Descriptive Text Structure – How to Teach Nonfiction

Descriptive text structure describes parts or details in logical order. Although this format is easy to write, it’s probably the most difficult to identify. Unlike other types, transition terms don’t serve as great clues for descriptions.

Ms. Sneed Teaches Descriptive Text Structure

As usual, our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “Let’s continue planning our ELA block,” she said, “Today, we’ll discuss the final nonfiction format.”

Mr. Frank looked at his notes. “So far we’ve talked about sequence, cause-effect, problem-solution, and compare-contrast. What’s on the agenda today?”

“Descriptive text structure,” Ms. Sneed responded.

“That seems easy.”

“Yes and no. Because it’s the simplest form of informational text, it’s easy to understand and write. Unfortunately, kids have trouble identifying it.”

Mr. Frank looked puzzled. “Why?”

“You know how they use transition terms as clues? Description just doesn’t have many. Furthermore, the linking words used can also be used for the other structures.”

Reading Descriptive Text Structure

Ms. Sneed turned to her laptop and opened a file. “As with the other formats, we’ll introduce it with our informational text structures slideshow.”

As Mr. Frank looked on, Ms. Sneed scrolled down. “For the descriptive text structure,” she said, “we ask kids to look for related parts.” To demonstrate, she played the interactive model on the slideshow. First, a blue square appeared on the screen. As she clicked, four colored rectangles filled the square.

“Ah, I see. Parts of a whole.”

Ms. Sneed nodded and advanced the next two slides. “As you can see, this paragraph gives facts about the Ojibwa. The organizer once again illustrates it.”

To teach descriptive text structure, use a graphic organizer and example that show kids how sentences show parts of a whole.
Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Using the Process of Elimination

“As I said before,” Ms. Sneed said, “using transition terms doesn’t work so well with the descriptive text structure. As a matter of fact, this paragraph doesn’t use any. When I teach this, I will ask my kids for suggestions. Then we can discuss how those terms might also work with other formats.”

“Good idea. But other than looking for parts of a whole, what strategies can we teach for identifying this?”

“In my humble opinion, process of elimination works well. If it doesn’t sequence, compare, explain a cause and effect, or provide a problem and solution, it’s likely a description.”

Transition terms provide excellent clues when identifying nonfiction formats. Unfortunately, not many are associated with the descriptive text structure.

Using a Simple Organizer

Now Mr. Frank turned to his laptop. When he turned the screen toward Ms. Sneed, she noticed a web. “This graphic organizer will help our kids take notes when they read descriptive texts. Additionally, it will help them organize their ideas when they write with this structure.”

When teaching the descriptive text structure, you can use a web as a graphic organizer.

Writing Paragraphs with Descriptive Text Structure

“So,” Mr. Frank continued, “what topic should we use when our kids write descriptions?”

A small smile spread across Ms. Sneed’s face. “My inspiration came from the graphic organizer in the informational text structure unit,” she said. “All of the examples use plants.”

“Hey, that goes right along with our science concept.”

“Correct. At the end of our unit, we want students to understand how a plant’s structures work together to ensure its survival. Let’s have them write about it!”

Any paragraphs that require kids to explain parts of a whole make great writing projects for the descriptive text structure. For example, in this activity, kids explain how parts of a plant work together for its survival.

Another Organizer for Descriptions

“Instead of the web,” Mr. Frank said, “I think we can use our standard nonfiction organizer for this.”

As he spoke, he pulled up a page from their plant unit.

Ms. Sneed nodded. “Yes, that’s better for this application. A web illustrates the descriptive text structure, but there’s really not enough room to write.”

Kids can use a simple organizer like this to write descriptions. They write a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion.

Enjoy Teaching

“I love this reading-writing connection,” said Mr. Frank. “Before, we only taught kids to identify the five informational text structures. But when they write, they will truly understand.”

“I know. So much better. Now, our only conundrum is which format to teach first!”

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