3: Attending to Text Structures

Readers can learn a great deal from the content of a text. Students reading about the Constitutional Convention can learn about the important role that George Washington played in moving the new nation forward or that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the early drafts of the Declaration of Independence, did not attend the Constitutional Convention.  However, the structure of a text can also provide valuable information, too.  From the structure of text readers learn how ideas are related to each other and what might come next.  Because text structure conveys information about how concepts are organized, it also provides a basis for predicting and learning from those predictions.  Organization points readers in the direction of important attributes making use of the schemata a reader already has and the schemata that develop as the reading continues.

First think of text structures as one of two types: texts that describe or texts affected by time (Dymock, 2005). Major rhetorical structures like description, sequence, cause and effect, and so on help readers determine just what type of information they are reading and how to make sense of these structures.  Figure 3.1 contains a description of the major types of text structures. Chapter and section headings in most content area textbooks help students see how one idea is related to another, as well. We can think of story grammar as a means of paying attention to important elements of narratives, such as novels and short stories.  Since predicting calls for attention to specific attributes of a text source, it is important for teachers to show students how texts are organized and how that organization can improve understanding.

[Insert Figure 3.1]
Figure 3.1: Text Structure Types



Text Structure  Description Signal
Description/List Structure This structure resembles an outline. Each section opens with its main idea, then elaborates on it, sometimes dividing the elaboration into subsections.

EXAMPLE: A book may tell all about whales or describe what the geography is like in a particular region.

For example, for instance, specifically, in particular, in addition
Cause and Effect Structure In texts that follow this structure, the reader is told the result of an event or occurrence and the reasons it happened.

EXAMPLE: Weather patterns could be described that explain why a big snowstorm occurred.

Consequently, therefore, as a result, thereby, leads to

Contrast Structure

Texts that follow this structure tell about the differences and similarities of two or more objects, places, events or ideas by grouping their traits for comparison.

EXAMPLE: A book about ancient Greece may explain how the Spartan women were different from the Athenian women.

However, unlike, like, by contrast, yet, in comparison, although, whereas, similar to, different from
Order/Sequence Structure Texts that follow this structure tell the order in which steps in a process or series of events occur.

EXAMPLE: A book about the American revolution might list the events leading to the war. In another book, steps involved in harvesting blue crabs might be told.

Next, first, last, second, another, then, additionally


Source: Using Text Structure, National Education Association, www.nea.org/reading/usingtextstructure.html

Learning to Predict

  1. Survey the text. Model for students how to skim the text for organizational patterns and scan for key words.  Project a page of text using a data or overhead projector highlighting important indicators of text structure such as key words in bold or italics, headings that are indented, in italics, in bold type, or in a different font.
  2. Use notetaking tools (Fisher, Brozo, Frey, & Ivey, 2007) and demonstrate their use so that students detect and employ the structure of the text to organize the information they encounter. Concept maps use a series of bubbles or boxes to organize ideas in clusters (see section 3.10 for more on graphic organizers as they relate to predictions). Structured overviews are a type of concept map frequently presented as prereading.  The graphics are best presented in written and oral form by the teacher prior to students being asked to read.  In this way, students become familiar with the organization of ideas in the text and more readily connect the concepts as they read.
  3. Make use of story grammar. Story grammar helps students by expanding elements of the story (conflict, characters, plot, and so on) for individual examination.  A graphic which may help students to understand the plot of a story is based on Freytag’s pyramid (Figure 3.2).
  4. Students should be provided opportunities to reflect (Dymock, 2005) on the text structures they have encountered. Teachers can promote reflection through questions about what text structures were encountered, how a graphic organizer helps students to connect and visualize the organizational structures and whether the structure was appropriate for the content.

[Insert Figure 3.2 about here]

Applications and Examples

Elementary Classroom. During their small group reading instruction, Ms. Allen asked her students to focus on the structure of the text to help them predict what the author might tell them next.  As they read Lightning (Kramer, 1992), the students in this 5th grade class paused to talk with each other and their teacher about the description of lightening.  They noted that the author used a lot of words to “tell us what he saw and heard and felt” as Javier noted.  Amanda added that she thought that he would do the same thing, add a lot of description, but also use “compare and contrast because next in the book we’re learning about thunder. I think Mr. Kramer will compare thunder and lightening and give us lots of details about thunder.  That’s what I think.”

Secondary Classroom. Social studies call for understanding the relationships between concepts as they are presented in texts.  Mr. Wolsey presented a structured overview of taxes the British Parliament levied on American colonists (Figure 3.3). Then the students used double-entry journals to help students organize their thoughts as they read the text and to observe the relationships between the concepts.  As students read the textbook, they were able to use the knowledge they obtained from the structured overview to help them navigate the text (Figure 3.4a and 3.4b).

[Insert Figures 3.3, 3.4a, and 3.4b about here]



Figure 3.2 Freytag’s Pyramid




Figure 3.3  Structured Overview: Pre-Revolution Taxes Imposed on American Colonists


Figure 3.4a Source text for double-entry journal


Source: From A More Perfect Union (Armento, B. J., et al. 1999).




Figure 3.4b

Double-entry notes


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