Teaching Nonfiction Text Structures with Mentor Texts

Teaching nonfiction text features just got easier with this post. It includes teaching tips with suggested readings, freebies, and more.

When I was a kid, I do not recall reading much nonfiction. In fact, I am not sure my teachers even taught me the difference between fiction and nonfiction, but since most of our students reading content is nonfiction, it's URGENT that you spend time teaching kids how to read it and here's how you might make those features stick.


One handout I've found very helpful is this nonfiction text structures anchor chart from Ms. Jordan Reads. I have mine put it in their interactive notebooks, and as we explore text structures with various articles and books, my kids refer to it for mapping out the big ideas.
{FREE} Non-Fiction Text Structures -- Student Reference Sheet


Now just why do we need to teach the five text structures? How does this help our students? Well, the answer is that it alerts our students to narrow the information to the big ideas. As we know, a child's thinking capacity is charged with lots of skills...decoding, fluency, and then, comprehension. If we scaffold their learning by showing them how to hone in on the important pieces, we free up thinking space for other work. Here are a few important points about teaching text structure.
1. Each structure is organized in a special way. You can use the thinking maps as a guide on how that organization looks.

2. Before you read, preview the text to see if you can pick up on what structure the piece may follow.

3. During reading, look for the evidence. If you find conflicting evidence, then refer back to your chart. You may have the wrong structure in mind.

4. As you read, look for signal words that are often used in conjunction with the structure.


As you are introducing the structure types, this Powerpoint by Emily Kissner might come in handy. I liked how she thoroughly explained each, so with my students, we've done one structure type per day before comparing/contrasting them. Emily has excellent resources in her store if you find your students struggling some.
Once you've introduced the text structures to your students and modeled with a few short articles, your students may be prepared to tackle more. As far as teaching strategies go, you might find Reciprocal Teaching or DR-TA (Directed Reading Thinking Activity) would work well. A lesson with Reciprocal Teaching might begin with making predictions about the article's text structure and main ideas, continue with questioning during the reading of the article, pausing to clarify any key observations, and summarizing the information at the end. These roles are transferred to the students for group (cooperative) learning with other example articles analyzed by the group. DR-TA is more of a predicting strategy. Readers are asked to preview and predict to selected spots in the text and then read to confirm thinking. The process is intended to help students use their observations to create new predictions and improve overall comprehension.

Regardless of which strategy you use for teaching the five structures, the information will certainly prove beneficial come test time in particular. Many states are increasing the amount of nonfiction texts since most all of our learning is done from nonfiction, and knowing how to map out text structure would be a very helpful skill in the content areas especially.

Book Ideas for Each Structure

Description: Describes something by listing its features, characteristics, or examples.

Book in this category are generally informational. They explain a topic such as tornadoes. I love the National Geographic Kids nonfiction books, and you can find many titles available now. They have wonderful photographs and are well planned out.
This book explains what life was like during the colonial time. It would include information about school, crafts, jobs, and government. Again, the focus is on describing the period.

Sequence: Describes events in order or tells the steps to follow in order to make or do something.

Biographies and autobiographies are written chronologically, and therefore in sequence. They work well for teaching how to create a timeline, and sequence boxes work well for mapping out the events from the book.

This fun "how to" book explains how to babysit grandparents. Any book explaining directions would be told in sequence and would work well for this structure too.

One other type of sequential books are life cycle books in science. Books that explain how plants grow or how animals develop.

Problem-Solution: Tells about or says why there is a problem then gives one or more possible solutions to fix the problem.

Germs Make Me Sick is a great choice for demonstrating a problem-solution framework. The problem is getting sick, and the solution is washing hands, coughing into your elbow, and washing things we touch often. Persuasive writing would tie in well with this great mentor text.

Who Eats What? talks about how food webs work and how problems with pollution can disrupt the food web.

Cause-Effect: Cause is why something happened. Effect is what happened.

Reading about a natural disaster such as a tsunami or tornado fits well with cause and effect. Students can see the results of the disaster and what caused it. Depending on the book, some sections may fit problem and solution too in the recovery after the disaster.

War books would be another cause and effect structure. This book about Sarah Edmonds would be an interesting addition to Civil War studies. She disguised herself as a man in order to fight. Hmmm...why? Well, because otherwise, she would have been excluded and because she was passionate about the *cause*.

Compare – Contrast: Shows how two or more things are alike or how they are different.

The final structure is compare and contrast, and of the five, this one is fairly easy for students to identify. For one, compare and contrast requires two topics. Two topics that popped up right away for me are Frogs/Toads and Crocodiles/Alligators. Alan Fowler is such a wonderful nonfiction writer. I have used many of the Rookie Readers through the years, and I love that he stays true to the level of reader with most vocabulary and includes so many nonfiction text features.

For crocodiles and alligators, I have used this one from Scholastic. In fact, I believe my set ended up being one of the discounted books a few years ago. This one is a level 3, so it's best for second grade and up.

I will end with one more. As I mentioned, I do love the National Geographic nonfiction books. This one compares earthquakes and volcanoes.

Well, I hope this got the ideas flowing for you. I know as I've been writing, the wheels have been turning in my head about teaching this next week. There are lots of nonfiction text structure freebies on Teachers Pay Teachers that I have used and found quite helpful. I will try to post again later in the week with some of the materials I've found helpful. If you have ideas or suggestions of great book titles, please share them. You can also check the other posts in Emily's linky. I know that's where I'm headed next.

Thanks for dropping by, and until next time, happy reading!

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Teaching nonfiction text features just got easier with this post. It includes teaching tips with suggested readings, freebies, and more.


  1. What a great post! I really appreciate the book choices & the chart - thanks :)

  2. Carla, such a nice comprehensive post with great information!
    Burke's Special Kids

  3. What a thorough post! You have listed so many wonderful nonfiction books in this post. I really like the National Geographic for Kids books for primary readers. Text structures are an huge discussion our teachers are having as we prepare for our state tests.

    1. Wendy-I am going to do a follow up to this post with materials I've used for teaching them. I collected some great freebies last year, but I need to make sure I provide credit for them if I share them, and that was going to take me a little while to look up, so check back. I know some of my materials were from Emily Kissner. You might look at what she has on TPTs.

  4. I love the book ideas for each structure! So helpful. I'll definitely check out Emily Kissner's website too. Thanks for linking up this week. I feel like I'm learning so much from each one of you. :)
    Emily, TRT/OG

  5. I will have to search for the materials again. I downloaded, but I think rather than sharing files, I need to link to them. She has quite a bit in her store on this topic too.

  6. WOW! I love all of the helpful tips, book choices, and printables you added to this post! What a great idea to add that chart into their interactive notebooks as a resource to use all year long. Thanks for all of the suggestions!

    Krista Mahan
    Teaching Momster

    1. You're welcome, Krista. It's funny...as I was working with my kids this morning on biographies, I wove in discussion about the text structure since I just did this post. I think I'll do a follow up to it with more printables I have soon.

  7. Love, love, love your book selections! I've used a few of these, but am looking forward to checking out the rest!

    Theresa @ True Life I'm a Teacher!


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