What Is Text Structure and How To Teach It Effectively
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What Is Text Structure and How To Teach It Effectively

Tara Shanley
Mar 15, 2024

When students can identify and recognize different structures in text, they’re more likely to increase their comprehension of a text, strengthen their writing skills, and develop even more literacy skills, like finding the main idea of a passage. In this article, we’ll explore what text structure is, why teaching it matters, and give examples of strategies you can use to teach text structure in your classroom:


What is text structure?

Text structure is the way an author organizes the information within a text. It’s more than just the basic structure of beginning, middle, and end. The structure of a text serves as an outline or skeleton that helps the writer frame the story they want to tell. The specific type of text structure an author uses lets them share different types of information in a way that helps the reader clearly understand the text’s main idea and key points.

Why is teaching text structure important?

Teaching text structure in the classroom is just one of many literacy skills that help students understand, analyze, and make sense of the world around them. With intentional instruction, teaching text structure can:

  • Aid students in understanding the author’s meaning for creating and sharing a text.

  • Help students improve their comprehension of any text they encounter, both fiction and nonfiction across subjects like ELA, science, and social studies.

  • Boost practice and comprehension of other literacy skills, like predicting outcomes, summarizing information, and identifying key concepts and relationships.

  • Prepare students to learn to organize and write their own thoughts and ideas.

5 types of text structures

There are five types of text structures that authors use when creating articles, stories, and other content. They include:

1. Cause and effect

Cause and effect text structure provides explanations or reasons for phenomena in the world. It tells why something happens (the cause) and then what happened (the effect). For example, this text structure often appears in science texts that talk about the steps in an experiment: If you mix baking soda and vinegar (cause), a chemical reaction takes place (effect).

Questions that can signal cause and effect include:

  • What happened?

  • Why did it happen?

  • What caused it to happen?

Transition words that can signal cause and effect text structure include:

  • As a result

  • Because

  • Due to

  • Therefore

  • Thus

Download your printable: Newsela’s Cause and Effect worksheet 

2. Chronological, process, or sequence

Chronological text structure, also known as process or sequence text structure, presents events and ideas in the order they happen, from start to finish.

For example, this text structure may appear in social studies texts to talk about the events that led to a significant point in history: The British government put a series of taxes and tariffs on the colonists, which led to the Boston Tea Party, and then the start of the American Revolution.

Another example of this text structure may appear in ELA texts, as many fictional stories happen in chronological order, such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney.

Questions that can signal chronological, process, or sequence text structure include:

  • What happened first, next, or last?

  • Do the steps have to happen in this order?

Transition words that can signal chronological, process, or sequence text structure include:

  • After, before, during, next

  • Finally

  • First, second, third

  • Then

  • When

Download your printables: Newsela’s Flowchart and Timeline worksheets

3. Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast text structure discusses two characters, events, or ideas and shows how they’re similar or different from each other.

For example, you may see this text structure in ELA classrooms when reviewing the similarities and differences of two characters in a story. The author may compare their physical features, thoughts, families, or even hobbies.

Questions that can signal compare and contrast include:

  • How are they the same?

  • How are they different?

  • What are we comparing?

Transition words that can signal compare and contrast text structure include:

  • Alike, like, similar

  • Also, too

  • Both

  • But, however

  • Differ, unlike

Download your printables: Newsela’s Venn Diagram and T-Chart worksheets

4. Definition or description

Definition or description text structure describes a topic by listing its features or characteristics. It may also provide examples to illustrate these features. The primary purpose of a description text structure is to give the reader a mental picture of the topic or idea.

For example, you may see this text structure in science texts, describing the physical characteristics of animals or their habitats.

Questions that can signal definition or description text structure include:

  • What does it do?

  • What does it look like?

  • How does it work?

Transition words that can signal definition or description text structure include:

  • Appears, seems

  • Beside, near, next to

  • For example, for instance, such as

  • Including

  • Looks like

Download your printable: Newsela’s Web Chart worksheet

5. Problem/solution

Problem/solution text structure identifies a problem and makes suggestions for how to fix it. For example, this text structure may appear in social studies texts about current events. An author identifies a current problem in government or society and proposes a solution to fix it.

Questions that can signal problem and solution text structure include:

  • What is the problem?

  • Why is that a problem?

  • Is there a solution?

  • What are some possible solutions?

  • How can we solve the problem?

Transition words that can signal problem and solution text structure include:

  • Who, what, when, where, why

  • How

  • Which

  • Problem is

  • Solution is

Download your printable: Newsela’s Problem-Solution worksheet

Text types used to teach text structure

Text structures don’t exist in a vacuum. Nor do they pair with just one type of text. When teaching your students about text structure, you can use a variety of text types to show them how the different text structures present in different ways. Some of the text types you can use include:

Narrative

Narrative text uses devices like characters, setting, conflicts, plot, and point of view to tell a story or share the overview of an event. Students are often most familiar with narrative text because they’re used to picture books and oral stories that follow this structure. Most narrative stories include five main plot points:

  • Exposition: Introduces the character, setting, and conflict of the story.

