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  1. 1. NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 26, NUMBER 3, 2009-2010 EXPOSITORY TEXT STRUCTURE Gerald J. Calais McNeese State University ABSTRACTThe demands of the Information Age make it imperative that students currently enrolledin K-12 are equipped to effectively handle expository text materials if they are to becomeviable citizens in today’s highly competitive, global economic markets. Accordingly, thismanuscript focuses on research findings that converge on five of the most prevalenttypes of expository text structures that one encounters in today’s reading materials. Amatrix is employed that provides a description, signal words, and graphic organizersassociated with each text structure. General Strategies that teachers can use to enhancestudents’ abilities to identify text structure are also provided, as are conclusions. Expository Text Structure and ComprehensionA lthough text structure is typically divided into two categories of text, narrative and expository, this manuscript will focus primarily on expository text structure. Initially, researchfindings regarding expository text structure will be discussed; then, amatrix focusing on specific attributes of five types of expository textstructure will be presented. Finally, general strategies for enablingteachers to enhance students’ abilities to successfully identify varioustypes of expository text structure will be provided. Research Findings Regarding Expository Text Structure Whereas narrative text is normally a story whose primaryfunction is to entertain the reader, expository text’s essential function,in contrast, is to inform the reader (Weaver & Kintsch, 1991). Textstructure per se refers to a text’s organizational attributes that operateas a pattern for guiding and aiding readers in detecting critical 81
  2. 2. 82 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________information, plus the logical connections between a text’s ideas(Seidenberg, 1989). Textbooks, journals, encyclopedias, essays, and numerousmagazine articles are typical examples of expository text that learnersmust read in school. Seidenberg (1989) asserts that successful schoolachievement is highly dependent upon students’ ability to understandand formulate such diverse expository prose. When reading contentarea material (e.g., social studies, math, science), learners need todistinguish amongst various types of text structure (Vacca & Vacca,2008). While story grammars have been the major focus of research onnarrative text structure, research focusing on expository text structurehas encompassed a much broader array of organizational patterns.Prevalent types of expository text structure include description,sequence, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem andsolution (Vacca & Vacca, 2008). Each category of expository textstructure exhibits a specific organizational pattern that reflects varioustypes of relations between critical textual information; moreover, eachtype of expository text pattern employs specific signal words that areunique to each type (e.g., next, first, last, and additionally are signalwords used in the sequence pattern). According to Kintsch and Yarborough (1991), researchsuggests that learners perform significantly better on measures ofglobal comprehension or macroprocesses (e.g., main ideas or topics)rather than on local comprehension or microprocesses (e.g., facts)when reading well-structured expository text. Zabrucky and Ratner’s (1992) research findings suggest thatexpository text and narrative text differentially effect readers, withexpository text definitely more difficult than narrative text regardingboth comprehension, as measured via recall, and comprehensionmonitoring. Their study revealed that text type impacted both goodand poor readers’ recall and comprehension monitoring. Inconsistentpassages prompted significantly more look-backs for narrative thanexpository passages, implying that narrative passages’ inconsistencies
  3. 3. Gerald J. Calais 83were more transparent than expository passages’ inconsistencies.Expository passages also proved to be more difficult than narrativepassages for students when verbally reporting on passage consistency.Students’ expository passages were reread more frequently thannarrative passages when reading passages without inconsistencies,indicating that expository passages were more problematic thannarrative type. Despite the high positive correlation between readingcomprehension and well-organized text structure, text structure alonemay be inadequate to promote reading comprehension because anadditional pivotal dimension is essential: awareness of, or sensitivityto, text structure. According to Weaver & Kintsch (1991), theperformance results of learners who read appropriately structured,lucidly cued text and who were assessed through measures of globalcomprehension (e.g., main ideas) indicated that learners acquaintedwith text structure significantly outperformed those who lackedfamiliarity regarding text structure. Pearson and Fielding (1991)corroborated the aforementioned study’s findings by observing twosystematic findings: First, students familiar with text structure recalledmore appropriate information than students who were unfamiliar withtext structure. Second, in recalling text, significantly more goodreaders than poor readers