Saturday, January 15, 2011

Teaching Text Structure in the Primary Grades

Recently, several teachers have written to ask me about materials for teaching text structure in grades K-3. I've been thinking and reading about how to help these youngest readers to understand text structure. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Focus on using text structure, not identifying text structure
Those of us in the intermediate and middle grades often focus on helping students to look at a text and figure out the structure. One reason for this is the proliferation of text structure questions on state tests. Another reason is that older readers often have to cope with unfriendly content area text. Being able to find the text structure is a good coping mechanism for struggling readers.

But young readers have to learn how to use text structure. When they are told that a text shows causes and effects, they need to be able to find those causes and effects. Younger readers need lots of work in taking ideas from a text and showing them on a graphic organizer. Identification is not as necessary for younger readers.

Easy centers for teaching text structure can be found here.

I created this compare and contrast projectable book for my son's kindergarten teacher.
Polar Bears and Black Bears 

Don't expect a great deal of transfer between the text structures
Joanna Williams has done a great deal of work on text structure and primary readers. One of her findings is that young readers don't really transfer the use of text structure from one structure to another. This means that teaching students how to use the text structure of cause and effect will not lead them to an understanding of compare and contrast. Each text structure needs to be examined on its own.

Powerpoint for Young Readers

Problem and Solution Texts

Be explicit in your teaching
This article from Sylvia Read and others outlines a way to teach chronological text structure. Start by showing students the book and the text structure. Then, show sentence strips with main ideas from the text, arranged out of order. Ask students to predict the order of the ideas. Introduce the sequence words as well. As you read the book, have students rearrange the sentence strips to reflect the order of ideas. At the end, discuss how the book shows the text structure. Students can practice with the book and the sentence strips during independent time.

A list of picture books with different text structures

National Geographic for Little Kids has some great sequenced text in every issue

Even very young readers can learn how to use text structure. Most importantly, young readers bring their natural curiosity and enthusiasm to the task. When they are excited to learn about a topic, they'll understand that text structure is a tool to help them learn more.

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