How are text structures organized for nonfiction?

Writers organize nonfiction text into five text structures. They are description, sequence, compare and contrast, cause and effect, problem and solution. Most text that students read above grade 4 is nonfiction. Text structure graphic organizers are a great way for students to organize their notes. It also sets the purpose in reading which increases the students’ engagement with the text.


Students take notes on how a frog adapts and survives to their environment.

Description is one example of a text structure. A description of a frog may include its body parts such as its webbed feet and tongue.  More details are given on how the webbed feet and tongue help the frog adapt and survive. Students can take notes as they read using a description web as their graphic organizer.

Sequence / Order

Students take notes on the water cycle as they read.

Another text structure is called sequence. This type of text is used when giving information about a topic that involves order.  This is used in science texts to show a process. For example, the water cycle has sequential steps and then the cycle repeats itself.  In social studies text, timelines are involved to show the order of events that have taken place over time. Sequencing is also used in biographies.

Compare & Contrast

Students use a 3 column chart to take notes on similarities and differences.

A third type of text structure is known as compare and contrast. When reading about similarities and differences, signal words such as alike, different, and in contrast are used.  This graphic organizer has three columns which allows students to compare how polar and grizzly bears are alike (middle column) and how they are different.

Cause & Effect

Cause and effect text structures are used in science and social studies content.

Cause and effect is another text structure that is common in social studies and science texts.  A text about earthquakes might include the cause of an earthquake as well as what effects earthquakes have on their community.  Another example is a text passage about the food chain and how it effects the animals. Cause and effect text structures can be found in science and social studies content.

Problem & Solution

The above graphic organizer shows that text on pollution can be organized in problem and solution text structure.

Problem and solution is another way text is organized. Global warming and pollution are problems. Several solutions or suggestions will be given in the text. This text structure can be found often in science. This text structure graphic organizer has students take notes on the problem identified in the text as well as possible solutions.

Signal Words

Students match signal words to the text structures to better understand the relationship within the text.

Authors use signal words for readers to help identify the text structures. Some signal words for sequencing and order are first, then, and after that. As a result, consequently, and since are examples of signal words that identify with cause and effect text structure. I have students match the signal words to the text structure. This helps students become more aware of the signal words which can also improve students’ comprehension.

The text structures memory game above has students match text structures to their definitions and signal words.

Supporting Students with Text Structures

How do students actively engage in reading nonfiction text?  One way for students to stay engaged is by studying text structures.  Have students take notes as they read to monitor their understanding. This also sets the purpose for reading. Students have clear learning targets and know the purpose of the assignment.


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