Understanding Text Structure

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Identify and apply knowledge of text structure to determine how short passages are organized and to summarize a story.

Big Idea

Reading a story about a young girl who learns the true meaning of freedom sets the stage for this exploration of text structure.

Introduce the Topic and Apply the Skill as Readers

20 minutes

To familiarize ourselves with text structure, I start the lesson by reading a chart that lists the most common types: description, sequence or time order, compare/contrast, question/answer, problem/solution, cause/effect, and list/enumeration. It also includes the signal words that often appear in each type and an explanation of how the signal words help the reader.

To apply this skill, students read five short passages. For each, they underline the main idea, circle the signal words and write the type of text structure in the margin. We do the first one as a class and then the students work with others at their table group to complete the worksheet. As they work, I circulate around the room and ask probing questions about their thinking: Does it say that at in text? Where? Do others agree with you? Why? Or why not? Are all the possible signal words listed on the chart? No? Well, what else could be added?

When finished, give students the opportunity to get up and move around the room to check in with how others completed the worksheet. Just remind them to stay on topic! This way everyone has a chance to talk and they are often more willing to share with one or two people at a time than with everyone all at once. After a few minutes, they move back to their seats and we discuss the worksheet as a whole class to review the correct answers and address any lingering questions.

Now Apply This Skill As Writers

30 minutes

Next we focus on applying knowledge of text structure as writers. To do this I read aloud one of may favorite picture books, Mingo by Lenice Strohmeier (2003). I introduce it as historical fiction that is set in our state and that is written by a local author. They connect with the story in many ways because of their familiarity with time period from their study of early American history in fifth grade, they are knowledgable of the coastline as it is described in the story, and the main character is about their age. In addition, the story is beautifully illustrated, which holds their attention. I let them know that as they listen they are to think about different ways to summarize this story. As I read I stop along the way to answer questions and highlight important plot events.

After the reading, we take a look at the One Sentence Summary Frames for Common Text Structures worksheet and they are surprised to notice that this summarizing activity is not going to be lengthier. The purpose is to give them experience with a wide variety of text types in short period of time. To accomplish this they are not to think of summarizing the entire story at once, just short scenes or one important event that fits the structure listed.

The whole class works together to fill in the Descriptive section. Students offer different ideas but we decide that the setting lends itself to description and come up with: Aunt Becky’s ledge is a kind of geographic feature that can be seen from the beach near Oliva’s home. Then I assign each table group one type of summarizing sentence frame to fill in. These groups can work together to create a sentence, but each student should fill in their own worksheet. If a group finishes, they can try their hand at the others types of text structures.

This is a challenging task and I learned from past experience that working with a group leads to success for everyone. I circulate around the room and help those that are struggling to identify an appropriate section to fit the model. We break it down into pieces, such as “Tell me something that happened at the beginning of the story. How was that followed up on in the middle? What about at the end?” or “Did one of the characters want something particular? What was it? How does that relate to another character?” A sample of a completed worksheet appears here.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Chart paper is placed around the room, each labeled with one type of text structure. Representatives from each group add their sentences to the list. The students wrap up the lesson by traveling around the room in small groups from one chart to the next to read each other’s work and celebrate our own.