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When teaching, you’ll often rely upon expository texts to deliver your points; this is a broad term that refers to any non-fiction text that provides factual information on a given topic.

For certain subjects such as science and history, these might be your main type of resource for educating the class. Even if you don’t use these texts at your level of teaching, it could be your responsibility to prepare the children for when they depend upon these documents. Research into the topic reveals that discussing these texts, and their structures, improves the class’s understanding of expository texts.

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The five structures of expository text

These texts come in five main structures – and teaching all of these equally is paramount for helping your class figure out how to approach each individual format. For example, how one document conveys information may be radically different to how another document does this, or the same document might incorporate more than one structure. The five expository text structures include:

1. Description

This structure is relatively simple and takes the form of a simple description, often of a person, a place, or even an object. Descriptive expository texts have two core components – the identification of the topic, or the thing that the text intends to describe, and then the description itself, including features and examples. For example, a text might aim to describe a specific mountain, and it would begin by naming the mountain or specifying it in some other way. Alongside this, the text could note that it appears jagged and snow-topped with steep, sloped sides and quite a high peak.

2. Sequence

Expository texts may intend to reveal the steps of a specific process, or to otherwise list items, and are likely to use a sequence format to achieve this. This simply notes certain items, or steps, in a precise order and includes words such as ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘next’, and ‘finally’. Sequences are usually chronological, so teaching this format also involves demonstrating the importance of how each step leads to the next, which is a perfect opportunity to introduce cause and effect. For example, an alarm clock sounding in the morning leads to a child waking up, and getting ready for school.

3. Compare-Contrast

This format hopes to compare and contrast at least two objects, events, or topics, pointing out similarities and differences between them. There are three steps to this format: introducing the topics, listing their similarities, and then listing their differences; though some texts may stick exclusively to one or the other. Teaching a class how to compare can be incredibly beneficial, encouraging them to make their own observations about the world. By emphasizing this structure, you’re also helping students understand the distinctions between objects and people, which shows that everybody is unique, alongside how these differences are valid.

4. Problem-Solution

The problem-solution structure helps children recognize that almost every issue they encounter has a solution, prompting them to further develop their problem-solving skills by taking new approaches. This format includes three components, which are an outline of the issue, an acknowledgment of a potential solution, and then a clear explanation of how that answers the original concern. Cause and effect is again an appropriate concept to discuss, as words such as ‘therefore’ and ‘because’ may form part of your explanation process. For example, a child could possibly solve the issue of being late for class by waking up ten minutes earlier.

5. Cause-Effect

As the name suggests, this format is explicitly about cause and effect – looking more closely at the relationship between one event and another. These texts could also be in the form of a sequence, or might introduce a problem and its eventual solution. This begins by introducing an event that results in further events, and a description of the consequences. Teaching these connections to children is always important, with teachers reporting that this can improve student analytical skills. It also helps to emphasize that one event could lead to multiple different effects, either at the same time or individually.

Grammar in expository texts

Expository texts might include certain grammatical features or techniques that students are unfamiliar with, so you can use these texts as an opportunity to teach these features. Alternatively, you might want to teach them these techniques in advance of discussing expository texts, and their structures. Whichever approach you take, here are the three main complex grammatical forms that expository texts often use in their writing:

1. Complex Noun Phrases

By incorporating complex noun phrases into expository text examples, you give students more detail about the subjects that they’re reading about; simple noun phrases rarely give enough exposition. A technique that could help in teaching these phrases is highlighting the nouns of every sentence in your resources or asking pupils to do this themselves as a challenge. They could find it difficult to interpret the grander meaning of the sentences at first, but perseverance is key. Teaching students complex nouns helps them parse more information as they read, which improves their overall comprehension of expository texts.

2. Clausal Subordination

Sentences in expository texts not only have more than one clause, but they also have a hierarchical relationship to account for. At least one clause in these sentences requires expansion and elaboration to make any sense, and this is why ‘dependent clause’ is another term for a subordinate clause; it depends on the other for context. In these texts, clausal subordination is essential for understanding a sequence, making it the perfect complement to teaching causality. This can be more difficult for a child who isn’t yet aware of cause and effect; emphasizing the connection between clauses is especially helpful.

3. Adverbial Clauses

‘End-focus’ is an expository technique that emphasizes information at the end of a sentence to match the level of stress we place on a sentence’s end. Without end-focus, the sentence appears weak and diluted, so it always makes more of an impact to ‘reveal’ new information as late into the sentence as possible. At first, the child may backtrack to the sentence’s beginning to refresh their memory about what the ending is referring to. Once they understand this grammatical structure, they might notice it more often, and may expect texts to always follow this pattern.

The importance of working memory and sentence processing

As part of understanding these grammatical forms, children will frequently have to retain information that relates to a subsequent sentence, or a later part of that same sentence. There are certain strategies you might take to help with this, including:

  • Slowly introducing students to new words, and grammatical features, before going into complex sentences and texts.
  • Taking regular brief breaks to summarize, or even test the class on, this knowledge before moving on to the next topic.
  • Dissecting complex sentences to isolate individual components, such as by encouraging pupils to highlight the clauses.
  • Limiting the presence of classroom distractions, even if this means changing the seating plan to help students focus.
  • Use visuals where possible to accommodate different learning styles, and make it easier for every student to recall.
  • Introducing complex sentences as two individual sentences you bridge together, explaining the link between them.
  • Asking students to combine sentences using a connective, and making sure they understand which ones go together.
  • Checking for students who may be struggling, especially any with language delays, and accommodating their progress.
  • Encouraging students to reread any sentences that they don’t fully understand, and to ask for help wherever necessary.

Between the actual text structures themselves, alongside the grammatical forms and comprehension skills that are essential for children to understand them, this may seem like a lot to teach. However, many of these topics and concepts relate to one another, allowing you to blend them together with ease. Keep an eye on your class, and their progress, in case anybody falls behind and requires additional help.