Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teaching Text Structure

I have been known to bemoan the fact that computer classes started one year too late when I was growing up.  I was part of the last class to not receive training on how to use them in elementary school.  So, when I enrolled in computer literacy my freshman year of college it turned into one big headache, literally.

Fortunately, I was a much better reader than tech-head.  Still, like the computers, there are some things that I learned about much later in life but wished I had learned much earlier.  One of those is all of the different ways that text is structured.  When I first heard a university instructor outline that for me, something clicked.  Suddenly I had a way to categorize and approach textual information in my mind.  Today I've discovered that too many students have not internalized this concept.  I've spent hundred of hours assessing students in reading using individualized inventories.  The one trend that I see over and over is students' struggles with nonfiction texts.  They are used to telling and listening to stories.  They have learned about plot lines for fictional texts in English classes again and again.  They are not as familiar with nonfiction organizational patterns used for conveying information.

We know what the nonfiction text structures are, but I'll catalogue them for us once again: description, sequence, compare and contrast, cause & effect, and problem & solution. (You will them listed different ways in different resources, but this is a general list.)

So, for those of us who aren't doing this, how to we start?  For those of us who do, how do we do improve what we are doing for students who needs strong explicit instruction?  Here are a few resources to help:

1) Be explicit about teaching text structures.  Have students identify them and use the structure to guide their summaries.  Provide them with frame paragraphs in the beginning to use when summarizing.

2) Let students practice it by reading short passages and identifying the structure before applying it to larger selections.

3) Teach key phrases that are used in the various text structures to aid them in identifying the organizational framework.

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