, plot, resolution, and theme. It is important for students to not only recognize the elements, but to know how they are organized within a narrative. The narrative text structure is most often associated with fiction. However, nonfiction narratives might include biographies, new reports, personal narratives, or historical events.

Students who are proficient readers of narrative text are often expected to be proficient readers of expository text, as well. However, this may not be the case. It is important to explicitly teach expository text structures to all students. While the narrative text structure has few variations, there are a number of different expository text structures. Common expository text structures include sequential, compare/contrast, concept/definition, cause/effect, and problem/solution. In addition, some expository structures can be organized in different ways. For example, a compare/contrast structure may have an alternating organization or a text block organization.

Compare/Contrast Alternating

Many gardeners like including both annuals and perennials in their landscapes. An annual plant will not live through the winter; it must be planted each year. A perennial plant will live through the winter and begins growing again each spring. Annuals are often bright flowering plants, while perennials may be grasses, woody and cane plants, or leafy plants. Popular annuals include petunias, pansies, and impatience. Perennials that are popular include sage, hosta, and coral bells. Both annual and perennials can add texture, color and contrast to a garden.

Compare/Contrast Block

Many gardeners like including both annuals and perennials in their landscapes. An annual plant will not live through the winter; it must be planted each year. Annuals include many bright flowering plants such as petunias, pansies, and impatience. A perennial plant will live through the winter and begins growing again each spring. Perennials are often hearty grasses, woody and cane plants, or leafy plants such as sage, hosta, or coral bells. Both annuals and perennials can add texture, color and contrast to a garden.

Student can also benefit from learning which expository structures they are likely to encounter in the various disciplines. For example, history text often uses a cause/effect structure, while math is more likely to use a problem/solution structure. While expository text structures might first be taught in reading class, it is important that these structures also be taught within the content areas. As students learn which expository text structures are associated with particular content areas, they become “inducted in the discipline.” This is a key attribute of teaching for understanding in the Iowa Core Curriculum.

Because of the number and variations of expository text structures, care must be taken to allow sufficient time for instruction and practice. Use of text structure to aid comprehension can be modeled with a Talk Aloud. Teachers can next guide a whole class, small groups, or individuals through model texts, which will help students begin to recognize the text structures more quickly. Students also need time for collaborative practice before they are able to transfer the skill to individual application.

Since there is a strong link between reading and writing, explicit instruction of text structure can have the added benefit of improving students’ writing organization. This connection will not happen automatically. Following a reading comprehension Talk Aloud with a writing Talk Aloud can explicitly demonstrate for students how to use a particular text structure in their writing.


See how it works

Name
Explicit Instruction: Expository
Reading Comprehension Talk Aloud
Making the Reading-Writing Connection with Talk Alouds
Writing Talk Aloud
Paragraph Frame
Overview of Expository Text Structures with Chart

Understanding text structure can improve reading comprehension and retention. Below are examples of how to teach text structure with explicit instruction or with a Reading Comprehension Talk Aloud. Reading and writing are closely connected, so teaching text structure can also improve organization in writing. However, for students to achieve this improvement, a clear reading-writing connection must be made. So also included below are examples of a Writing Talk Aloud and paragraph frames.


Do what works

Name
Rationale and Moves of Reading Comprehension Talk Aloud
Reading Comprehension Talk Aloud Template
Paragraph Frame Compare/Contrast Templates

Resources

  • Armbruster, B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read. National Institute for Literacy.
  • Every Child Reads website. Iowa Department of Education.
  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2008). Shared readings: Modeling comprehension, vocabulary, text structures, and text features for older readers. The Reading Teacher. 61(7): 548-556.
  • Iowa Core Curriculum website. Iowa Department of Education.
  • National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the national reading panel: Teaching children to read. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Read, S., Reutzel, D.R., & Fawson, P.C. (2008). Do you want to know what I learned? Using informational trade books as models to teach text structure. Early Childhood Education. 36:213-219.
  • University of Texas System. (2002). Teacher reading academies: Professional development for preventing reading difficulties. Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts, University of Texas at Austin, College of Education.