Text Features or Text Structure?

Literary elements are the “skeleton” of fictional text.  These literary elements give fiction structure but what about non-fiction?skeleton-6  Non-fiction is “held up” by the text features and signal words which help to determine the “skeleton” or structure of the text.  An author creates a text structure by designing or writing the text by using common text features to “build” the main ideas.  8cxanm5cpThe signal words are embedded to let the reader know what ideas are important and to better understand them.  The main structure types of non-fiction are:

  • Cause and effect: describe cause and effect relationships.  The text describes events and identifies reasons (causes) for why the event happened.
  • Description: text that visualizes information which utilizes sensory and descriptive details that provides the 5W’s about a topic.
  • Sequential: chronologically organized from beginning to end
  • Compare and Contrast: comparisons used to describe an idea and similarities and differences are shared
  • Problem and Solution: author introduces a problem and presents solutions

Text features must be explicitly taught to help students navigate through informational and non-fiction text.  These features help readers “see” how the author crafted the article or selection. The use of subheadings, columns, graphics, and other features help the reader determine what is important.

Educators spend a great deal of time teaching text features because we want them to navigate the text effectively.  This intentional instruction is important—right?  The answer to this is “YES” but that is simply not enough for a young reader to fully navigate the text. They must be taught the different text structure types, text features that accompany each structure and the signal words that the author uses to organize a selection.  Together these elements are used to create a text and help a reader find and understand the main points of the selection.  Explicitly teaching signal words helps students determine how the author organized or structured the information for the reader to understand.  Signal words are the author’s way of helping  the reader see and understand the main points.  Signal words help suggest and show the reader how the author has structured their writing to help you better understand the text.

Click this site to see important signal words to focus on:  http://ptgmedia.pearsoncmg.com/images/9780205521067/downloads/SignalWords.pdf

What Questions Do Text Features and Signal Words Help a Reader Determine?

  1. How do I navigate a text?
  2. What main ideas and details does the author feel are important?
  3. What type of TEXT STRUCTURE does the non-fiction selection have? (The text features and signal words guide this!)

In conjunction with text features, an author uses signal words to help a reader determine the structure that was used to create the text. Please click this link to see a chart which shows the text structure types and signal words:  http://www.syracusecityschools.com/tfiles/folder836/3.11%20Text%20structure%20signal%20words.pdf

I have created a guide for students to use to determine the text structure of a text.  This is a step by step process and requires students to interact with the text and self question.  They must determine what they see and how it is organized using text features and signal words. Understanding the structure helps students to apply the correct type of note taking, look out for main ideas and to make sense of what the author finds important.

Click here for the guide:  analyzing-text-structure

What can you do to teach text structure explicitly?

  • Teach text structures using examples of texts and discuss how it has been organized.
  • Take text features out of a text and allow students to figure out where the features should go and why.
  • Discuss main idea sentences and key words that show a certain text structure.
  • Model how to preview a text and to collect information from the text prior to reading and information they can gain while reading in the form of annotation.
  • To solidify learning have students write using that specific text structure to ensure they understand how this type of text is crafted.

Check out resources below from FCRR which can help you gain more ideas about text analysis for students.  Student understanding of how something is written helps to aid their comprehension. We know that teaching by genre can help a student better understand fictional text by knowing what elements they are looking for as they read. Once a student knows they are reading a fairytale, they know that magic will be an element and contain a heroic event.  If the child is reading a tall tale, they will understand that hyperbole is an element which aids in the understanding that the story may not make sense at times but is meant in a humorous manner. Non-fiction and informational text takes many forms as well and deserves the explicit instruction that we provide when we teach literature.

Start noticing as you read non-fiction text what text structure the author has utilized.   Notice how you read differently if you know it is organized sequentially rather than in problem solution format. How does it change what you are looking for as you read? Do you take notes differently? When you notice how you read differently—you will see the importance of showing your students.


Florida Center for Reading Research Text Structure Resources:

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 4-5)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 4-5)

Deeper Into Fiction Text Structure

As a new school year begins, fiction is the first reading hurdle teachers begin to tackle. Last year, in three posts about fiction text structure, I shared the following:  skeleton-6Without YOUR skeleton your body would have no shape and would not function. We have to help students see how an author creates the text by writing it with a structure or literary elements.


big five

The basic elements that “hold fiction up” can be referred to as the Big 5.

