Identify text structure and gather information; Describe the structure of a text (Inclusive Big Idea #5)

What are students learning?

Reading Informational Text

Grade 4: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #5: Identify text structure and gather information; Describe the structure of a text

Standard: Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text. RI.4.5

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Informational Data Charts: Have a text structure conversation with students. Find a book that represents each of the five different informational text structures. Then, with the students, fill out a data chart to see the types of signal words that are used with each type of text.
    • Description Signal Words:
      • Like
      • Similar
    • Chronology Signal Words:
      • First
      • Next
      • Second
      • Third
      • Before
      • After
      • When
    • Problem/ Solution Signal Words:
      • One problem
      • A way to solve this
      • Problem
      • Solution
      • Dilemma
      • Puzzling
    • Compare/ Contrast Signal Words:
      • On one hand
      • On the other hand
      • Similar
      • Different
      • But
      • However
    • Cause/ Effect Signal Words:
      • Because
      • If, Only
      • Since
      • Because
      • Made
      • For this reason
  • Graphic Organizers: Read aloud a variety of informational texts that represent different text structures (compare/contrast, description, cause/effect, problem/solution, chronology). As you read the various texts, ask students to fill out a corresponding graphic organizer so they recognize the differences in text structures. Providing an option to use graphic organizers with sentence starters may help students to record their ideas as they listen to the verbal conversations. See this TIP Sheet for more information on graphic organizers.
    • Venn Diagrams: To get students to understand the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information, use a compare/contrast text structure. Brainstorm (individually, in a small group, or with the whole class) how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different. Start by modeling this with an engaging example. Provide multiple options for students to record ideas into the Venn Diagrams, such as words, images, or other media. Venn Diagrams can be paper-based or digital.
    • Time Lines: Individually, in pairs, or with the whole class, students can craft a timeline to record important events in history or important milestones in a well-known person’s life. Timelines can be digital or paper-based. A template can help students know how to get started. Students can create multiple timelines of the same historical period to compare the influence of one thing on something else (e.g., a timeline of important events of the Civil Rights movement and a timeline of the historical Civil Rights legislature that was passed as a result).
    • Flowchart: Ask students to plot the relationship between ideas in a flowchart. Students can record effects and their relevant causes as well as map a problem and subsequent solution within a flowchart. Start by modeling the process with a well-known topic, then allow students to complete their own flowcharts independently or with a partner.
    • Bubble Map: When determining the main idea and relevant details in a passage, a bubble map can help students prioritize information from a text and present it in a visual way to help clarify the relationship between ideas. After reading a passage, ask students to determine what they think the text is about and place that idea in the center of the bubble map. Then have students (individually, in small groups, or as a whole class) brainstorm the supporting details and place those around the main idea. Students may need support in determining which details from the text are meaningful, so have a discussion about how to determine what information is most important to their understanding of a text.
  • Sort to Understand: Create five different book bins and label them with the different text structures. After reading several different types of informational texts, ask students to sort the texts into the corresponding bins. Provide sentences or sets of sentences with signal words that indicate a specific text structure (e.g., Before the 1900s, The 20th century, and The future are headings that indicate a chronological text structure. “Today, only the deepest parts of the ocean are unexplored. But in the 1800s, much of the land west of the Mississippi, all the way to the Pacific Ocean was unexplored” indicates a compare/contrast text structure).
  • Think, Pair, Share: Place a brief informational piece with a clear structure and signal words on the overhead or interactive whiteboard. As you read aloud, highlight the signal words. Ask students, “What structure does the author use in this text?” Provide time for students to think about the structure and refer them to a graphic organizer. Pair students and have them discuss their thoughts about the structure. Student pairs then share their ideas about structure with the whole class. As students report out, place pieces of information in a graphic organizer where appropriate to show structure. See this TIP Sheet for more information on Think, Pair, Share. Students may use these questions to help determine the text structure:
    • Cause and Effect: What happened? What was the cause?
    • Chronology: What is the time span from the first event to the last? Does the author use signal words to transition from one event to the next?
    • Compare and Contrast: What is being compared? Does the author point to similarities and differences?
    • Problem and Solution: What was the problem? What was the solution? Was the problem solved?
  • Model to Understand: Model how to use text features and text structures using the “Think Aloud” strategy. Provide a graphic organizer or a way for students to capture their ideas. Providing an option to use graphic organizers with sentence starters may help students to record their ideas as they listen to the verbal conversation.
    • Example: “The title tells me I’m going to read about a tower that might fall. Certain words are bold-faced--these are important, so I’ll try to remember them. There is a photograph and a diagram-- I can use these to get a clear picture in my mind of what I’m reading.”

