Reading and Writing

, Volume 31, Issue 9, pp 2115–2145 | Cite as

Identifying and discriminating expository text structures: An experiment with 4th and 5th grade struggling readers

  • Michael HebertEmail author
  • Janet J. Bohaty
  • J. Ron Nelson
  • Matthew C. Lambert


Students who struggle with reading have particular trouble with expository text. Instruction in text structures has been shown to be effective for improving expository reading comprehension. However, few studies have been conducted specifically with upper elementary aged struggling readers. To address these issues, we developed a new intervention, Structures, to improve the expository text comprehension of 4th and 5th grade struggling readers. In this study, we conducted a randomized control trial to assess the promise, usability, and feasibility of one component of the intervention designed to teach students to identify and discriminate the five text structures. Forty-five 4th and 5th grade struggling readers were randomly assigned to intervention or business-as-usual conditions. Students in the Structures condition were taught to identify and discriminate among the five text structures used by authors of expository text: description, sequence, cause/effect, compare/contrast, and problem/solution. At post-test, experimental students (n = 24) statistically significantly outperformed control students (n = 21) on a structures identification measure (d = 0.94). No other statistically significant differences were found. However, a practically (but not statistically) significant effect size was found on an oral retell measure (d = 0.29). Results also indicate the materials were usable for teachers and it was feasible to implement the intervention in a school setting. The implications and future directions of the development of remaining components in the Structures intervention are discussed.


Text structures Expository text Informational text Reading Fourth grade Fifth grade 



The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, through award R324B130005 to the University of Nebraska. We specifically thank Konstantin Blume, Kelsey Moreland, Jadee White, Julia Roehling, and Hallie Sharkey for assistance with the development of materials, data collection, and scoring. We also extend thanks to the teachers and students who participated in this project. Statements do not reflect the position or policy of the university, schools, or persons, and no official endorsement should be inferred.


  1. Anderson, R. C., & Nagy, W. E. (1991). Word meanings. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Armbruster, B. B. (1988). Why some children have trouble reading content area textbooks (Technical report no. 432). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Center for the Study of Reading.Google Scholar
  3. Bakken, J. P., Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1997). Reading comprehension of expository science material and students with learning disabilities: A comparison of strategies. Journal of Special Education, 31, 300–324. Scholar
  4. Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Worthy, J. (1995). Giving a text voice can improve students’ understanding. Reading Research Quarterly, 30, 220–238. Scholar
  5. Best, R. M., Floyd, R. G., & Mcnamara, D. S. (2008). Differential competencies contributing to children’s comprehension of narrative and expository texts. Reading Psychology, 29(2), 137–164. Scholar
  6. Broer, N. A., Aarnoutse, C. A. J., & Kieviet, F. K. (2002). The effects of instructing the structural aspects of text. Educational Studies, 28, 213–238. Scholar
  7. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Duke, N. K. (2000). 3.6 Minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202–224. Scholar
  9. Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Strachan, S. L., & Billman, A. K. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed., pp. 51–93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Englert, C. S., & Hiebert, E. H. (1984). Children’s developing awareness of text structures in expository materials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 65–75. Scholar
  11. Englert, C. S., Raphael, T. E., Anderson, L. M., Anthony, H. E., & Stevens, D. D. (1991). Making strategies and self-talk visible: Writing instruction in regular and special education classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 28, 337–372. Scholar
  12. Englert, C. S., & Thomas, C. C. (1987). Sensitivity to text structure in reading and writing: A comparison between learning disabled and non-learning disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 10(2), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hall, K. M., Sabey, B. L., & McClellan, M. (2005). Expository text comprehension: Helping primary grade teachers use expository texts to their full advantage. Reading Psychology, 26, 211–234. Scholar
  14. Hammann, L. A., & Stevens, R. J. (2003). Instructional approaches to improving students’ writing of compare-contrast essays: An experimental study. Journal of Literacy Research, 35, 731–756. Scholar
  15. Hebert, M., Bohaty, J. J., Nelson, J. R., & Brown, J. A. (2016). The effects of text structure instruction on expository reading comprehension: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 609–629. Scholar
  16. León, J. A., & Carretero, M. (1995). Intervention in comprehension and memory strategies: Knowledge and use of text structure. Learning and instruction, 5(3), 203–220. Scholar
  17. Loxterman, J. A., Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (1994). The effects of thinking aloud during reading on students’ comprehension of more or less coherent text. Reading Research Quarterly, 29, 353–367. Scholar
  18. McGee, L. M. (1982). Awareness of text structure: Effects on children’s recall of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 581–590. Scholar
  19. McLaughlin, E. M. (1990). Effects of graphic organizers and levels of text difficulty on less-proficient fifth-grade readers’ comprehension of expository text (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (UMI No. 9030955).Google Scholar
  20. MetaMetrics. (2009). Lexile-to-grade correspondence. Retrieved from
  21. Meyer, B. J. F. (1975). The organization of prose and its effects on memory. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Meyer, B. J. F. (1985). Prose analysis: Purposes, procedures, and problems. In B. K. Britton & J. Black (Eds.), Understanding expository text: A theoretical and practical handbook for analyzing explanatory text (pp. 269–304). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  23. Meyer, B. J. F. (1987). Following the author’s top-level organization: An important skill for reading comprehension. In R. J. Tierney, P. L. Anders, & J. Nichols Mitchell (Eds.), Understanding readers’ understanding: Theory and practice (pp. 59–76). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  24. Meyer, B. J. F., Brandt, D. M., & Bluth, G. J. (1980). Use of top-level structure in text: Key for reading comprehension of ninth-grade students. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 72–103. