Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Behind the Books: Two (Very Different) Ways of Teaching Nonfiction Text Structures

Ah, text structures. If I did a Wordle of all the topics I’ve discussed on this blog, I bet that phrase would be bigger than anything else.

Why do I keep coming back to this one element of nonfiction writing? Because, as far as I’m concerned, finding the perfect structure for a manuscript is the most challenging part of writing nonfiction. I struggle with it on every single book I write.

But before students can wrestle with text structure in their writing, they must learn to identifying this important element in the books they read. Over the year, as I’ve worked with students and discussed strategies for doing this with teachers, I’ve developed a scaffolded method described here. Does it work? Absolutely.

But does it work every time, with every child? Of course not. When it comes to teaching, there’s no such thing as a perfect instructional strategy for every child in every school. That’s why I’m always open to new ideas.

Recently, I read a fantastic post entitled “Messy Learning” on Laura Komos’s (Twitter: @LauraKomos) Ruminate and Invigorate blog and was blown away. I love how Laura and her teaching buddy, Maria Vallejo (Twitter: @MVallejoTeacher), bravely “threw caution to the wind” and let their students plunge in and try to understand text structures without any prior instruction.

Did the students struggle initially? You bet. But given time and encouragement, they started to notice some patterns in the books they were reading. By working together in groups and occasionally sharing out their observations, the class eventually developed this list.
You will notice that it includes most of the text structures espoused by Common Core as well as others that are equally valid. These students did a great job, and the learning is most likely more powerful because they did the messy work themselves.


  1. So true, Melissa. Finding the right structure can really make NF sing.

  2. Thank you so much, Melissa! You have such amazing information on your website. Maria, I was just using your Coyote Moon the other day when I was discussing different structures of NF with my students. One group came up with "A Story" and another "Narrative." I thought they were great, however,I would think that using the structures above, it would be chronological or cause and effect. What do you think? Thanks again!

  3. Narrative is a writing style, not a text structure. Coyote Moon has a sequence structure--dusk to dawn. Almost all books with a narrative style have a sequence structure.

  4. Thank you for sharing your ideas and encouraging ours! Much appreciated!!