Common Core Standards: ELA
The relationships among the parts of a text and between each part and the whole text often play a role in the meaning of the text as a whole. For example, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”conceals until the end the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Detective stories also depend on the “surprise” ending that reveals “whodunit.” These stories maintain their suspense by where they place certain information, and they lose it if that information is revealed too soon in the text. The ability to analyze a text’s structure provides information about the type of text it is and where to find certain information, like the solution to a mystery.
The Sound of Pulling Texts Apart
Very carefully, you stack the small rectangular blocks together one by one. As you slide a single part out you realize how important that piece was to the structural integrity of the wooden tower. It begins to wobble and you know if any other section is removed the whole thing while lose shape and purpose. Another cornerstone is removed and… Jenga! It is undeniable that each piece of a text is imperative to the meaning as a whole; take out one and the entire thing begins to lose its form and become unclear. Understanding how each part of the text is important is vital in comprehension and analysis.
It should be obvious to students that if one part of the puzzle is removed, the picture becomes unclear. It should also be obvious that if you put the puzzle together out of order, the picture will be unclear. Thus, authors make specific choices about the pieces of the text they include and the order in which they are presented. This standard asks students to analyze those choices and understand how they influence the central idea and effect of the overall text.
Here are some ideas for introducing students to text structure in both non-fiction and fiction/literary texts:
- If you’ve ever gone to the movies after slamming a Venti beverage of choice from Starbucks, you know how frustrating it is to miss a chunk of the plot while you run to the bathroom. Well, a poorly structured text is just as confusing, so authors work hard to structure their texts in a way that best communicates their meaning. As readers, it’s our job to analyze the text’s structure in order to better understand the meaning and overall development of ideas. When conducting this analysis, we need to look for the “flow” or relationship between the sentences and paragraphs and try to understand the author’s purpose in organizing the information this way. Some common structures5 in non-fiction or technical texts include:
- Cause and Effect: The information will be ordered according to cause-effect relationships – use a flow chart to follow.
- Sequence: Literally a chain of information given in sequential order, often some version of chronological order – a flow chart or timeline is also good here.
- Compare and Contrast: Two or more items in a text are evaluated for similarities and differences – use a Venn diagram or make a columned chart to write out observations.
- In fictional texts or poetry you need to be able to identify how each section is important to the overall development of the plot or theme. How do all these smaller pieces connect to form one, cohesive, meaningful whole? This is all about discerning the purpose of each part of the text. Why does the author choose to include this section or scene? Why are the details presented in this order? How does our experience or understanding of the text change if these pieces are missing or reordered?
5 Text Structures Retrieved February 25, 2012. From http://teacher.scholastic.com/reading/bestpractices/nonfiction/fiveTextStructures.pdf
X Amount of Words
Once your students know the rules and how to set up a game, playing is easy and possibly even enjoyable. If you can show them how to look at a text as an object that can be taken apart and put back together in a specific way, then it becomes a kind of equation. Consider the job of tracking the structure and explaining its significance a game that students should play to win.
Quiz QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
If you answer these questions that follow the text, then I will give you a cookie. Not really, but did you notice how I used a cause-effect structure there to convince you to act?
- A Separate Peace: Real History in Made-Up Devon
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Serial Publishing
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Mapping A Tale of Two Cities
- Teaching A Tale of Two Cities: Mix and Match Plot Arrangements
- Teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The N-Word
- Teaching A Farewell to Arms: If Hemingway Edited Hawthorne
- Teaching A Farewell to Arms: Hemingway and ... Yiyun Li?
- Teaching A Good Man is Hard to Find: Killer Short Stories: Flannery O'Connor and Southern Gothic Literature
- Teaching Of Mice and Men: Close Reading Steinbeck: Letters vs. Novel
- Teaching Romeo and Juliet: A Monologue for the Ages
- The Great Gatsby: Come a Little Closer
- The Book Thief: Re-Imagining the Story
- Teaching The Catcher in the Rye: Searching the Big Apple
- Teaching The Catcher in the Rye: No Oscar for Holden
- Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird: A Dream Deferred