Nonfiction Text Structures/Nonfiction Teaching/Mentor Texts

Teaching NONFICTION Text Structures

This page will suggest ways to teach nonfiction reading comprehension and expository writing through teaching nonfiction text structures.  Please refer to the Reasons for the Strategies page to learn more about teaching nonfiction text features.

These are not my images.  I have received many emails requesting copies.  These are all made by Scholastic and were posted on Google Images.  What people are doing is copying them in color, and enlarging them at a copy center.  Scholastic sold these as posters, but discontinued them.  They posted the images for free use on Google Images.


Why is content reading and writing so difficult?  It is difficult because it requires:  knowledge of specialized vocabulary, background knowledge, good study/memory ability, nonfiction reading strategies regarding various text structures (as described here), there are multiple readability levels in a single text, the need and ability to monitor for meaning, judging importance while remembering many concepts, knowledge of source reliability, and keeping ones’ interest no matter what! 

NONFICTION TEXT STRUCTURES ~ In the Order to be Taught:

Description, Sequence, Problem-Solution, Cause-Effect, and Compare-Contrast

1.  Writers use text structures to organize information.  Teachers should point this out whenever students read and write.

2.  Skim and scan to predict text structure(s).  Make predicting possible text structures a part of every pre-reading activity.   During reading, revise predictions about structure.

3.  Teach the signal words for each text structure.  


Description:  Describes something by listing its features, characteristics, or examples.    Signal Words:

to begin with to illustrate for instance such as an example in addition
is like including also (actual sizes, shapes, colors) another characteristics are

 Here are Mentor Texts to teach Description! 

Balestrino, P. The Skeleton Inside You New York:  Crowell, 1971 Level N
Branley, F.M. What the Moon is Like New York:  Haper & Row, 1986 Level N
Hansen, R. & Bell, R.A. My First Book of Space New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1985 Level Q
Parish, P. Dinosaur Time New York:  Harper  & Row, 1974 Level K
Pringle, L. A Dragon in the Sky:  The Story of the Green Darner Dragonfly Scholastic/Orchard, 2001 Level W
Simon, S. Crocodiles and Alligators HarperCollins, 2001 Level P


Sequence:   Describes events in order or tells the steps to follow in order to make or do something.  Signal Words: 

first second third later next before
then finally after when last since
now (actual use of dates) in the first place soon following previously
  • to begin with
  • most important
  • also
  • for instance
  • in fact
  • for example
  • another
  • not long after

Here are Mentor Texts to teach Sequence!

Aliki Milk from Cow to Carton New York:  Harper Collins, 1992 Level N
Cole, J. My Puppy is Born New York:  Morrow, 1981 Level  J
Giblin, J. C. The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin Scholastic, 2000 Level T
Lasky, K. Sugaring Time Macmillan, 1983 Level S
Macaulay, D.  Castle Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1977 Level X
Provensen, A. The Buck Stops Here New York:  Harper Collins, 1990 Level T

 Problem and Solution

Problem-Solution:  Tells about or says why there is a problem then gives one or more possible solutions to fix the problem.     Signal Words:

the question is the answer is problem is dilemma is if/then
because so/that to solve this one reason is the puzzle is
  • solution is
  • difficulty is

Here are Mentor Texts to teach Problem/Solution! 

Jackson, D. The Wildlife Detectives:  How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Houghton, 2000 Level Y
Levine, E. If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad New York:  Scholastic, 1988 Level Q
Montgomery, S. The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans Houghton, 2001 Level R
Zoefeld, K.W. Dinosaur Young:  Uncovering the Mystery of Dinosaur Families Clarion Level S


Cause and Effect

Cause-Effect:  Cause is why something happened.  Effect is what happenedSignal Words:

so so that because since if…then therefore
due to hence for nevertheless consequently this led to
reason why as a result of may be due to effect of for this reason thus
  •  accordingly

Here are some Mentor Texts to teach Cause/Effect! 

