Get the Most Out of Teaching Nonfiction Text Structures

Teaching Nonfiction is sometimes like teaching a foreign language to children.  Yes, the words may look the same to them and they may be able to read the words - but understanding the format, structure, visuals, concepts, etc is vastly different compared to fictional texts.  It's very important that we (the teachers) are being very intentional about teaching not just about Nonfiction as a genre but also teaching about all of the differences Nonfiction has to offer.  Text Structures is one of those differences!  

So we all know the main nonfiction text structures:  Descriptive, Compare & Contrast, Sequential (Chronological), Cause & Effect, and Problem & Solution.  As a coach, one of the main problems I see when teachers teach text structures - is that teachers are instead teaching each of these reading skills/strategies just with a nonfiction text.  They aren't actually teaching the students the organizational structures of a nonfiction text.  Students need to be able to analyze a nonfiction text and see how the author has organized the information in the text to best support the reader.  Just as a fictional author pre-thinks through the fictional structure of his/her book (plot, characters, setting, etc) a Nonfiction author does the same with his/her content.  How will I best organize these facts and information to allow it all to flow and make sense to my reader.  When students understand these structures and can identify them within a nonfiction text, they are better able to apply other essential reading skills such as main idea, key details, summarizing, etc.  Below, I have come up with 5 essential tips on helping you get the most out of teaching nonfiction text structures to your students!  

Tip #1:  Relate Text Structures to Text Features.  

Text features are essential to teaching nonfiction and are fun to teach too!  But have you ever noticed the correlation between them and the text structure of a nonfiction text?  It's not a completely black and white method, but many text features connect perfectly with certain text structures.   Identifying and discussing this connection with your students helps to deepen their understanding of not just the structure, but also the text features and the text as a whole as well.  Here are some ways you can try this:  When analyze a text for it's structure, ask the students 'what text features would be appropriate to add to this text?'  If you find texts with strong text features and evidence of a text structure, cut out the features and play a matching game.  Can they decide which feature goes with which text based on its structure?  Can't find any texts like that?  I've got you covered!  Check out this resource that includes two rigorous and ready to print text feature & text structure lessons to practice with!  

Tip #2:  Use Graphic Organizers when teaching Text Features

Since text structures are ultimately about how the author organized the facts and information in the text to best support the readers' understanding, doesn't it make sense to have students use graphic organizers to analyze the structures of a text?  Allowing students to go both ways and analyze a text's structure using a graphic organizer tremendously helps their understanding and comprehension of the information!  You can start with a text and allow students to break up the information into the graphic organizer.  OR you can start with an organizer and see if students can use facts to build a paragraph with a specific text structure as the focus.  So much rigor and so little time!  There are a lot of graphic organizers out there but here are the ones I use!  Click on the photo or the word here (in the previous sentence) to grab these for free!  

Tip #3:  Only Use Key Words to Help Scaffold your Teaching of Text Structures

Sometimes identifying the structure of a nonfiction text isn't as black and white to students.  And many teachers JUMP right into teach key words to help identifying the structures.  Please hold off for as long as possible to teach the 'key words' of specific text features!!  If you've taught them then you KNOW that they don't always work and 50% of the time they cause confusion for students.  Instead, focus on the totality of the text and the purpose the author wrote it for instead of jumping straight into key words.  When all of those fail, then you can use the key words for the students who need the scaffolding help.  But make sure to let them know, they don't always work!  

Tip #4:  Relate the Structure of the Text to the Main Idea of the Text!

Ugh!!  Main idea....  HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO TEACH THIS!?  A lot, yes, I get it!  But linking other strategies and skills to Main Idea will help strengthen the students' understand and ability to identify the main idea of a text.  Text Structure is perfect for this!  Here's an example:  Reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln?  The text structure clearly would be sequential.  How can knowing THAT help the students understand that the main idea of the text is about Lincoln's life?  Or.. Are you reading a text that's describing the effects of pollution in the air?  The text structure is most likely cause and effect.  Again, how can knowing THAT help the students understand the main idea?  Structure and Main Idea are like cousins - teach them in the same lesson (a few times at least) and your students will thank you!

Tip #5:  Deliberately Teach the Difference between Fictional Structure and Nonfiction Structure

Ok, last tip!  It's interesting that we refer to nonfiction text structures as the way that we organize a nonfiction article and information, but why don't we do this for fiction?  The story elements (plot,
character, setting, theme, etc) are essentially the structure of a fictional text!  We drill and kill the story elements when we teach fictional texts.  Those are always the questions we ask when reviewing any text!  When planning our writing for a fictional text, we think through each of the elements before we write.  The nonfiction text structures mirror this type of organizational thinking and when explained to students this way, something just clicks!  Teaching text structures will no longer be about using a nonfiction text to just reteach sequencing or cause and effect.  It will truly be about understanding the organization thinking behind the text, the purpose for why it was written, and the main idea of the entire article.