  • Rising action: Introduces the challenges the characters face to build to the climax.

  • Climax: Illustrates the main conflict or turning point of the story.

  • Falling action: Describes the aftermath of the climax and how the characters deal with its outcomes or consequences.

  • Resolution: Answers any unresolved questions and brings the story to a close.

Narrative text can include many types of text structure throughout a story, like cause and effect, sequence, or problem/solution. They can appear in texts for any subject, but narratives are most common in ELA fiction and nonfiction texts.

Download your printable: Newsela’s Story Elements plot diagram

Expository

Expository text uses facts to share information and ideas about a topic. Most nonfiction texts are expository. They’re the text type students encounter most often in classes like science and social studies. Expository texts are often more difficult for students to understand than narrative texts because they don’t follow the traditional structure or sequence of fictional texts.

Argumentative or persuasive

Argumentative or persuasive text helps an author make or prove a point, or encourage others to take their stance in a debate. This text type can mix multiple text structures, with the most common being compare and contrast, problem/solution, and description. Similar to narrative text, argumentative and persuasive texts also follow a pattern and contain key elements to help make, prove, and strengthen an author’s viewpoint. These elements include:

  • Claim: The point of the argument and the idea or statement the author wants to prove.

  • Reasons: Supporting statements the author makes to bolster their claim.

  • Evidence: Facts, data, statistics, quotes, or other information an author uses to support their reasons.

  • Counterclaims: Reasons and evidence that oppose the author’s argument, which they address in the text.

  • Rebuttals: An author’s responses to counterclaims, which are often used to refute opposing views or ideas.

Argumentative and persuasive texts can appear in any classroom. ELA teachers may use them to get students to think critically about the fiction and poetry they read. In social studies, teachers may use this text type to teach debate and discussion of historical events and policies. In science, teachers may use this type to complement experiments and scientific phenomena.

Descriptive

Similar to the definition or description text structure, a descriptive text type creates a multi-sensory picture of the topic for the reader. Writers may use the definition text structure and the compare and contrast structure to create this picture. You can use descriptive texts in any subject, including ELA, science, and social studies.

Procedural or instructional

Procedural or instructional texts use chronology or sequence of events to provide a step-by-step process. This text type can appear in any classroom, but it’s most common in science, math, or other STEAM courses, which rely on procedures to test and replicate results.

Considerate

Considerate texts are user-friendly texts that are easy to read and understand for most readers. This text type, introduced by Bonnie Armbruster and Thomas Anderson in 1988, is especially helpful in classrooms where students span a range of reading levels and abilities, no matter the subject. Because of their easy-to-read nature, they can incorporate any of the five text structures.

Considerate texts use structures that are easy for the reader to identify, which also makes it easier for them to pick out the main ideas and key details. This text type also supports comprehension with features like:

  • Clear topic sequences

  • Headings and subheadings

  • In-context vocabulary definitions

  • Plain language introductions

  • Simple tables, charts, and diagrams

  • Transition words

Teacher tips: Strategies to teach text structure to students

Students can start learning about the most basic elements of text structure as early as preschool or kindergarten. Plus, teachers can include instruction about text structure at every phase of reading: before, during, and after. Here are a few strategies you can use in your classroom to help your students learn about and identify text structure in the texts they read:

  • Use a mentor text to show examples of the different types of text structures using both fiction and nonfiction texts.

  • Use graphic organizers to help students plot the different information or features from a text to visualize the structure.

  • Teach the text signals and transition words writers use that indicate different types of text structures.

  • Pose questions students can ask and answer to help them identify if a piece fits a specific text structure.

  • Examine topic sentences to look for clues and patterns in different text structures.

  • Model writing a paragraph that uses a specific text structure and have students write their own paragraphs that follow the same structure.

  • Introduce the skill of text purpose—determining what information the author is trying to share—to help students identify text structures.

Teach text structure with Newsela

Teaching text structure is easy with Newsela’s product suite! With Newsela ELA, you can:

  • Use interactive graphic organizers for any article. You can edit and customize these graphics organizers with the Formative and Newsela integration by clicking the button in the activities panel on the article.

  • Use the reading skills search filter and article labels to identify which skills each piece of content covers.

  • Select which skills to teach and assess with each article. Use the checkboxes in the activities panel to focus on supports and resources for just the skill you’re teaching, even if the article covers more than one skill.

  • Watch and share explainer videos, like the nonfiction text structure video, to dive deeper into skill development.

  • Browse the updated ELA Standards and Skills collection for even more resources to help you teach text structure in any lesson, including strong mentor texts for each text structure.

With EverWrite by Newsela, you can:

  • Use short- and long-form writing assignments to help students practice writing their own content using different text structures!

Not a Newsela customer yet? You can sign up for Newsela Lite for free and get access to content and skill-building scaffolds you need to teach text structure in your classroom.

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