follow the author’s text structure. Research further suggests that students differ not only in beingaware of text structure but also in being aware of different textstructures. For example, Graesser, Golding, and Long (1991) foundevidence that students are far more aware of narrative than expositorytext structure. On the other hand, Zabrucky & Ratner (1992) foundthat narrative text structure is both easier to recall and comprehendthan is expository text structure. In addition, Englert and Thomas(1987) showed that students’ awareness of text structure even differsin terms of the different types of expository text structure. Morespecifically, they found that among four different categories ofexpository text structure that students were significantly more familiarwith sequence text structure than with enumeration or description text
  4. 4. 84 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________structure; they also found that both enumeration and sequence textstructure were easier than comparison and contrast text structure.Finally, they also discovered that awareness of expository textstructure appeared to be developmental because older students’awareness of expository text structure was significantly greater thanthat of younger students. Having discussed research findings aboutexpository text structure, the next section discusses a matrix thatprovides information about five dominant types of expository textstructure. Five Types of Expository Text Structure Matrix Figure 1 below provides information associated with fivepopular types of expository text structure commonly employed inmaterials used for students in K-12 classrooms: description, sequence,comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution(Vacca & Vacca, 20). Upon examination, the matrix in Figure 1describes each text structure along three dimensions. First, it describesunique attributes associated with each text structure and also providesan example of where and how it is used. Second, the matrix providesspecific examples of signal words associated with each type of textstructure. Third, various graphic organizers are suggested as a meansof graphically representing or explicating information reflecting eachof the text types. It should be noted that only one example wasprovided for how and where a specific text type could be applied;naturally, other examples as well as other disciplines could haveequally applied. In addition, the list of signal words typicallyassociated with each text type and the suggested ways to graphicallyrepresent each text type are not meant to be exhaustive. Note, too,how many dimensions are associated with the cause and effect textpattern.
  5. 5. Gerald J. Calais 85Table 1Five Types of Expository Text Structure MatrixText Description Associated Graphic OrganizerStructure Signal WordsDescription Resembles an outline by For example, Bubble map, spider providing information for instance, map, network tree, (attributes, examples, such as, in semantic word map, facts, features) about a addition, looks semantic webbing, topic based on criteria like, in back of, modified Frayer model, such as importance or to begin with clustering, cubing, size. Herringbone technique, concept of definition Example: A science book may describe an animal cell or a volcano.Sequence Implicitly or explicitly On (date), first, Series-of-Events indicates the numerical second, last, Chain, continuum or chronological order in then, finally, scale, cycle, timeline, which facts, events, or initially, flowchart concepts occur by tracing preceding, not the evolution of the topic long after or the steps entailed in the sequence. Example: A science text discusses the steps in the life cycle of a butterfly. A history text explains the events that led to the Great Depression or WWII. Table 1 Continues
  6. 6. 86 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________Table 1 ContinuedText Description Associated Graphic OrganizerStructure Signal WordsComparison/ Specifies similarities Similar to, Compare/contrast matrix,Contrast (comparison) and/or different from, double bubble map, Venn differences (contrast) however, in diagram, ladder map, among objects, common, flowcharts, semantic events, facts, although, not feature analysis, concepts, etc. only…but also analogiesCause and Demonstrates how Consequently, Single cause and singleEffect facts, events, or therefore, effect, single cause and ideas (effects) because, as a multiple effects, multiple materialize due to result, since, causes and single effect, other facts, events, if…then, thus, multiple causes and or ideas (causes). leads to multiple effects, Herringbone technique, Example: A science cycle, a string of slightly book explains the overlapping circles, causes and effects of central concept with a tornado. cause and effect explanationsProblem and Reveals the This led to, Problem/Solution outline,Solution evolution of a because, flowchart, IDEAL problem and the problem is, Problem Solving solution (s) to the if/then, Framework, task analysis, problem. consequently, fuzzy cognitive maps, nevertheless, establishing problematic Example: A science accordingly situations, discussion chapter discusses the webs problem of global warming and asks for proposed solutions, or a social studies chapter discusses the problem of slavery in the Old South and asks for proposed solutions to avoid a Civil War.