Aardema, Verna Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears Dial Level N
Asch, Frank Turtle Tale Dial Level J
Blos, Joan Old Henry   Level N
Branley, F.M. Flash, Crash, Rumble, Roll New York:  Harper & Row. 1985 Level N
Branley, F.M. Volcanoes New York:  Harper & Row. 1985 Level L
Branley, F.M. What Makes Day and Night? New York:  Harper & Row. 1985 Level N
Brown, Margaret The Runaway Bunny Harper Level I
Brown, Marc Arthur’s Eyes   Level K
Brown, Marcia Once a Mouse   Level K
Burningham, John Mr. Gumpy’s Outing Holt Level L
Carle, Eric The Grouchy Ladybug Crowell Level  J
Christelow, Eileen Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed Clarion Level E
Gackenbach, Dick Harry and the Terrible Whatzit   Level  J
Ginsburg, Mirra Across the Stream Greenwillow Level F
Grossman, Bill Donna O’Neeshuck Was Chased By Some Cows Harper Level L
Heller, R. The Reason for a Flower New York:  Grosset & Dunlap, 1983 Level P
Henkes, Kevin Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse   Level M
Hutchins, Pat Goodnight Owl Macmillan Level I
Hutching, Pat Rosie’s Walk Macmillan Level F
Kellogg, Steven Pinkerton Behave   Level K
Noble, Trinka H. The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash Dial Level K
Numeroff, Laura If You Give a Moose a Muffin Harper Level K
Numeroff, Laura If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Harper Level K
Polacco, Patricia The Bee Tree Putnam Level M
Rice, Eve Benny Bakes a Cake Greenwillow Level I
Rice, Eve Sam Who Never Forgets Mulberry Level K
Root, Phyllis The Old Red Rocking Chair Arcade Level M
Showers, P. What Happens to a Hamburger? New York:  Harper & Row, 1985 Level M
Turner, Ann Nettie’s Trip South   Level O
Van Lann,Nancy The Big Fat Worm Knopf Level G
Waber, Bernard Ira Sleeps Over   Level L
Well, Rosemary Noisy Nora Dial Level I
Wood, Audrey and Don The Napping House Harcourt Level I
Ziefert, Harriet A New Coat for Anna Knopf Level O

Compare and Contrast

Compare – Contrast:  Shows how two or more things are alike or how they are different.   Signal Words:

as well as also too like/unlike much as similarly where as in comparison
likewise just as/ just like both in the same way either/or same as alike different
though yet less than/more than although while on the other hand but however
  • not only…but also
  • unless
  • vs.

Here are some Mentor Texts to teach Compare/Contrast!

Gibbons, G. Fire!  Fire!  New York:  Harper and Row, 1984 Level M
Murphy, J. The Great Fire Scholastic, 1995 Level R
Spier, P. We The People New York:  Doubleday, 1987 Level M

 4.  Teach and model the use of graphic organizers to go with each text structure. Teachers have to identify text structures in advance and provide appropriate graphic organizer. 

5.  Teachers should spend time modeling how to determine what the text structure is, as well as note taking on a corresponding graphic organizer.   Then students should practice with teacher support. Finally, students should apply the skills and strategies they have learned for independent practice..    

6. Explicit instruction must be provided to show students how and when to use strategies such as attending to signal words while reading different content areas or using signal words when writing expository text.

7.  Use the think-aloud strategy.  The teacher reads aloud a paragraph, pausing at appropriate points to share his/her own comprehension strategies and understanding of the text.  Next, move to a shared-reading strategy, encouraging students to talk aloud as they engage in the process with the teacher. For example, the teacher asks students to talk about the clues they use to try to identify the text structure.

8.  Ask focusing questions targeting the text structure such as which signal words are used to show a particular relationship among ideas in a text structure.

9.  Pictures can be drawn to model the sequence structure.

10.  Create and provide guides and teacher-made organizers that reflect that structure of the original text. This can help students focus on the key elements of the reading selection.

11.  Present students with a completed graphic organizer as a pre-reading strategy.  Have students write a probable paragraph using a predicted text structure prior to reading.  After reading, compare students’ probable passages and the original text.

12.  Write using the text structures.  The teacher should model writing a paragraph using a particular text structure and describe his/her actions as he/she is writing. Then students write their own paragraphs using text structure/ paragraph frames as templates.

13.  Make the connection between reading and writing.  When students read an example of a particular text structure, have them write using that same text structure.  Writing can be done as a pre-reading or post-reading strategy.  

