In the fifth grade class I visit once a week, the students are busy learning with the teacher about different text structures. The teacher began with compare/contrast articles. Together they found signal words that would hint at this type of structure (see chart.) On other days they did some articles on the SmartBoard that were cause and effect structures. On the day I joined the class, we worked together as a whole class on the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The article was projected large for all to see. Once the students determined that it was a cause/effect article (and not a compare/contrast one), each student was given a paper with three causes listed. As we reread the article students were to fill in the effects for each cause. (Earthquakes caused buildings to collapse, people to be injured or killed, and a fire started. The fire, that continued on for several days, caused more damage.) It was interesting for the students to note that the fire which was listed as an effect of the earthquake, later became a cause. They also noted that one cause could have one effect or many effects.
This week the class will be moving on to the ‘sequence’ and ‘timeline’ text structures. The professional book from Scholastic called Guided Reading in Grades 3-6 by Mary Schulman offers many one page articles (that you are allowed to copy) for use in small group practice sessions. I noticed a few that would work well as timeline structures on topics that would interest these fifth graders — “Inventing a Game: How Basketball was Born” and “The History of Gum.”
Although the teacher and I do the introduction lessons with the whole class, further small group sessions are offered to students who need more practice. All the students, though, have been invited ‘on a search’ (of their Non-fiction books, their on-line research, or in any of the magazines in the classroom) to identify and share articles they are discovering which represent the various text structures.
Although this work is certainly good for test preparation, we need to be sure that our emphasis in on comprehension. Why is it important for kids to recognize a particular text structure? The reason is that knowing how an article is organized can support your understanding of that article. It’s easier to absorb the information once you’ve implied the text structure. Meaning making and understanding, after all, is the end goal.
One of my main beliefs about teaching reading is that the lessons we teach students should connect to real world reading. That’s why I happily noted that Parade Magazine (part of Sunday’s Washington Post newspaper 3/11/12) had articles that fit all three structures. “The United States of Pizza” was a great timeline article. “Happy 100th, Girl Scouts” compared the early troops with those today – the different badges girls could earn, the kinds and amounts of cookies sold, and so on. And lastly, “Thyroid Cancer: Why is it on the Rise?” explained the causes of the increase in this type of cancer. Sharing this with the students reinforced the value of their learning about text structures.