Explain text structure, including the difference between fiction and nonfiction (Inclusive Big Idea #5)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 1: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #5: Explain text structure, including the difference between fiction and nonfiction

Standard: Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types. RL.1.5

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?

  • Anchor Text: Use an anchor text, such as Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osbourne and an article about a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Ask students to explain the purpose of each type of text and describe the type of information each presents. Learn more about accessing grade-level text in this TIP Sheet.
  • Explicit Teaching: Introduce students to the terminology associated with narrative text (fiction, genre) and expository text (non-fiction, facts, evidence). Provide mentor texts so students can see examples of each.
  • Genre Study: To create a deeper understanding of the difference among the structures used in a story, the structures used in a poem, and the structures used in a play, conduct a genre study with the children noticing the various differences between the text types. As you read, watch videos, or listen to stories from each genre, record what students notice on a chart. The charts can be kept as a whole class, smaller group, and/or for individual students. Keep adding to the chart as students continue to notice new things.
  • Genre Sort: After reading or listening to several stories, poems, and plays, create a genre sort for the students that has multiple features of texts (e.g., characters, setting, plot, scenes, acts, rhymes, stanzas) written on sort cards. Include images and/or digital versions of the text, where possible. Next, create three categories: stories, poems, plays. Include examples students will be familiar with or ask them to share examples from their own reading. Ask students to sort the cards into the three categories to show their understanding of the differences among the genres. 
  • Grand Conversations: To delve deeper into the text structures authors use when they write stories, poems, comics, and plays, have a conversation with a small group or whole class of students. Questions may include: 
    • What makes stories and articles different?
    • How are stories and articles similar?
  • Think Aloud: To model your knowledge about genres, talk aloud as you read various stories and articles. As you read a story, you may say, “Oh, this text presents real information so it must be a nonfiction article. Stories are usually made up.”

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: 

  • use task analysis 
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • use multi-sensory options for representation and expression 

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.

  • Why are Text Structures Important?
    • Whether reading a story book, an article, a poem, or a comic strip, understanding how the text is organized is a lifelong-skill readers use to enhance their comprehension. The various ways texts are organized are known as text structures. To develop readers who understand what they are reading, it is essential to help them familiarize themselves with the different ways authors organize their ideas in their writing. Students can use text features to better comprehend a text.
  • What are Text Structures?
    • When readers interact with the text to create meaning, it is helpful to have an awareness of the organizational structure of what is being read. For instance, students learn to be aware of cues that alert them to specific text structures such as main ideas and details, a cause and its effects, and/or different points of view. Teaching students to recognize common text structures can help them focus their attention on key concepts and relationships, anticipate the content of what they will read, and monitor their comprehension. Additionally, when students are aware of the text structures, they connect information with their prior knowledge, increase their reading speed, and retain information better. Finally, students who develop an understanding of text structure are more likely to apply their knowledge to their own writing. 
    • 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.
    • External Text Structures: These text structures physically organize and signal information in a text, such as headings, illustrations, bold or highlighted term, 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.
  • What are Some Types of Narrative Structures?
    • Prose:
      • chapter- a section of a book usually containing a main event or idea for the story
    • Poetry:
      • verse- a line of writing where words are arranged in a rhythmic pattern
      • rhythm- a flow of rising and falling sounds in language that is produced in verse by a regular repeating of stressed and unstressed syllables
      • meter- a systematic rhythm in poetry that is usually repeated
      • stanza- a division of a poem consisting of a series of lines arranged together in usually repeating patterns 
    • Drama:
      • scene- where the action is occurring
      • cast of characters- people in the play
      • setting- place where the story happens
      • dialogue- conversation between two or more people
      • stage directions- provide actors with information about where to stand, how to move, or how to react 
  • What are Some Types of Expository Structures?
    • 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
      • 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 plan engaging lessons for students. 
      • Signal words include: for example; characteristics are; such as; looks like; consists of; for instance; most important 
      • *Look for the topic word (or synonym) to be repeated throughout the text. 
      • 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.)
    • Sequence: The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. Sequence 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?
    • 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?
    • Cause and Effect: The author lists one or more causes or events and the resulting consequences or effects. 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?
    • Problem and Solution: The author states a problem and lists one or more possible solutions to the problem. May also include pros and cons for the solutions. 
      • Signal words include: problem is…; dilemma is…; 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?


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

Go beyond the specific standard! These examples can spark ideas to generalize related skills from the content to real-world experiences for all students.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Text Features: Not every text will have the same text features. It is important to recognize that some texts will offer more support and organization through text features such as headings, highlighted text, etc. while other texts of the same type may offer fewer supports. When determining text type, it is important to evaluate multiple characteristics.
  • Text Structures:  Students sometimes disregard text structure while reading, but an understanding of text structure helps students organize new information and leads to deeper comprehension of content. 
  • Writing: Students can start to develop their own writing and creation of different kinds of texts because they know the key features of each. 

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?

First Grade: Use text features to find information (RI 5)

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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