Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Text Structure: Chronological Order

The text structure of chronological order, or sequence, is all around. For many students, this is the easiest structure to understand, because it closely parallels the structure of everyday life. Events go in order, time flows in one direction, and events are pretty easy to understand. (Unless, of course, you're watching Lost.)

But chronological order comes in different flavors. This week, I've explored several different kinds of chronological order with my students.

In guided reading, we've been reading some short little books about animal life cycles. These books, with a clear sequence, are very easy for students to understand. Kids respond well to questions like, "What would happen if we switched the pages around? Would the text still make sense?" Life cycle books, like recipes, are an easy introduction to chronological order.

We've also looked at "Firefighting Through the Ages" from Toolkit Texts. This short article skips through the time periods, looking at firefighting in ancient times, colonial times, and today. A timeline on the back helps students to see the flow of events. This "through the ages" technique is a pretty common device that authors use. It's important for students to see how they can use headings and dates to quickly find their way through a text. While it's second nature for adults, kids need to be taught how to do this.

Later on this week, students will be reading a more compact account of the Great Chicago Fire. In this text, the author tells the events that took place over two days. Looking for dates is not terribly helpful in this article--the events happen in a short time period. Instead, students need to look for times of day.

As I read and reread these texts this week, I realized that something so simple as chronological order has many dimensions. And simply labeling text structures is not going to lead to better reading. Instead, students need to learn how to use text structure to generate good questions. In a chronological order text, kids can consider:

-What is the time span of the events?
-Does one event cause another?
-What is the author trying to tell me about?
-What do all of the events add up to?
-Which event is most important?
-Which events could be left out?


  1. Thanks Emily! I was googling Chronological and found you! (Of course, I could have walked down and gotten some exercise!) Thanks for all your amazing ideas! Sherry H.

  2. Emily,
    I loved the questions you included at the end of your post. It really helps focus on how the text structure helps the reader to understand non-fiction. Colleen