It is not enough for students to simply tell you the character names, the setting, problem, etc. They must dig deeper to see how the author crafted the connection between all of these elements—that is where the depth or rigor comes in to the process. So, what does rigor look like with these elements…?

To begin, you must introduce literary elements by defining the term. An element is a “part or piece” of something and literary refers to literature a.k.a. fiction—so, literary elements are the pieces of a fictional story.  But taking it to the next step is crucial. These parts or pieces work together as one unit or structure so each piece depends on the other.  We need to make the connection to our students, even our youngest students, that these pieces work together to create a story.  These same pieces are used repetitively so once they see the pattern—they can make predictions and have better comprehension because they know what to expect.



Here is how I introduce story structure to students…notice how it looks like a mountain.  This is the analogy I use with students.

We must explicitly teach students as they are learning to read that text is predictable.  Each story or chapter that they read is much like a mountain in that the actions HAPPEN-PEAK- and then WIND DOWN to the conclusion. The characters and setting are introduced in the beginning (Exposition) to help the reader learn important background information needed for the story.  As the characters interact and the events begin to happen a problem occurs in the story.  The rising action and climax is the action trying to solve the problem (often involving the pattern of three).  The story begins to wind down by the problem being solved.  As text becomes more complex and there is more than one plot happening—the structure changes. But, by the time students are reading at this level—their comprehension is strong enough to learn about flashback/foreshadow and other literary devices.


Here are questions and tips for the literary elements you teach that will help you deepen thinking and help students make connections between the “pieces” to the whole.


It is important that students understand that characters are normally introduced in the beginning of a story. The author takes time to describe the character so the details are important to making predictions about the character’s purpose in the story. Really focus students on actions, dialogue, thoughts, feelings because it is the way the author has to “show you” inside a character.  You can equate this to a movie—an author has to tell you in words what you normally would observe. Show a movie trailer and ask the students to write down words to describe the character as they watch.  Make sure you ask them to substantiate their thinking with evidence from the movie.   Let them turn and talk after and brainstorm with a peer.  As a class discuss character traits and their evidence. Have students write phrases an author might use to describe the character to see the connection between an action and trait.  Be sure to ask students questions to help them look for connections between characters (relationships), motivations and inclinations which can lead them to making better inferences and conclusions.



  • What does the character look like? Do any of the physical traits make you judge the character different?
  • How does the character act? Do their actions make you like or dislike them? Why?
  • Are the characters similar or different? How? (Good vs. Evil?)
  • How does the character feel about ________________?
  • Is one character more important than another? Why? How do you know? (primary and supporting characters)
  • What is the mood of the character? What caused the mood? (significant event)
  • What character traits do they posses? What dialogue, actions, thoughts or feelings help you determine your opinion?
  • How would the character act in a different situation? How do you know?
  • How does the character feel about ____________? Why?  What can we infer from the character from this?
  • What is the mood of the character? What caused the mood? Did the mood change? How is the mood of ____________different from ____________________?  What can we infer about these characters?  Why did the author decide to make their feelings different?


Getting a quick answer for setting such as outside, inside, a forest, etc. is normal but really makes students dig to see that descriptions of the setting help to let you know if suspense is building or if a change in a character may be ready to happen.  Read sections of description and have students sketch what they think the author described. Have the students label their descriptions with key words from the text. This activity builds vocabulary, helps build connections and more importantly helps you to see if students are able to visualize as they read.



  • Are you surprised by the setting of the story or does it seem appropriate? Explain
  • Are the characters comfortable in this setting? Is one more comfortable than another? Why?
  • Is the setting described by the author? What details are given that are most vivid? Why?
  • Does the setting help the reader create a mood in their mind? If so, what mood? What words make you feel this way?
  • What word best describes the setting? Why? What was the most vivid adjective used by the author to describe the setting? Why?
  • Read an excerpt aloud. Have students sketch the setting or character. Have them label with details from the text.
  • Would the characters have to change if the setting was different? Explain


When Setting Changes

  • How did the characters change or react to the new setting?
  • What caused the new setting? (significant event)
  • Did the setting cause a mood change in a character? more than one character? different moods? Why?
  • How is the setting different? How will if affect the characters differently?


