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Structure & Organization in Nonfiction Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students to effectively read nonfiction is important but can pose particular challenges. This lesson will give you some ideas about how to use structure and organization to assist students who are learning how to read nonfiction.

Why Teach Nonfiction Reading?

Mr. Brenner is a fourth grade classroom teacher who loves helping students along in their reading. Over the last few years, Mr. Brenner has begun to see increasing importance in helping students learn to read nonfiction, or any texts that are true or real. He believes that nonfiction is important because it involves reading in order to learn more about the world. Mr. Brenner has come to understand that comprehension in nonfiction is not necessarily the same as comprehension in fiction, so he has to explicitly instruct his students in strategies that help them make sense of nonfiction texts. Mr. Brenner has found that the structure, or logical and organizational composition, of a nonfiction text is an important aspect of a student's ability to understand the text. He focuses on determining strategies for helping students use organization and structure to get as much as they can out of reading nonfiction.

The Importance of Text Features

Mr. Brenner has found that teaching students about text features, or unique organizational aspects of a nonfiction article or book, helps them navigate these texts more successfully. Text features can go a long way toward acquainting students with the structure of nonfiction texts, the unique ways these texts might be read, and the resources available for helping with any comprehension challenges that may arise. Mr. Brenner realizes that teachers might take students' knowledge of text features for granted, when in fact each feature can require a full lesson or series of lessons to help students get properly acquainted. He takes time to teach students to navigate features like:

  • table of contents

Students can learn to find the information they are looking for, and whether it is important to read the book linearly from start to finish.

  • picture captions

Students understand what is happening in images and why they are relevant to understanding the text.

  • maps, charts, and graphs

Students learn why these images are present in the text and exactly how they support or enhance comprehension.

  • index

Students can learn to find exactly what they are looking for, or whether a book has the specific information they need.

  • glossary

Students might learn to find definitions to unknown content vocabulary without going to a separate dictionary.

  • bibliography

Students can learn to evaluate sources or find further information on a topic.

Each one of these features can help students understand how they are meant to approach the text at hand, where they might look if they need a definition or further information, and what exactly the author hopes they will get out of the text.

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