Nonfiction Text Structures

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by Jeff Barger

How do you organize your closet? Are items organized by type or color or season? Knowing the organization pattern in a closet helps you locate your clothing. Knowing the organization pattern of a nonfiction text helps students anticipate what will come next in the text and make it easier to comprehend. These structures also come with signal words/phrases that help identify them. Studying nonfiction text structures is also a great opportunity to practice using graphic organizers. Here are five structures that you will find in nonfiction texts:

  • Cause and Effect: This structure helps explain why something happened.
    • Examples: What are the factors that help create a snowstorm? How did World War I begin?
    • Signal Words/Phrases: as a result, because, if…then, outcome
    • Graphic Organizer: Fishbone or Ishikawa diagram
  • Compare and Contrast: Finding similarities and differences between two or more events, ideas, objects, or topics.
    • Examples: Examining viewpoints on whether collegiate athletes should be paid. Comparing products that perform the same task.
    • Signal Words/Phrases: as well as, both, different from, however, similar to
    • Graphic Organizer: Venn Diagram
  • Description: Teaches readers about a topic using details to explain. This structure will often feature main ideas and supporting details.
    • Examples: A text about a city like Washington D.C or about an animal such as a polar bear.
    • Signal Words/Phrases: about, characteristics, features, for example
    • Graphic Organizer: Bubble Map
  • Problem/Solution: Why is there an issue and what can be done to solve it?
    • Examples: Texts about inventors or scientists who develop cures for diseases. An issue dealing with traffic clogging up on the main road in your town.
    • Signal Words/Phrases: answer, challenge, issue, problem, result, solution, trouble
    • Graphic Organizer: Problem and Solution Diagram
  • Sequence: These texts contain directions to making something or explain how an event unfolded.   
    • Examples: A recipe to make cookies. What were the events leading up to a war?
    • Signal Words/Phrases: after, before, finally, first, next, then
    • Graphic Organizer: Flow Chart, Timeline

Teaching the structure of a nonfiction text will enable a reader to access background knowledge to comprehend a text.


Jeff Barger is a K-5 literacy specialist in North Carolina. He is the creator of the NC Teacher Stuff blog and has written three nonfiction books for children.

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