Understanding Text Structures
If you want to travel to the deep ocean, you need a submersible structure to carry you safely beneath the waves. Submarines are designed with this purpose in mind.
When you write, you create structures to carry your ideas to readers. By organizing your writing according to your purpose, you make your ideas accessible to others. This chapter shows some of the text structures you can use.
Common Text Structures
There is not one “official” list of text structures. There are, however, a few that are very common. Here are the ones used most often.
Sequence: Chronological Order 🟪 The chronological structure is organized from one point in time to another. (Use a time line.)
For Christmas, I got a unicycle. Since it was wintertime, I had to learn to ride it in my basement. I started by having my brother hold onto me as I pedaled. Then I realized I could grab onto an overhead I-beam and hold up much of my weight. Over time, I gained balance. By the end of two weeks, I was able to ride short distances without losing control. Within a month, I could ride around the whole basement. That’s all I could do for a while because it was still February!
Cue/Signal Words: not long after, first, then, next, finally, following, during, at last, until, since, when, after, before, as, now, yesterday, tomorrow, Friday, at noon
Sequence: Process 🟪 The process structure is organized in a step-by-step sequence.
It’s easy to crack an egg. First, you pick it up in one hand. Next, you bring it down rapidly on the edge of the pan—not enough to smash it. Just crack it. You might have to tap it more than once. Finally, you hold the egg over the pan and open the two sides as if you were opening a book.
Cue/Signal Words: before, after, next, when, as, until, first, following, then, at the same time, finally, during, at last
Cause and Effect 🟪 In this text structure, the reason something happens is the cause. What happens as a result is the effect. (Use a cause-effect chart.)
Did you know that cyclones above the equator spin counter-clockwise, and those below it spin clockwise? That’s because of the Coriolis effect. Above the equator, winds get deflected to the right because the earth rotates east. So when winds move toward the eye of a hurricane, on all sides they go to the right, or counter-clockwise. South of the equator, the deflection is opposite, and so is the spin.
Cue/Signal Words: because, since, therefore, consequently, as a result, so that, accordingly, if . . . then, one reason for, for this reason
Problem/Solution 🟪 This text structure presents a problem and shows how it can be (or has been) solved.
What would happen if a wildfire burned all the species of one plant away? Or what if an asteroid wiped out a large section of wilderness? Scientists realized that they needed to gather and store seeds so that we could replant after such a catastrophe. They created the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on a remote Norwegian island. There they safely store seeds.
Cue/Signal Words: problem, solution, effect, because, therefore, for this reason, consequently
Compare/Contrast 🟪 In this text structure, two ideas, events, or things are compared by showing how they are alike and different. (Use a Venn diagram.)
The United States and Mexico are two nations divided by their tacos. In the United States, tacos most often have ground beef, cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, and tomato, in a flour tortilla or a corn hard shell. In Mexico, tacos most often include steak or chicken, crumbly bits of white cheese, onion, and cilantro—all wrapped in two soft corn tortillas. Despite the differences, both types of tacos taste delicious!
Cue/Signal Words: compare, contrast, like, unlike, both, as well as, yet, in contrast, too, whereas, likewise, on the other hand, not only . . . but also, either . . . or
Question/Answer 🟪 In this text structure, a question (or a series of questions) is answered.
Question: What is the world’s oldest tree?
Answer: A bristlecone pine tree in northern California has lived for 4,853 years. The tree known as Methuselah was around when the Egyptians started building the Pyramids of Giza!
Question: What is the world’s tallest tree?
Answer: The world’s tallest tree is Hyperion, a Redwood that stands 380 feet tall. It is in Redwood National Park in California. . . .
Cue/Signal Words: question, answer, could be that, one may conclude, consider, perhaps, the best estimate, who, what, when, where, why, how, how many
Description 🟪 In a description, language is used to provide details and help readers form images so that they can understand how something looks, feels, sounds, tastes, or smells. (Use a sensory chart.)
The forest murmured with wind through sun-dappled leaves. The sweet scent of pine filled the air. Birds wove a complicated song all around, punctuated by the taps of a woodpecker. A nearby creek gurgled. Its ice-cold water felt good on my hot neck. . . .
Cue/Signal Words: for example, to illustrate, such as, to begin with, above, around, beside, atop, beneath
Categorical 🟪 In this text structure, ideas are arranged according to categories or types within a larger topic. (Use a line diagram.)
There are many types of flatbread. Mexico gave us the very flat tortilla and the puffier gordita. Indigenous people gave use Native American frybread. Matzah comes from the Eastern Mediterranean, as do pitas. Naan bread comes from India. Irish folk eat farl, Scots eat bannock, and Norwegians eat lefse. And all over the world, you can find crackers of different shapes and sizes. . . .
Cue/Signal Words: category, types, an example of, many kinds of, parts, groups, characteristics