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Reading (and Scaffolding) Expository Texts

To help students comprehend expository text structures, teachers can acquaint them with the signal or cue words authors utilize in writing each of the structures and use the graphic organizers offered in this article

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Expository text differs greatly from narrative text in tone, style, structure, and features. First, expository texts purvey a tone of authority, since the authors possess authentic and accurate information on the subjects they write about (Fisher &Frey, 2008). Second, these texts follow a style that is distinctly different from that of narrative text. Expository text uses clear, focused language and moves fromfacts that are general to specific and abstract to concrete.

Another aspect of expository texts is that they utilize specific structures to present and explain information (Burke, 2000). And, it has long been known that the ability to recognize text structure enhances the student’s ability to comprehend and recall the information read (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag,1989).

The five most common structures utilized in informational text are cause-effect, comparison-contrast, definition-example, problem-solution, and proposition support or sequential listing. To help students recognize and identify these structures, teachers can acquaint them with the signal or cue words authors utilize in writing each of the structures (See below). In addition, DougBuehl (2001) has created a series of questions to help guide students in identifying each specific structure. Finally, see the graphic organizers below that students and teachers may use to facilitate structure identification.

Text Structure Signal Words

because  because 
consequentlyhoweverfor examplesincefor example
If so, thenbutfor instanceconsequentlytherefore
sinceon the other handspecificallyso thatfirst, second, third
thereforeinstead ofin additionneverthelessbefore
so thatas well asdescribed asa solutionafter
thussimilar toto illustratehoweverthen
as a resultdifferent fromanotherthereforefinally
not only, butcompared tofirst, second, thirdin additionin conclusion
   as a result 

A final aspect of informational text is its features or those items that an author uses to organize the text. Common text features include the following: (1) a table of contents, (2) a preface, (3) chapter introductions, (4) chapter headings and subheadings, (5) marginal notes or gloss, (6) chapter summaries, (7) maps, charts, graphs, and illustrations, (8) an index, and (9) a glossary. As noted above, content reading instruction is most effective when teachers scaffold their students’ learning (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). 

While presenting a structural overview as a scaffolding strategy is a good place to begin, Garber-Miller (2007) advises, "It is also beneficial to give students a content overview so they can ponder the many concepts and questions they will encounter throughout the year. Teachers must help them understand how the ideas in the textbook are interrelated" (p. 285). She suggests that teachers utilize text previews in order to accomplish this.

Scaffolding strategies for expository text

Readence, Bean, and Baldwin (2004) suggest a simple procedure to help students recognize, identify, and utilize text structure as a way to better comprehend and recall reading from expository text:

Steps to recognize expository text structure

1. First, model this strategy for students by working through an assigned text reading that illustrates a particular text structure and explaining why it is a certain type and how that type is organized. Make use of the text structure signal words provided above and use a graphic organizer from among those below that is illustrative of the type of text being explained.

2. Next, provide students with a practice session so they can utilize the signal words and graphic organizers for each text structure pattern. This second step allows you to gradually shift the responsibility of learning about text structures from yourself to the students.

3. Finally, when students have become proficient at identifying specific text structure patterns, they should produce examples of the various structures on their own.

In order to further reinforce students’ understanding of text structure, you can utilize the Structured Notetaking procedure (Smith & Tompkins, 1988) to develop study guides based on the text structure of assigned readings.

Steps for structured notetaking

1. Select a section of text and determine the organizational pattern used to convey information in the text. Common organizational patterns are discussed above.

2. Next, create a graphic organizer that follows this pattern, complete with focusing questions, and distribute it as a study guide. (Graphic organizer templates are offered below.)

3. Instruct students to read the chapter and take notes by recording the appropriate information in the graphic organizer sections.


Sejnost, R.L. & Thiese, S.M. (2010). Building Content Literacy (opens in a new window). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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