Events directly correlate with the character’s mood and actions.  When students notice a mood—have them tell you what event is happening because this is significant.  Stories have a main problem and students need to know that as they read more difficult text, they will encounter plots with several problems throughout the story.  Learning to note the problems, which they affect and if they are a primary or secondary problem is crucial for students to understand more complex text. Really examining events helps students understand why we learn cause and effect and how the pieces of a story begin to fit together. Out of sequence the story does not make sense.



  • What is the problem?
  • Who caused the problem? Why?
  • Is the event a problem for all characters? Explain why it might be different for different characters.
  • Why is this a problem for ________________ and not for _______________? What does this tell us about these characters?
  • How will the problem affect _____________________? Explain
  • Did the problem cause any other problems? Explain?
  • Is this a primary problem or secondary? How do you know?
  • Does the problem cause a character to change their mood or belief in something?


To solve a problem, an author will often go through a series of attempts (pattern of three).  Helping students see that these attempts are the author’s way of keeping you interested (suspense).  Solutions are normally found close to the end and are a sign that the story or chapter is wrapping up.



  • Was the problem completely solved?
  • Were all characters pleased with the solution? Explain why or why not.
  • Are there any effects from the solution?
  • Does the solution cause another problem? Explain
  • How does the solution affect each character?
  • Can you make a prediction about what will happen next?
  • How does the solution teach a lesson? Do all characters learn a lesson?


The Common Core Reading Standards are already in a scaffolding pattern as they are written.

The first 3 standards are classified as Key Ideas and Details because they are examining basic pieces or elements of a text.

  • RL.1 and RL.2 focus on general understanding of the text including the basic Who, What, When and Where questions. L.2 begins to have students see how pieces fit together to determine a theme or main idea.
  • RL.3 begins to examine a character. Looking deeper at text, illustrations and other characters to determine more about a character. (CHARACTERIZATION:  Direct and Indirect)


Standards 4-6 go deeper into the text and require rereading and close reading to examine text in a different way. These are classified as Craft and Structure because students are digging into the literary elements and looking for relationships.

  • RL.4 demands students to dig deeper into the text at words and phrases. What are the meanings? What do they tell us about a character, setting, mood or event?
  • RL.5 begins in K-2 as understanding the structure of fiction is different from non-fiction and basic sequence of events. As students gain understanding and move to more complex text, they are asked to examine how events fit together and how one section, event, or chapter may build on the next and work in an interrelated fashion.
  • RL.6 is the point of view standard which requires students to first distinguish their own opinion from the author and the story. Once they master this skill they can begin to see how multiple characters see ideas, events, and dialogue differently and how it affects events, characters and the problem/solution.


The final three standards are the most complex because they are the Integration of Knowledge and Ideas standards.  These require students to use multiple ideas together, find connections and make comparisons and contrasts.

  • RL.7 requires students to examine illustrations and how they contribute to the text. This moves into the tone and how the author’s phrases, word choices and descriptions can directly affect characterization, settings, events and plot development.
  • RL.8 is not applicable to fiction
  • RL.9 is the standard that has students compare and contrast. Not just comparing an entire story to story but looking at different elements and examining them across texts or excerpts.


As you begin planning this year, think about how you will use a text and move students from one standard to another within that text. It is by rereading and reexamining the text in different ways that you move students to the depth of the standard. Simply asking questions is not enough but moving students in a pattern that requires them to rethink, reread and formulate new ideas will lead to better comprehension of the text.  I challenge you to reread the same text for several days and continue to deepen the students understanding with a higher level of questioning.


Happy Fictional Text Planning!  Remember I am available if you need help!



Earlier Posts on Fiction Text Structure: 

Fiction Text Structure:  http://thiskelly.edublogs.org/2015/10/10/fiction-text/

Fiction Text Structure for K-2 Students:  http://thiskelly.edublogs.org/2015/10/16/fiction-text-structure-k-2-or-remediation-students/

3-5 Fiction Text Structure: http://thiskelly.edublogs.org/2015/10/17/3-5-fiction-text-structure/





Subscribe By Email

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar