Teaching Text Structure With Picture Books

Text structure is the way authors organize expository information for a specific purpose. Aside from the fact that it’s a required reading standard, it’s important to teach students to identify text structures in order to improve comprehension of a text.

text structure with picture books

Using quality texts as explicit models and teaching about the organization and keywords used with each type of structure helps develop student comprehension.

You know I love using picture books as mentor texts, and yes, picture books work well for this skill, too!

Teach Text Structures With Picture Books

Teaching students to identify text structure can be tricky simply because expository text is often more challenging to read (since it usually consists of content that is unfamiliar to the student).

Using nonfiction picture books for your mini-lessons to introduce (or re-teach/review) text structure is the perfect way to help students access the content of the text.

There are five overall text structures:

  • chronology (sequence)
  • comparison
  • cause/effect
  • problem/solution
  • description

Keep in mind, in your mini-lessons, it’s important to discuss with students that when determining the text structure, it should describe the text as a whole, not just parts of it.

One way to help students identify the text structure is to use a guide like this one:

text structure freebie

If students cannot answer the question about the WHOLE text, it helps them see that text structure would not apply to the text. It also helps set them up for success with the comprehension of the text by being able to answer the question.

You probably noticed that “description” isn’t listed on the poster- that overall text structure is usually one they don’t have any issue identifying or comprehending, so I focused on the four trickier structures. 

Text Structure In Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet is such a great nonfiction mentor text to teach about the man behind the magic of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This is a great picture book to use when starting text structure lessons because the overall text structure is chronology (which tends to be much easier for students to identify).

text structure chronology balloons over broadway

Using the guiding questions, students should easily identify the chronology text structure. Be sure to remind students how the structure should describe the text as a whole, not just parts of it.

For example, in Balloons Over Broadway, even though Tony faced some problems in the book and was able to solve the problems, the book as a whole wasn’t about how to solve problems that occur during parades.

And although the author reveals the reason that we have a Macy’s Parade with large balloons, cause and effect was not the overall structure of the entire book.

Students should recognize that the overall structure of Balloons Over Broadway is chronology because it is the story of Tony Sarg growing up to make marionettes, then puppets, then using his expertise to create the balloons for the Macy’s Parade.

Continued Practice With Text Structure

Of course, spending time analyzing the other text structures is essential.

Since informational texts are typically more difficult simply because the students aren’t as familiar with the content, providing texts that access some prior knowledge tackles that hurdle.

In the weeklong mentor text unit I created for the book Balloons Over Broadway, students will read short passages providing even more information about the Macy’s parade. I wrote each passage with a specific (and obvious) text structure to help students analyze keywords and overall organization.

Reading Like Writers, Writing Like Readers

Viewing text structure as a craft can also improve students’ informational writing abilities.

A fun way to get students reading like writers and writing like readers is to engage in conversation over what is the same and different in a couple of images related to what you’re learning. Since the purpose of compare/contrast structure is to share similarities and differences of two things, this discussion is important because it will help spark the ideas they may want to write about for their assignment.

Below, you’ll see an example of a writing assignment in the Balloons Over Broadway Mentor Text Unit.

text structure compare and contrast writing balloons over broadway

Pointing out some key elements they want to include when they compare, like the year, or the name of the balloon, in order to distinguish between them. For example, students shouldn’t say, “one has this, but one has that.” They need to clarify by saying, “The balloon from 1928 was filled with air and helium, but the balloon from 2008 was filled with just helium.”)

Text Structure In The Crayon Man

Another fabulous picture book to read when teaching text structure is The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow. It is not only a fantastic example of a narrative biography, but contains the elusive problem/solution text structure! (This one is always hard to find good examples of in picture books.)

Just as I suggested with Balloons Over Broadway, after reading the mentor text, read each explanation of the text structures from the poster. Remind students how the structure should describe the text as a whole, not just parts of it. Help students recognize that the structure is problem and solution.

text structure problem and solution balloons over broadway

Point out how even though chalk, pencils, and crayons were compared in the book, the overall structure of the text is not compare and contrast… and although a few steps of making the colored crayons were shared, the text overall was not written with references to time, so it wouldn’t be a sequence structure either.

Note: Problem & solution and cause & effect can often be similar in structure – and can be tricky to identify! In fact, one might argue that The Crayon Man is cause & effect because of the chain of events that led to the crayons’ creation. However, there are several problems presented in the book that Edwin works to solve – and does – so this is a great example of the problem and solution text structure!

Reading Like Writers, Writing Like Readers

The Crayon Man is actually a “two for one” for your text structure lessons!

In the back of the book, the author includes an explanation with ordered photos to show how crayons are made. Students should easily identify the text structure: sequence/chronology.

The caption of each image tells how crayons are made. Because they are written as captions for numbered/sequential images, and not in paragraph form, transitions are not used or needed.

text structure sequence writing crayon man

Perform a shared writing exercise with students: paraphrase the captions and add transitions to write one paragraph that explains how crayons are made. This help students practice varying the start of their sentences.

Depending on your class’s ability to paraphrase, etc, you might even write out the paragraph example ahead of time with blanks for transitions to explicitly practice using transition words in writing.


Looking for more information about teaching with picture books?

Check out the site library all about maximizing your time using mentor texts!