Nonfiction Text Structures, We're Coming for You!

Most teachers know how important it is to teach students the structures of nonfiction text. But how should one approach this very daunting task?  It’s not easy!

Hopefully, this post can help you explicitly teach students how to identify and use nonfiction text structures.

With nonfiction, there are five common text structures:

  • Description

  • Sequence

  • Compare/Contrast

  • Cause/Effect

  • Problem/Solution

Pretty much every nonfiction text that a student reads (regardless of grade level) will follow at least one of these structures.

Wait. Why is it important to teach nonfiction text structures again? Asking for a friend.

Research shows that students who are explicitly taught nonfiction text structures become better comprehenders. If a reader is able to read closely to identify the text structure of an informational piece, s/he can get his/her brain ready to read, identify the author’s intent, and focus on how key details are related to one another. These are all critical reading skills, especially when presented with content-heavy nonfiction texts!

Makes sense…But HOW do I teach text structures?

As mentioned before, teachers have to be explicit in their approach to teaching nonfiction text structures. I find that it is best to focus on one text structure at a time, deeply immersing students in an exploration of it over a period of 2-3 weeks. That means creating an anchor chart (listing the targeted text feature, its definition, and an example) and incorporating a Gradual Release of Responsibility model to teaching:

  • I Do: (About 4-5 days, depending on level)

    • Teacher models, through Think–Alouds, how s/he identifies the text structure in a piece of text and how that identification helps him/her as a reader

  • We Do: (About 3-5 days)

    • Students are invited to help the teacher identify the text structure and explain how it helps readers

    • Exploration of mentor texts, where students work in pairs and read through various texts together. The goal is to identify the targeted nonfiction text structure and discuss how it helps them as readers

  • You Do: (About 4-5 days)

    • Independent practice of identifying the targeted text structure and discussing how it helps him/her as a reader; could also be done during Guided Reading

Do you have a free resource that I could use?

I’m so glad you asked!

You can click here for a free copy of the Nonfiction Text Structures Anchor Chart above.

NOTE: If you’re looking for more text structure goodness, you should know that anchor chart is part of a bigger Nonfiction Text Structures resource on my TpT page containing:

  • 35 pages of sticky notes templates, including nonfiction text structure graphic organizers, that you print on your 3x3 Sticky Notes (7 different sticky note templates for each nonfiction text structure)

  • 5 pages of teacher support resources (Common Core standard alignment; “What is Text Structure”; “Why is it Important to Teach Nonfiction Text Structures”; “How Do I Teach Text Structures”; “How Could I Use This Resource”; and directions for printing the Sticky Note templates)

  • 2 Nonfiction Text Structure Anchor Charts (includes the free one)

  • a 5-page Booklist, outlining mentor texts to use with each nonfiction text structure

The resource could be used in a variety of ways.

  • The Anchor Charts could serve as a teacher resource when planning /teaching lessons. You may also want to print out a copy for students to add to their Reader’s Notebook.

  • Students could use the Sticky Notes during the “We Do” or “You Do” phase, placing them on the respective pages during exploration. It would be best to scaffold the Sticky Notes, starting with the “I’ve Found a _____!” first and then moving onto the Sticky Notes containing the more complex graphic organizers.

  • The Booklist is designed to save you time so you can quickly find books that fit each text structure. You could use these mentor texts during your “I Do” Think-Alouds as well as during the “We Do” and “You Do” immersion studies. Picture books are fantastic because they are simple enough that 4th and 5th graders do not need to spend a lot of cognitive energy decoding them…leaving more room in their brains for identifying nonfiction text structures!

I hope you find this post useful. It has worked really well with my students and I hope it helps yours, too!

Yours in Literacy,

Sheila ☺

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