Are you looking forward to teaching text structure this year? I am…because I know that it’s important to give kids a set of blueprints for how to put together different kind of texts. As readers, we can use text structure to understand what the author is trying to say. As writers, we can help our readers by using a clear text structure that pulls the reader along the current of our ideas.
It’s fun to introduce text structures by using different picture books. With younger students, this can be a whole class activity. The picture book can be a shared reading or a read aloud, and the teacher can make the text structure explicit by sharing how the text structure illuminates the main ideas.
For older students, it works well to introduce the text structures, and then give them a variety of picture books to read in groups. You may want to put sticky notes on certain pages to draw the students’ attention to different features or transitions.
Do you have some books that don’t seem to fit in a text structure? Share those as well! Kids need to see that many texts don’t have one and only one text structure. Writers don’t usually say, “I’m going to write something using the Cause and Effect Structure!” Instead, a writer begins with an idea, and then uses the text structure that fits to explain that idea. Many writers move skillfully from one text structure to another as the text unfolds.
These books are just a sampling of what is out there!
Overall text structure
Word Builder by Ann Whitford Paul
This book introduces young readers to the writing process, and helps to develop the idea of “structure”
A House Spider’s Life by John Himmelman
This is a very simple book about the life cycle of the house spider. There are many others in the series that follow the same pattern.
Looking at Glass: Through the Ages by Bruce Koscielniak
Many “through the ages” books are in chronological order.
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Most biographies are written in chronological order. I happen to like the illustrations and the writing of this one.
Flute’s Journey by Lynne Cherry
Like many animal books, this one tells the story of an animal throughout the seasons. The chronological order is easy to follow. Within this pattern, Cherry also uses some paragraphs of other structures to explain information about the wood thrush.
Cause and Effect
Books that are written in cause and effect are written in chronological order as well. Causes come before effects (unless you are watching Lost, of course.)
First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Very simple, this board book shows objects and what comes next.
Energy Makes Things Happen by Kimberly Brubaker Bradly
Many science texts use cause and effect structure to show how things happen.
Toad Overload by Patricia Siebert
Sadly, this book is out of print, but it’s still available in many libraries. It tells the tale of giant toads in Australia. They were brought to control insects, but their arrival had many unintended effects. Lots of great details that kids love.
Problem and Solution
As you will notice, most problem/solution books include elements of chronological order and cause and effect as well. After all, as the author is writing to explain a problem, the issue of what caused the problem comes up naturally.
Sparrow Jack by Mordecai Gerstein
This book tells how house sparrows came to Philadelphia to solve the problem of inchworms that were eating the leaves on the trees. Unfortunately, the book does not address the ensuing problems that the sparrows caused!
A River Ran Wild by Jane Yolen
My favorite for teaching text structure. This book shows how the same book can have elements of chronological order, cause and effect, and problem and solution all woven together.
A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart
A very simple introduction to problem and solution, this is a lovely book!
Compare and Contrast
Not many books are written entirely in compare and contrast order. More frequently, an author will use compare and contrast to explain how two similar things are different, or to introduce a new idea by comparing it to a known one.
Are You a Grasshopper? by Judy Allen
This book uses a second-person approach, addressing the reader to ask, “Are You A Grasshopper?” Through it, the author compares and contrast grasshoppers to the human reader.
Nathan of Yesteryear and Michael of Today by Brian Heinz
This book contrasts the life of a child of today with the life of a child years ago. I did find it to be a little overly sentimental in its look at the past, but the compare/contrast structure is there.
Question and Answer
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins
Many other books by Steve Jenkins follow this structure as well.
Don't forget these! Arranging text according to the alphabet is a text structure, although I'd have to argue that it is not the most effective. One of the best I've encountered is Wendell Minor's Spirit of 1776.
Short articles with different text structures
Toolkit Texts from Heinemann. Lots of different articles at different levels. This is a good source of lower level text.
Ask magazine from Carus Publishing
Text structure resources by me! (Available free from Slideshare)
Teaching Text Structure Powerpoint
This is an overview of text structure that is suitable for professional development.
Introduction to Structure
Young students and ELL students may not know the meaning of the word “structure”. The metaphor of “text structure” will not mean much to them! Use this presentation to build an understanding of this important word.
Cause and effect