  7. 7. Gerald J. Calais 87 General Strategies for Identifying Expository Text Structure From a practical standpoint, there are a variety of strategiesthat the classroom teacher can utilize to enhance students’ abilities toidentify and employ expository text structure for both reading andwriting (Simonsen, 1996): (1) Initially advise students that expository texts exhibit specific text structures. Inform students that various organizational patterns (e.g., sequence, description, comparison and contrast) are used to compose expository texts (e.g., science, social studies, and math textbooks) and that text structures are what organizational patterns are called. (2) Provide students with explicit classroom instruction when introducing them to signal words and five common types of expository text structure: description, sequence, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution. Inform students under what specific circumstances certain signal words (e.g., first, second, initially) can be used to identify specific text structures (e.g., sequence) while reading various content areas or when composing expository text. (3) Scaffold instruction with sample paragraphs corresponding with the five common types of expository text structure and provide students with focusing questions. The teacher could provide students with different clues, supports, and focusing questions while endeavoring to distinguish amongst the five types of text structure typically found in various content texts, such as sample situations of where and when these text structures are usually applied. Also, let students know that the same topic could be written by using one of several types of expository text structure. For example, WWII could use description, sequencing, or cause and effect. Let them also know that at other times, a specific text structure serves as the most powerful way to discuss a topic. For example, if asked to write about the American Revolution, the French Revolution,
  8. 8. 88 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________ and the Russian Revolution, that comparison and contrast would probably be the single most effective way to compose/discuss this topic. (4) Model writing strategies that focus on specific types of text structure. For example, while writing a paragraph depicting a specific text structure, the teacher could describe what s/he is doing. (5) Model a metacognitive strategy: think-alouds. Initially, the teacher models this strategy; then the students are encouraged to demonstrate this strategy while trying to identify text structure, such as identifying the textual clues used in a given text while they attempt to identify text structure. (6) Have students explicate text structures by using graphic organizers while reading and writing. For example, the teacher models the graphical representation or explication of specific paragraphs while one reads or writes expository text. Conclusions The demands of the Information Age, which has ushered in gargantuan quantities and varieties of information, make it imperative that students currently enrolled in K-12 are equipped to effectively handle expository text materials if they are to become viable citizens in today’s highly competitive, global economic markets. Modeling and teaching our students how to perceive the five most common types of expository text structure (description, sequence, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution) while reading, how to employ them while writing, and how to charter or explicate them while reading and writing will enhance their chances of achieving a successful future. Fortunately, teachers have a variety of strategies at their disposal for methodically
  9. 9. Gerald J. Calais 89 familiarizing students with expository text structure while reading or writing. REFERENCESContent literacy: Text structure (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2008, from, C. S., & Thomas, C. C. (1987). Sensitivity to text structure in reading and writing: A comparison between learning disabled and non-learning disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 10, 93-105.Graesser, A., Golding, J. M., & Long, D. L. (1991). Narrative representation and comprehension. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 171-204). White Plains, NY: Longman.Kintsch, W. & Yarbrough, J.C. (1982). Role of rhetorical structure in text comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 828 834.Pearson, P. D., & Fielding, L. (1991). Comprehension instruction. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 815-860). White Plains, NY: Longman.Seidenberg, P. L. (1989). Relating text-processing research to reading and writing instruction for learning disabled students. Learning Disabilities Focus, 5 (1), 4-12.Simonsen, S. (1996). Identifying and Teaching Text Structures in Content Area Classrooms. In D. Lapp, J. Flood, & N. Farnan (Eds.), Content area reading and learning: Instructional strategies (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Using text structure (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2008, from That Signal a Texts Organizational Structure (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2008, from