intergenerational communication

Why didn’t they teach me that???


“Why did you fail your science test? Didn’t you read the book?” Mom asks accusingly.

“I DID read it! I didn’t understand it!” Johnny answers honestly.

And the tension builds… Sound familiar?

Early in my career, I joined the Great Valley Writing Project. I learned more from that Project than any other training I ever had. It helped me not only as a teacher but also as a learner.

Now I had been through the California teaching credential program, had a Master’s degree, and been teaching for 6 or 7 years already.   What I learned at that GVWP conference, I had never heard before. It wasn’t really new information. Rather it was a way to categorize a lot of knowledge I already had. You know, that moment when, all of a sudden, it all fits!

Let me explain what I mean. Teaching kids to read was obviously a very important part of my job. I was, at that time, teaching 5th grade in a self-contained classroom. That meant I was teaching all of the basic subject areas – science, social studies, language arts, and math to the same kids. I observed that reading in content areas, like science and history, was much more difficult for my students than reading a short story.

There are many reasons for that, the main one being student interest. OK. I got that. But just because they weren’t interested didn’t mean they didn’t have to learn it. So what could I do to help them become better readers in areas they had little interest in? I really struggled with that. Then, at this conference, I learned the secret!

What did I learn? Not all reading is equal! Duh… But hold on!

Different reading techniques are required for different reading structures. WHAT??? Reading is reading…isn’t it? Yes and no. The structure of texts differs according to the purpose of it’s content.

How many of you know that the structure of most writing, with the exception of poetry, falls into two categories? Do you know what the categories are? Do you know what the structures are? Would it be helpful to know?

(For those of you who teach or have young children – This is for you, too!!! These are patterns of thought that should be encouraged at a very young age. As a matter of fact, I used picture books to teach the text structure concept to my 7th and 8th graders.)

As I said, all writing falls into two categories: Expository (typically non-fiction) and Narrative (typically fiction).

The first category we’ll look at is expository. Expository writing exposes, uncovers or explains. It is typically used in content textbooks such as science, history, chemistry, physics, etc. There are many different structures of expository writing, which makes it more difficult to read. Knowing what the structures are and learning to recognize them in the text improved my student’s reading comprehension immeasurably. By the way, this is not just statistical blah, blah, blah.

I saw many, many students move from being reading haters to reading lovers and everything in between.

Just as a contractor can build more efficiently and effectively knowing how to read the blueprints of a building’s structure so a reader can learn more efficiently and effectively by knowing the blueprint of the text’s structure.

Following is a list of text structures (blueprints) although it is not exhaustive.  Notice that the questions I pose can be for very young children.

  • Compare-Contrast Structure – examines the similarities and differences between two or more people, events, concepts, ideas, etc

“How is a kitty like a puppy?” (compare)

“How is kitty different than a puppy?” (contrast)

  • Cause-Effect Structure – examines the causal relationship between a specific event, idea, or concept and the events, ideas, or concept that follow.

“If you tell a lie, (cause) what happens?” (effect)

Sequence – Information is given in order of steps to accomplish something.

“How do you build a snowman?”

  • Chronological – Information is given following the order of time.

“Make a timeline of the birthdays in your family throughout the year.”             (chronological)

  • Problem-Solution – The writing sets up a problem or problems, explains the solution, and then discusses possible effects of the solution.

“How can you solve the problem of your messy room?”

  • Descriptive – Information given with the purpose of creating a visual or mental picture.

“Tell me about the colors and shapes in the picture that you drew.”

Wow! That’s a lot if stuff! And we haven’t even looked at Narrative. That will be the next blog.

I need a break!!! My husband just walked in from the grocery store…I hope he bought some cookies!!!











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