Reading Strategies for Expository Texts

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Reading informational text and understanding the main ideas can be tricky. Teaching students key strategies and concepts helps them build the right set of skills. This lesson defines expository texts, outlines their components, and offers some teaching tips.

Expository Texts Explained

Most of us learn to read using story books with a predictable, narrative piece of fiction that is meant to entertain us. Because of the emphasis on reading fiction, many students progress through the grades unaware of how to read and understand nonfiction. That can be a real problem. Students need to learn strategies for reading expository texts, which are used increasingly beyond the primary grades as well as in everyday life.

Expository texts are used to teach. They come in many forms--textbooks, magazines, newspapers, essays, and so on. In education we mostly see expository texts in the form of textbooks, shorter stand-alone books, or articles. Expository texts, also known as 'informational texts', were once primarily used in classrooms to specifically teach a content area. When students were in science class they read about scientific concepts so they could learn about things like space or animals.

Now the emphasis has shifted to a more rounded approach. Students read science textbooks or other expository information in order to both learn about the concept, like space, and also to strengthen their reading skills. Teachers are called on to intertwine instruction on reading strategies with concept-specific instruction. How does this work? Let's break it down a bit more.

Structures of Expository Text

Think of when you last read a piece of informational text. Maybe you read the newspaper this morning to catch up on baseball analysis or stats, or perhaps you read the latest gossip about your favorite movie star. Maybe you even got your intellectual groove on and read an article about global warming. All of these are examples of nonfiction writing, but your approach to reading, understanding, and remembering all of them was probably different. Each of these expository texts has different structural elements that contributes to how a reader makes sense of the information.

Focusing instruction on expository text structures is one way to increase comprehension and understanding of reading. You may be familiar with narrative text structures, things like characters, setting, plot, and theme. Expository text also has a set of structures:

  • Some expository texts describe and outline the topic up front. Giving a little background information and explaining key components sets the idea up and gets the reader ready to learn. Teaching students that they'll usually encounter a description at the beginning of expository writing will help them look for and recognize this text structure and use it to get ready for more information.
  • Authors of expository text relay information in a specific sequence such as a chronological review of a baseball season. The sequence depends on the information. When presenting baseball stats, the sequence may be in numerical order. If reporting on global warming, it may be in order of importance. Reading expository text and noticing the sequence helps readers make sense of information.
  • Finally, the author will use one or more sets of structures known as constructs. They may be comparing and contrasting information, such as two celebrity weddings; giving a cause/effect relationship, like carbon emissions and global warming; or presenting a problem/solution, as we often see in baseball analysis such as when a team is losing games in the late innings and an analyst suggests trading players to strengthen the bullpen. When students know to look for constructs within the text they will recognize them and read the information contained more deeply, resulting in better comprehension.

Features of Expository Text

Expository text also has a set of features teachers can use to increase comprehension. Teaching students to be aware of these features and how to read and use them will make students better readers of informational text.

Writers use text features to draw a reader's attention to a certain area, make a specific piece of information stand out, or give more information about a topic. Teachers highlight text features to help students navigate their way within a piece of writing, increase their awareness of the commonalities of nonfiction text, and provide a method of making sense of information. These features are:

Textual Features

Features that relate to the text are in the category of textual features. That's right. Teachers try to make things simple! These features include the table of contents, title pages, titles of chapters, glossary, indexes, headings, subheadings, and so on.

Graphic Features

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