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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 from facts 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, Doug Buehl (2001) has created a series of questions to help guide students in identifying each specific structure. Finally, see the reproducible masters below for a set of graphic organizers that students and teachers may use to facilitate structure identification.

Text Structure Signal Words



If so, then



so that


as a result

not only, but


on the other hand

instead of

as well as

similar to

different from

compared to
for example

for instance


in addition

described as

to illustrate


first, second, third



so that


a solution



in addition

as result
for example


first, second, third





in conclusion

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.

Publication Date:

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