Identifying the Organization in a Reading Selection

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  • 0:02 Informational Text…
  • 1:16 Identifying Signal Words
  • 3:09 Identifying Structure
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Nonfiction texts can be organized in a variety of ways. In this lesson, we'll discuss how to identify which organizational structure is being used in a reading selection.

Informational Text Organization

Nonfiction texts, such as news articles, scholarly journal articles, and readings from textbooks, are all considered expository texts. Expository texts are fact-based documents written to inform the reader. Authors of expository texts organize their ideas by using basic organizational structures. The five main organizational structures are:

  1. Description
  2. Sequence or chronology
  3. Compare/contrast
  4. Problem/solution
  5. Cause and effect

An author might consistently use one organizational structure, such as when writing an article about the causes and effects of air pollution, but authors can use different organizational structures within one informational text. For example, in that same air pollution article, the author might decide to transition to a compare/contrast structure for a paragraph or two in order to compare air pollution in different countries. Being able to identify the underlying structure of informational texts can help readers focus on key concepts and relationships between important concepts, predict what's to come, and be more aware of what they understand as they read.

Identifying Signal Words

In order to identify what type of organizational structure a reading selection has, we first need to know the signal words used for each type of organizational structure. That way, when we read an informational text, we will be able to recognize those words or phrases, which serve as clues, alerting the reader to what type of structure is being used.

When the description structure is used, the main topic is introduced, then attributes or specific details are included in the body paragraphs. The signal words used involve the senses: sights, sounds, tastes, and touch. For example, if we were to read an informational text about the annual migration of the monarch butterfly, it would probably use the description organizational structure, describing specific sights and sounds involved in the migratory pattern of these insects.

In the sequence or chronology structure, we want to look for signal words such as:

  • Before
  • First
  • Second
  • Third
  • Next
  • Then
  • Later
  • Finally

When the compare/contrast structure is used, signal words and phrases include:

  • Different
  • In contrast
  • Alike
  • Same as
  • On the other hand
  • Although
  • Both
  • Similarly
  • Likewise
  • However
  • But
  • In comparison
  • In the same way
  • Instead of

In the problem/solution structure, specific words or phrases to look for include:

  • The problem is
  • One way to resolve it
  • Difficulties
  • Solved
  • One solution is to

The cause/effect organizational structure typically uses words like:

  • For this reason
  • Thus
  • Since
  • As a result
  • Consequently
  • Due to
  • May be due to
  • This led to
  • Because of

Identifying the Organizational Structure Used

Let's practice identifying the organizational structure used in the following reading selections by looking for signal words that point to which type it is. Here is an excerpt from a National Geographic article:

'Smog hanging over cities is the most familiar and obvious form of air pollution. But there are different kinds of pollution - some visible, some invisible - that contribute to global warming. Generally, any substance that people introduce into the atmosphere that has damaging effects on living things and the environment is considered air pollution.'

The article goes on to include details such as 'other greenhouse gases include methane - which comes from such sources as swamps and gas emitted by livestock - and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants until they were banned because of their deteriorating effect on Earth's ozone layer.'

Hopefully, you were able to recognize phrases like 'that contribute to global warming,' which shows what is a cause, and the word 'effects.' Of course, had I told you beforehand that the title of the article is 'Air Pollution Comes from Many Sources' then you would have already realized that the cause/effect structure was going to be used. But, now you understand how to first identify the organization of the article through the signal words.

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