I hope these tips have been helpful!  Teaching Text Structures is one of my favorite parts about teaching Nonfiction.  We dig and get our hands dirty in those texts and come out stronger readers because of it!  

Need something engaging and hands on to amp up your text structure lessons?  My TOP resource can help you out!  Check out my Text Structure Color Coding resource to get your started!  

Too much to read right now?  Pin this image below to come back and read more later!

Conquering the Test... One Day at a Time!

Ok, I know that we're all not wanting to think those dreaded three words "Back to School", let alone start thinking about the even more dreaded standardized tests that will occur in the Spring.  I unfortunately had that philosophy too a few years ago - but then it hit me.  Why do we, or I, feel like once January hits that it's time to 'prepare' the students for these tests - why don't we start doing that on day one?  I mean, yes, I know everything I'm doing/teaching is going to help them.  But I wanted to do something to really prepare them on a deeper level. 

So that got me thinking...

When it comes to 'the test' - what do my students struggle with the most?  After talking it through with a few colleagues I finally figured it out!!  Picture this..  Walking around looking at the test for the first time as the kids are taking it.  You're reading the questions and thinking to yourself - Yes!!! They KNOW this!!  But then you read their answers as you're walking and you can't believe what you're reading - what's going on!?  I KNOW I taught this over and over again - why aren't they getting it!?  Then you reread the question...  and BAM!  There is it - its not what the question was asking - its HOW they worded the question.  They used some large verb and wording that the kids aren't used to seeing or reading.  Could they answer it with the knowledge you've given them?  Absolutely!!  Are they just confused because of how they asked it?  Absolutely!!


So - here's what I thought.  All of those big words and verbs and wordage that we see on these tests that CONFUSE our kids.. let's teach it to them.  I know - you're probably thinking DUH!?  But - when it comes to trying to prepare them for the test with everything else we have/need to teach them AND then throw this on top, it gets overwhelming!  I needed something that will help my kids conquer these words slowly but surely. 

So I came up with a program called Vocabulary Voyage.  Let's just say - I LOVE IT!!  What it does, is basically teach the students these important and strong words that are commonly used when testing.  It teaches them, not just what the words mean, but also what a question that has that word in it, means!  What is that question asking!?  I used it all last year and it.  was..  amazing!  My kids ROCKED the tests at the end of the year.  I had 100% pass our state standardized test.  No joke!  

So here's the break down in photos:

I have over 90 words in the program and we learn 1 word a day.  BUT we repeat those words the next week too.  So in 2 weeks we've learned 5 words.  Slow and steady wins the race!  All of the words are on cards like so...

And then put on rings... like so...

Then outside my door I have a poster put up and two hooks so the words can hang outside my door.  Each day, the 'word of the day' is shown.  Every time the kids enter the room they have to touch and say the word.  This gets them familiar with seeing and reading the words.  

It ends up looking like this...

So that's part of it - we read and say the words.  Easy peasy!  Here's what's next.

Like I said - we learn 1 word a day but we repeat those words the next week.  So Monday - Friday week 1 we're learning the word, how to read it, identify it, and define it.  All of the kids get this paper and each day we write the word and its definition.  It literally takes 5 minutes.  That's it - just 5 minutes each day.  This helps to build that word foundation which is what they're essentially missing when it comes to not knowing how to answer those questions on the test.  

But there's more...  On week 2 - we repeat the 5 words we learned last week.  On the back of the above paper, would be copied this paper.  So now that we've learned the definitions - we essentially need to practice being able to see that word in a question and answer it.  So here's what they do - Just like last week, we find 5 minutes in our day and get out the Vocab Voyage paper. On it is a question for each of the words we learned last week.  These questions can be answered with any book and I let the kids answer it using any book they want - whether it be their independent reading book or the book we're reading together.  So again, we take 5 minutes - they write out their answer to the question (in their writing journal) and we discuss.  What's great about these discussions is that our answers sound 'different' because they're using different books to answer them - however - we are able to find the pieces of the answers that are similar.  And why are they similar?  Because those are the components that the answer must have in order for it to be 'right' - that's what the question is asking for!!!  

So - I know this post is getting long, and I promise I'll try to wrap it up soon - but can you tell I'm totally in LOVE with this program.  

So the program has over 90 words, which if started at the beginning of the school year, will last you the entire year!  So by the time testing comes around - your kids will have been exposed to and have practiced answering these questions and KNOWING what the question is asking!!  The program has questions ready to go for each of the words as well.  These words include a variety of reading and math terms, Blooms Verbs, etc.  A great mixture for any testing grade!    I wish I had picture of the kids using this or even better, a video of their discussions of what the question is asking and how to answer it - we even grade each other's answers verbally if we have time.  It only takes me about 5-10 minutes a day so I don't even have to try to squeeze it in.  

Click HERE to download the first week for free! (download the preview)  

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