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Teaching Text Structure

Understanding text structure is key to reading comprehension and also helps strengthen writing skills. In this section you’ll learn about the 5 most common text structures and how to help students learn to identify and use text structures in their reading and writing. 

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What is text structure?

Text structure refers to the way authors organize information in text. 

Text structure is the “skeleton” that gives a “shape” and organizes the ideas within a text. Understanding how a text is organized makes it easier to understand the author’s meaning — and helps students focus attention on key concepts and relationships, anticipate what is to come, monitor their comprehension as they read, and summarize the central ideas. Understanding text structure also helps students with their own writing.

Text structures can be taught by showing students examples of different text structures, using graphic organizers, and by teaching signal words that are clues to the structures.  

The 5 common text structures

Here are the most common text structures that young readers will encounter:

  • Description
  • Cause and Effect
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Chronology/Sequence
  • Problem and Solution 

Text signals

Text signals are clues to identifying the structure in a text — words or phrases that indicate what kind of text structure a reader will encounter as they read. This can help readers understand the purpose of the text and how the information is organized.

See the sections below for examples of text signal words and questions. 

Text structures found in different text types

Narrative text is often the easiest for students to identify and understand. Most young readers are familiar with the language of stories (sometimes called “story grammar”) which typically includes the following components: 

  • Exposition: introduces the setting, characters, and conflict of the story. 
  • Rising action: introduces the challenges and obstacles that the characters face. 
  • Climax: the turning point of the story, where the conflict is resolved. 
  • Falling action: describes the aftermath of the climax, as the characters deal with the consequences of their actions. 
  • Resolution: ties up any loose ends and brings the story to a close. 

Narrative texts can include many of the common text structures: description, cause-effect, chronology/sequence, and problem-solution.

Descriptive text mixes different text structures in creating a vivid, multi-sensory picture in the reader’s mind. The most common text structures found in descriptive text are description and compare-contrast.

Expository text can be more challenging for young readers than narrative text because it doesn’t follow a typical sequence of events unfolding over time. Expository texts can also include all five of the common text structures, requiring readers to identify which structure is being used and for what purpose. 

“Considerate” texts

“Considerate” text — a concept introduced by Bonnie Armbruster and her colleagues (Armbruster & Anderson, 1988) — is text that is “user-friendly” and easy to read and comprehend by a wide range of readers. When a text uses structures that are easy for the reader to identify, it’s more likely the reader will grasp the central ideas of the text. “Considerate” texts also support comprehension through features such as a plain language introduction, a clear sequence of topics, headings and subheads, vocabulary defined in context, the use of cohesive words (e.g., however, in summary, for instance), and simple-to-understand tables, charts, and diagrams.

Procedural or instructional text typically uses the chronology/sequence text structure to describe a step-by-step process.

Argumentative or persuasive text also mixes different text structures. The most common text structures found in argumentative text are description, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and problem-solution. Argumentative text usually follows this pattern:

  • Claim: the main point of the argument — the statement that the author is trying to prove.
  • Reasons: the supporting statements that the author uses to prove their claim.
  • Evidence: the data or information that the author uses to support their reasons.
  • Counterclaims: the opposing arguments that the author addresses.
  • Rebuttals: the responses that the author provides to the counterclaims.


The description text structure describes or explains a topic, idea, person, place, or thing to give the reader a mental picture.

Examples: A book about animals describes the different kinds of whales and their habitats or the life cycle of frogs. A book about deserts describes the unique flora and fauna of that ecosystem. 

Photographs of frogs in children's science book

Cover and page spread from Frogs (opens in a new window) by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins).

Signal words, phrases, and questions

CharacteristicLocationAppearanceSignal Questions
for examplein front oflooks likeWhat (things, people, events, components or steps) are described? 
for instancebesideseemsWhat does it look like?   
such asnearappearsWhat does it do?  
is likenext togives the appearance ofHow does it work?
includingon top of  
to illustratebelow  

Download description template

Cause and effect

The cause and effect text structure tells why something happened (cause) and what happened (effect).