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that a student needs to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • be aware of how much sensory input occurs at once, perhaps offer the option to use headphones
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • allow use of spell checks and other tools 

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • The Big Idea: Identify text structure and gather information; Describe the structure of a text
  • Tell me more about… Text Structures
    • Text Features (External Text Structures): These text structures physically organize and signal information in a text, such as headings, illustrations, bold or highlighted terms, and notes. These call attention to essential information within a text. External text structures help readers identify key ideas and details within a text. This supports comprehension by alerting students to the most relevant information and helping them locate information in a text.
    • Internal Text Structure: These text structures refer to the ways in which information within a text is organized to convey the content. Some texts are organized using more than one text structure. Text structures offer important clues that organize the text in predictable and understandable ways.
    • Description: The author explains a topic, idea, person, place, or thing by listing characteristics, features, and examples. Focus is on one thing and its components. Look for the topic word (or synonym) to be repeated throughout the text.
      • Example: Many things must be taken care of to get ready to go back to school. For example, one thing to do is prepare your classroom. Another is to organize your materials. The most important thing to do to be ready to go back to school is to plan engaging lessons for students.
      • Signal words include: for example; characteristics are; such as; looks like; consists of; for instance; most important
      • Description Question Stems:
        • What specific person, place, thing, event, or concept is being described?
        • How is the topic described? (How does it work? What does it do? What does it look like?)
        • What are the most important attributes or characteristics?
        • How can the topic be classified? (For example, a robin can be classified as a type of bird.)
      • Paragraph Frame
        • A _______ is a type of ______. It is made up of _____ and looks like _____. Some _____ have _____ such as _____. For example, _____. _____ has several characteristics. One characteristic is _____. Another is _____, which is important because _____.
    • Chronology: Also known as sequence. The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. Describes the order of events or how to do or make something.
      • May present a timeline, a cycle, or steps/directions
      • Signal words include: first, second, third; next; then; after; before; prior to; not long after; while; meanwhile; simultaneously; at the same time; following; finally; at last; in the end; on (date); at (time); directions
      • Sequence Question Stems
        • What sequence of events is being described?
        • What are the major events or incidents that occur?
        • What are the steps, directions, or procedures to follow? (What must be done first, second, etc.?)
        • What is the beginning event?
        • What other events or steps are included?
        • What is the final outcome, event, or step?
      • Paragraph Frame
        • Here is how a _____ is made. First, _____. Next, _____. Then, _____. Finally, _____. On (date), _____ happened. Prior to that _____ was _____. Then _____. After that _____. In the end, _____.
    • Compare/Contrast: The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different.
      • Signal words include: differs from; similar to; in contrast; alike; same as; as well as; on the other hand; both; either, or; not only, but also; yet; although; but; however; on the other hand. Also look for “-est” words: best, fewest, tallest, etc.
      • Compare/Contrast Question Stems
        • What items are being compared?
        • What is it about them that is being compared?
        • What characteristics of items form the basis of the comparison?
        • What characteristics do they have in common; how are these items alike?
        • In what ways are these items different?
      • Paragraph Frame:
        • _____ and _____ are alike in several ways. Both _____ and _____ have similar _____. Both also _____ as well as _____. On the other hand, one way they differ is _____. Another difference is _____. Although they share _____, only _____ is the _____-est.
    • Cause and Effect: The author lists one or more causes or events and the resulting consequences or effects. Effect = What happened? Cause = What made it happen? The purpose is to explain why or how something happened, exists, or works. Often there will be an “if/then” pattern.
      • Signal words include: reasons why; reasons for; if...then; as a result of; therefore; because of; so; since; in order to; leads or leads to; effects of; caused by; result; outcome; impact; influenced by; brought about by
      • Cause and Effect Question Stems
        • What happened?
        • Why did it happen? What was the reason for…?
        • What was the effect(s) of the event? What happened as a result of…?
        • What were the results or outcomes caused by the event?
        • In what ways did prior event(s) cause or influence the main event?
        • Will this result always happen from these causes?
      • Paragraph Frame:
        • The reason why _____ happened was because of _____. If _____ hadn’t happened, then _____. Due to _____ occurring, _____. This explains why _____. The cause of _____ is not easy to define. Some people think the cause is _____. Others believe the main cause is _____. Understanding the cause of _____ is important because _____. The effects of _____ are significant because _____. One effect of _____ is _____. Another result is _____. Because of these outcomes, it is important that _____.
    • Problem/Solution: The author states a problem and lists one or more possible solutions to the problem. May also include the pros and cons of the solutions.
      • Signal words include: the problem is…; the dilemma is…; the puzzle is…; solved; question; answer; because; since; this led to; the main difficulty; one possible solution is…; one challenge…; therefore; this led to, so that; if...then, thus
      • Problem and Solution Question Stems
        • What is the problem?
        • Who had the problem?
        • What is causing the problem?
        • Why is this a problem?
        • What is wrong and how can it be taken care of?
        • What solutions are recommended or attempted?
        • What can be improved, changed, fixed, or remedied?
        • What are the pros and cons of the solutions offered?
      • Paragraph Frame
        • _____ had/is a problem because _____. One possible solution is _____. This answer is good because _____. Therefore, _____. As a result, _____. The problem of _____really boils down to the issue of _____. In the past, the common solution was to _____. However, this was only effective in terms of _____. There are now other solutions that might work. One option would be to _____.


Looking for more suggestions? Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Text Structures: Text structure is often part of reading instruction that teachers presume their students will inherently learn. Believing the students will come to understand and identify text structure through exposure alone to informational text is a misconception. Explicit text structure instruction and activities can be incorporated into teaching literacy and substantially help students with organizing their thoughts and increasing their comprehension. It is also important that students learn when and how to choose appropriate flow charts and organizers to match the text structure they are currently reading.
  • Writing: Students can start to develop their own writing and creation of different kinds of texts because they know the key features of each.

Everyday Connections

  • In the News: Apply an understanding of text structure, especially cause/effect or problem/solution to current events articles. Discuss the issues. Generalize issues to local issues or aspects of daily life.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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