I had never heard anything about text structures until I entered my doctoral program in 1980. Participating in a doctoral seminar on teaching reading comprehension my first semester, I was introduced to P. David Pearson and Dale D. Johnson’s book, Teaching Reading Comprehension. It was here I first learned about the benefits of analyzing text as a structured object and how by so doing I could improve my comprehension. Like many other educators of my vintage, I had learned about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, but I had not thought about how text analysis would promote higher levels of thinking than simply reading to acquire, comprehend, or apply knowledge. Many years since then, I continue to benefit from having learned how to analyze a text for its structure or to impose a structure on a text. Doing so has helped me to organize, remember, learn from, and make richer connections with my own background knowledge and with other texts I have read.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Anchor Standard 5 is largely focused on analyzing texts for structural components at various levels—from word choices and literary elements, such as foreshadowing and similes, to global text organization structures. However, teaching students text structures in prose (story, informational text) and structural elements in poetry have a long-standing history in the field of literacy. In 2010, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U. S. Department of Education recommended that students as young as kindergarten learn about text structures as a means for improving the construction of meaning from texts. Recent research has shown that, like me, many have not been given help to develop strong text analysis skills. This may explain why recent comprehension research has shown that teachers spend very little time teaching text structures to their students in the primary grades (Donaldson, 2011). So it is not surprising that CCSS Anchor Standard 5 is one of the most challenging standards for students to master.
Just how does teaching students to analyze text structure help them construct more complete, elaborate, and deep meaning from text? Put simply, organization clarifies; chaos confuses! If students read texts as chaotic documents containing random bits and pieces of information, their memory for texts is similarly chaotic, which decreases their potential for learning from text effectively. For example, in CCSS Reading standards RL 7.5 and RI 5.5, students often have a difficult time comparing or contrasting structures or understanding how structure supports meaning if they aren’t taught how to identify or impose structure on text-based information with help from their teachers. Don’t get me wrong, some students can discover how to do this without their teachers’ help; but those who could and would benefit from such knowledge need explicit instruction on text structure to do so.
When teaching students about text structure, teachers should always begin by helping students understand the category of text—prose or poetry, the specific type of prose or poetry, and the special genres or forms that prose or poetry may take to alert them to the patterns and purposes authors use and have in writing these various text genres. Here’s an example:
Suppose a student was asked to read a magazine article in Ranger Rick Jr.® on how beaches without vegetation can become easily eroded.
- Students need to be shown how to place this text into a category of prose or poetry.
- Students need to further learn how to determine which prose type this text represents—either narrative or expository text.
- Having done this, students need to learn about the genres used to communicate expository text—in this case a magazine. They need to learn what makes a magazine, a magazine and how magazines differ in purpose and organization from a science textbook, newspaper, or an internet blog.
- Finally, students can take a “text feature walk” through the magazine article to determine how the author has organized her presentation of the information.
Next, students need to be taught about the typical text structures authors employ in organizing informational text—description, sequence/procedural, problem-solution, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and mixing or multiple uses of these within a single text, or in this case, a magazine article. Teaching students to study the author’s use of headings, sub-headings, diagrams, photos, etc., in informational text helps them to unpack the way text is organized. Once this is done, it is helpful for students to visually represent the organization of a text using a graphic organizer like this one.
Once they have visually represented the texts’ organization or structure, students can close read the text again to fill in the slots in their graphic organizers. Students can then be guided to compare and contrast, using a Venn diagram, the information related to the concept of “erosion” that they have been reading about in both their science textbook and the information on erosion in this magazine article. Imposing a new structure on the knowledge or reorganizing the knowledge deepens comprehension by connecting new knowledge to old knowledge.
The trick is to teach text categories, types, genres, features, and structures systematically, explicitly, and relentlessly with each and every text read from kindergarten to graduate school. Learning to comprehend a vast variety of increasingly complex text types, genres, forms, etc., places never-ending comprehension demands on the reader. But, helping students to think categorically, structurally, and organizationally about texts is a generalizable skill that provides a framework for working through texts that will help them efficiently and effectively construct and integrate knowledge from text throughout their lives.
This blog is part 4 of a 4-part series “Spotlight on ELA: Strategies for Addressing the Most Challenging Standards” sponsored by Curriculum Associates. For more see:
- Standards Spotlight: Mastering Reading Standard 7
- Standards Spotlight: Mastering Reading Standard 2
- Standards Spotlight: Mastering Reading Standard 9
Ray Reutzel is the Emma Eccles Jones Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education at Utah State University as well as an elected member of the IRA Reading Hall of Fame. Ray is an author on Ready® Common Core, published by Curriculum Associates (CA), and a member of the i-Ready® Technical Advisory Committee. Learn more about the most challenging Common Core reading standards as determined by CA’s i-Ready Diagnostic.