Examples: A book about weather shows how specific weather patterns can cause extreme weather such as a blizzard or a hurricane. A book about volcanoes describes how eruptions occur when an opening develops in the Earth’s crust and the molten (magma) is forced through the crack.

Cover and illustrated pages from children's book about volcanoes

Cover and pages from Volcanoes (opens in a new window) by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House)

Signal words, phrases, and questions

Signal Words or PhrasesSignal Questions
becauseWhat happened?
as a resultWhat caused it to happen?
thereforeWhy did it happen? 
for this reason 
due to 

Download cause and effect template

Compare and contrast

The compare and contrast text structure examines the similarities and differences between two or more people, events, concepts, and ideas.

Examples: A book about ancient Greece explains how the Spartan women were different from the Athenian women. A book about moths and butterflies describes how they are similar and how they are different.

Images of butterflies and moths from children's book

Cover and pages from Butterflies and Moths (opens in a new window) by Nic Bishop (Scholastic)

Signal words, phrases, and questions

CompareContrastSignal Questions
likedifferWhat is being compared?
alikebutHow are they the same?
bothin contrast toHow are they different? 
similaron the other hand 
just like  
just as  

Download compare and contrast template


The chronology/sequence text structure describes items or events in order, or explains the steps to follow.

Examples: A book about the American revolution lists the events leading to the war. A book about bees explains how bees make honey. 

cover and illustrated pages from children's book about the American Revolution

Cover and pages from Liberty! How the Revolutionary War Began (opens in a new window) by Lucille Recht Penner (Random House)

Signal words, phrases, and questions

Signal Words or PhrasesSignal Questions
first, second, third, etc.What happened first, next, last?   
nextWhat order or sequence did the author tell you about the people, events, or steps? 
thenDo they have to happen in this order?  

Download sequence template

Problem and solution

The cproblem and solution text structure sets up a problem or problems, explains the solution, and then discusses the effects of the solution. 

Example: A book about climate change explains what causes it and what we can do to reverse the dangers.

Cover and page spread from children's book on climate action

Cover and page spread from What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet (opens in a new window) by Jess French (DK Publishing).

Signal words, phrases, and questions

Signal Words or PhrasesQuestions and AnswersSignal Questions
problem iswhoWhat is the problem here? 
dilemma iswhatWhy is this a problem? 
solution iswhyDoes the author describe a solution? 
one solution iswhereIs anything being done to try to solve the problem? 
another solution iswhenWhat are some possible solution/s
to solve the problemhow 
in order to solve the problemwhich 
 do you know 

Problem and Solution template

Download all templates

Download the complete set of text structure templates to help students learn how to write using different patterns of organization.

Basic steps in teaching text structure

Before reading

  1. Choose the assigned reading and introduce the text to the students. 
  2. Introduce the idea that texts have organizational patters called text structures.
  3. Introduce the following common text structures (see the chart below for more detailed information)

During and after reading

  1. Show examples of paragraphs that correspond to each text structure.
  2. Examine topic sentences and other text signals that clue the reader to a specific structure. 
  3. Model the writing of a paragraph that uses a specific text structure.
  4. Have students try write paragraphs that follow a specific text structure. 
  5. Have students diagram these structures using a graphic organizer. 

Additional tips for understanding text structure

  • Pay attention to the title and headings. These often give clues about the text structure.
  • Think about the purpose of the text. What is the author trying to communicate?
  • Ask yourself questions. What are the main points of the text? How are the ideas connected?

Researchers Kausalai (Kay) Wijekumar and Andrea L. Beerwinkle have developed and tested a powerful, effective text structure strategy. Their method begins with the comparison text structure, followed by cause and effect and problem and solution. Sequence and description are left to the end and not taught in as much detail because students are more familiar with these structures. Learn more: Implementing the Text Structure Strategy in Your Classroom

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