I want to help my students become better readers of informational text, but I'm not really sure myself about the difference between text structures and text features. Can you clarify this for me?
Linda: We're glad you want to help your students become better readers of informational material since most of the reading material they will encounter in later grades (and in their adult lives) is nonfiction. Even knowing this, it seems that fiction is still the predominant form of text in most elementary classrooms.
Brenda: I think teachers would be interested in knowing that the results of a 1992 NAEP study showed that fourth graders who read fiction, nonfiction, and magazines outscored all other students (for more information about this, see ORC Resource #145). I think this clearly indicates a need for us to introduce more nonfiction into our classrooms.
Linda: Right. And if we're going to be using more nonfiction text, then we need to make sure students understand that reading nonfiction is different from reading fiction. For example, nonfiction usually has far more text features than fiction. These features are what we notice as we look at a page, just as we notice human features like noses and lips when we look at a face.
Brenda: You can help your students become familiar with these by asking partners to look for and mark with sticky notes anything they notice on two pages of a nonfiction book. They may not know the terminology for features like cutaways, text boxes, and diagrams, but during class sharing time, you can introduce these terms.
Linda: The next step is getting them to think about the purpose behind each feature. Why did the author or publisher put this word in italics? Why does this picture have a caption? How does each feature help the reader navigate the text and make meaning? You should have some lively discussions as kids try to figure this out!
Brenda: Text structures refer to organizational structures and are sometimes a little more difficult for students to understand. You might start by reviewing story grammar, or the way most fiction is organizedthrough introduction of characters, setting, and problem and by the events that lead to problem solution and resolution. Next, share a short informational text, and ask your students if it had a similar organizational pattern. Some of the newer electronic informational texts (infotexts) are pretty close, but most fall into other forms of organization.
Linda: The research is very clear that in order for students to better comprehend informational text, they need to be able to tell how the author chose to organize the content. Some students figure this out on their own, but most need our help in determining the author's message. Is the author comparing and contrasting? Is the passage descriptive? Has the author written in a cause-and-effect or problem-solution format? Are there events that seem to have a chronological or sequential order? If kids can identify the text organizational pattern, they have a much better chance of answering questions about the content and of retaining the information.
Brenda: They can also record information and write about it in their own words more effectively if we show them some graphic organizers that correlate to these common text patterns. This visual means of note taking and prewriting really helps elementary students make nonfiction content their own.
Linda: The ORC site has some great resources to help you and your students work with text features and text structures. Here are some of our favorites:
Imagination or Observation?
Lesson comparing fact and fiction books.
The Frog Beyond the Fairy Tale Character: Searching Informational Texts
K-2. Really more about text features, but deals with how info text on a website is organized by headings.
Animal Study: From Fiction to Facts
Pre-K & older. How to use fiction and nonfiction texts and careful questioning techniques to help students identify factual information.
Exploring How Section Headings Support Understanding of Expository Texts
Grades 3-5. Supports students' exploration and understanding of the purposes for section headings in expository texts.
Exploring Cause and Effect Using Expository Texts About Natural Disasters
Grades 4-5. Focuses on cause-and-effect text structure.
Using Nonfiction to Increase Reading Achievement and Word Knowledge: The Importance of Informational Literacy
Short article stressing the importance of nonfiction reading; contains fourth grade NAEP results mentioned in our column.
Going Beyond Content: Fostering Students' Exploration of Text Structures and Purpose for Reading
Directed toward high school and college, but contains useful information for all teachers.
Informational Text: An Early Childhood Bookshelf
Information for primary teachers.
Link to graphic organizers that can be used for compare-contrast, sequencing, etc.
Sample OAT Assessment Items
ODE Assessment Item, Grade 5: Independence Day: What does dreaded mean?
Sample test item that uses cause and effect to help determine the meaning of unknown vocabulary.
ODE Assessment Item, Grade 5: Amber: What does the word thrived mean?
Sample test item from nonfiction passage; cause-and-effect structure.
Brenda Doyle teaches sixth grade science and social studies at Orange Middle School in the Olentangy Local School District. She loves to infuse her passion for reading and writing into the content areas. Brenda has seventeen years of experience teaching elementary and middle school children.
Linda Gore is currently the literacy support teacher at Orange Middle School in the Olentangy Local School District. She finds that her seventeen years of elementary experience have helped her better understand the needs and strengths of middle school students.
Linda and Brenda began their professional partnership seventeen years ago while working for Columbus Public Schools, creating common writing assessments for the Curriculum Department. They have continued their work together as literacy facilitators, SIRI instructors, and consultants for the Ohio Resource Center. It has been said that Brenda and Linda go together like peanut butter and jelly!