14.  Rewrite a paragraph or passage using a different text structure than the original.  Compare the two and analyze why the author might have chosen the original pattern.  

15.   Use summary frame questions to guide students’ comprehension before, during, and after reading.  Each organizational structure suggests questions which readers should consider as they are reading and be able to answer once they’ve finished reading the passage.

16.  Use text coding strategies – highlighters, Post-It Notes, etc. – targeting text structures.  Teachers must model these strategies and be consistent in the procedures (same color each time, etc.).

Identifying patterns of organization is not the final goal ~  the final goal is for students to internalize the various text structures to improve nonfiction reading comprehension and expository writing organization. 

When teaching nonfiction, think of before reading (assessing and building content knowledge), during reading (supporting and monitoring comprehension) and after reading (evaluating, extending, and transferring content knowledge) activities.  Here are some of my favorites:


Teach the Text Structure - Read above. 

K-W-L Chart - K (what I know), W (what I want to know), L (summarize what I learned).  This activity helps activate background knowledge, while building background knowledge for peers.  From their background knowledge, students can come up with a list of questions of what they would like to learn.  Synthesizing takes place when they write what they have learned.

Skimming and Scanning – This is a necessary skill to quickly find the most important information in a text.  Have students work in pairs to skim and scan the nonfiction text features  (title, headings, glossary, maps, charts, bold faced words, etc.), and have the students read only the first and last paragraphs.  Ask what they think the text or chapter will be about.  Have students write down questions/comments in one column, and facts they have quickly just learned in another column.  What will be the important points in the text or chapter?  (Teachers may ask in what section certain information would be found.  This will help assess critical thinking.) 

Anticipation Guide -  Anticipation Guides are helpful to activate background knowledge and build interest in an upcoming lesson.  Teachers determine key ideas in a text or chapter.  They write 3-8 statements which tap into the students’ background knowledge; include statements which could be opinions ~ not just facts that only can be answered by reading the text.  Have students read the statements, circling agree or disagree or yes/no.  By working with a partner, students can have discussions to expand their knowledge.  Then, students revisit the statements after reading the text, circling agree or disagree (yes/no) again.

Predict -O-Gram - This is a good way to highlight language in a text, make predictions, and create questions prior to reading.  The teacher reads aloud a portion of a text, then supplies the students with words that appear on the upcoming pages.  The students use the words to anticipate upcoming events, suggest ways the words might be used, and ask questions they believe might be answered. 

Admit Slip –   Admit slips develop a purpose for reading, which, research shows, leads to a deeper understanding of a text and higher retention of information because readers are creating connections, storing new information in meaningful ways.  Basically, the teacher copies an illustration from a textbook and/or makes a list of headings and subtitles used in the text.  The students must write 3 questions they believe the reading will answer, or list 3 pieces of information they think they will learn.  Have students discuss their predictions/questions prior to reading, and list them together.  Read to confirm/answer the items on the list.   

Teach New Words Prior to Reading - Whether you teach new words in context, through association, integration with background knowledge, structural analysis, compare/contrast, or through visuals, having a grasp on the new vocabulary will greatly improve students’ comprehension.  Connect the new words to the reading.  Not all new words need to be formally taught for the students to understand the passages, for example, many new words students may figure out in context.  Always use integration, repetition, and meaningful use to make the new vocabulary memorable.    

Advance Organizer - A graphic organizer provides students with general information about a topic before they read.  

Assessing Preconceptions and Addressing Misconceptions - Brainstorm with students what they THINK they know before a topic is introduced.  Clarify misconceptions with hands-on activities, explanations, photographs, examples. . . before the students read.  This way, they can better accept the new ideas as they read.


Reciprocal Teaching - This strategy helps students to focus and monitor their reading in order to achieve higher comprehension.  After watching teacher demonstrations of predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing from a short passage, students practice these 4 with a partner.  First assign each student a reading partner.  They will read a short section together, and work together through each of the 4 stages.  At the questioning stage, one student will ask questions of the other.  This role is changed on the next section.  They can predict, clarify and summarize together.

