October Literacy Tip

Text Features

Dear Colleagues,

As another school year begins it’s time to ask yourself, “How do I preview materials with students to help them be successful readers with unfamiliar text.”  It is no secret that many students struggle to comprehend informative text; learning from text, especially informative text, is the cornerstone of the curriculum.  As experts in their content areas, teachers may fail to recognize how difficult specific text is to understand. 

Quick Quiz to Test Your Knowledge!
  • What is the difference between text structure and text features?
  • How do narrative and informative text differ regarding text structure?
  • What are some common structures for informative and narrative text?


What is the difference between text structure and text features?

Text structure is the organizational pattern an author(s) uses.  Text features refer to additional information and illustrated information, such as index, captions, maps, or headings to help readers understand the text.  This Literacy Tip will focus on text structure and the November Literacy Tip will highlight text features.          

How do narrative and informative text structures differ?

Prose writing consists of two major types: narrative and informative.  Each type requires a different thinking process when reading.  For example, what do you know about yourself as a reader when reading a Jody Picoult novel or Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” as compared to reading a DVD manual?  Groundbreaking reading researcher Louise Rosenblatt (1978) distinguishes between narrative/literary and informative reading by explaining narrative reading as aesthetic, requiring a personal response, and informative reading as efferent, reading for information.  Narrative reading (an assuming stance) involves experiencing the text through our senses—seeing, feeling, and thinking about the characters portrayed—as when reading a novel or short story.  Efferent reading (meaning to carry away) focuses attention on ideas to be retained or information required to perform a task, such as reading a DVD manual.  When people read for information, they may select parts of the text they need, rather than reading from beginning to end.  An important point of distinction between an aesthetic read and an efferent read is that when reading a literary selection, the reader focuses attention on what is being experienced during the reading, whereas an informative read focuses on what will be retained after the reading (Rosenblatt, 1978).

What are some common structures for informative and narrative text?

Main ideas and supporting details provide the overarching structure of informative texts, whereas story grammar or elements constituting a beginning, middle, and end organize the writing of a narrative selection.  Strategic readers recognize the difference between informative and narrative text and learn the characteristics of both in order to increase comprehension.

Informative Text

Authors of informative text (nonfiction) organize the main ideas and subordinate details into different organizational patterns to frame thinking when reading informative text.  The most common frames are: cause/effect, compare/contrast, concept/definition, problem/solution, proposition/ support, and sequence.  A graphic representation of the pattern, such as a Venn diagram for compare/contrast can assist the note-taking process for the reader.   Specific guiding questions can be used to focus reading; authors use cue words or phrases that link one idea to another.  These signal words serve as clues to the organizational pattern.  Readers learn to identify cue words; they realize specific words alert them about what is to come.  Organizational patterns are not only helpful for reading; they also organize thinking for writing.  

Narrative Text

The structural pattern of narrative (fiction) text is called story grammar or story elements.  A typical story is organized around setting, characters, problem or goal, events related to the problem or goal, solution or resolution, and theme.  Just as with informative text, graphics and questions serve to focus thinking about narrative text story elements.  For example, “in what ways do the main character’s interaction with her friends at school tell you about her character?”
“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

Make a Pledge…

Helping students learn how to navigate text – paper or digital is essential.  Modeling and explicit instruction are needed to show students how narrative and especially informative texts work.  Teaching students how to do an initial sweep through the text to set the stage for successful reading is key.  Demonstrating how to use strategies and manipulatives (Post-it notes, highlighters) to mentally and physically work the material so the passage makes sense helps students become successful independent readers.
For more ideas and examples to help students understand the importance of teaching “text structure” check out Strategic Reading in the Content Areas – Practical Applications for Creating a Thinking Environment Chapter 5.  For strategy ideas to teach “text structure” look into Strategies to Engage the Mind of the Learner – Building Strategic Learners.  Books can be previewed at www.rachelbillmeyer.com.  Please forward this email to other interested colleagues.  Interested readers can go to www.rachelbillmeyer.com to sign up for future Literacy Tips.