DR-TA (Directed Reading-Thinking Activity) -  This strategy is helpful because of the 4 components that extend and support students’ reading and thinking:  activate prior knowledge, predict, read, revisit prediction to confirm or revise.  First, the teacher asks the class to brainstorm words or ideas associated with a topic.  These are recorded.  Second, students examine the text’s or chapter’s features such as illustrations, graphs, charts. . . .  They form predictions and questions of what they will read.  Third, they have a purpose to read.  Read.  Finally, students discuss the predictions that were confirmed.  They discuss the predictions that they revised as they read, and they look at their lists to see if further reading is still needed before predictions can be confirmed or revised.     

TAG (Textbook Activity Guide) - A TAG is designed to support students as they read.  Prompts are written for the students to help them focus on strategic processes and self-monitoring strategies to help them understand a text.  The teacher reads the section on her own first, highlighting critical content.  A TAG is then created by the teacher to guide the students to this content as they read.  In a TAG, the student works with a partner or small group.  Words like “predict” and “skim” are often used in a TAG, as well as references to the nonfiction text features (glossary, bold-faced words, maps, etc).  Questions are asked and page numbers of where the answers are are given.  This can become a study guide.

Cornell Note-Taking - This strategy is effective for helping students understand and remember more of what they read or view.  It supports students in making connections, developing questions, focusing and monitoring their reading, and analyzing what they have learned.  Teacher will model the following first.  Fold a piece of paper in half.  One side is for questions, the other side is for notes, and leave a space at the bottom for summarizing.    During reading or while viewing a video clip, take notes, and develop questions that your notes would answer.  Use these notes to summarize the main ideas at the bottom of the page.  Have students do this individually, then compare with a partner.

Graphic Organizers - Depending on the text structure, prepare an appropriate graphic organizer for students to fill out as they read. 


Exit Slips - This strategy is good for assessing what a student has learned at the end of class.  Exit slips are short prompts given to students for a focused writing that will give the teacher feedback about the learning.  Some exit slip prompts may include:  Write about something you learned today.  What questions do you still have?  How did what we learned today connect with what we learned prior?   

GIST (Generating Interactions Between Schemata and Texts) – This strategy helps students to write organized summaries.  Teacher models this first by finding a short paragraph that details a concept, event, time period, description, problem, or sequential directions.  Read the 1st sentence, and have class summarize that sentence in 15 words or less.  Read the 2nd sentence.  Now have the class combine the first and second sentence into one sentence summarized in 15 words or less.  Continue doing this until the paragraph is read, and the whole paragraph is summarized into one sentence of 15 words or less.  Have students practice on their own paragraph.

Conceptual Questions After the Passage - Have students answer questions after reading to help with recall and to apply conceptual information to new situations.

Good Readers of Informational Text

  • Have clear goals for their reading
  • Preview the text before reading, noticing the nonfiction text features
  • Activate prior knowledge
  • Make predictions
  • Use meaning, and expect the text to make sense
  • Monitor their reading ~ ask “Do I understand this?”
  • Make connections:  text to self, text to text, text to world
  • Create visual images
  • Use the text features (heading, captions, maps, etc.) actively and consciously
  • Draw inferences and conclusions
  • Ask questions as they read
  • Read different kinds of informational texts differently
  • Skim and scan to recheck information
  • Locate information
  • Adjust reading rate to match text demands
  • Make a plan when reading
  • Identify important ideas and words
  • Shift strategies to match purpose
  • Retell, summarize, synthesize
  • Use fix-up strategies:  read on and go back, backtrack, context clues, make substitutions, break unfamiliar words into parts

Nonfiction Prompts

  • I learned. . .
  • I never knew. . .
  • I already knew that. . .
  • I was wrong to think. . .
  • I wonder why. . .
  • I still don’t know. . .
  • An important date is. . .
  • The confusing thing is. . .
  • This helped me explain. . .
  • I was suprised. . .
  • I also want to read. . .
  • The index helped me. . .
  • I like learning. . .
  • I would recommend this book to. . .
  • I would like to share my learning by. . .
  • Some interesting facts are. . .
  • I want to learn more about. . .
  • This book answered my questions about. . . 

Some ideas from this page were taken from:

Allen, Janet.  Tools For Teaching.  Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.

Hoyt, Linda.  Make It Real.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, 2002. ~ Reading and Writing Consultant, Kristi Orcutt

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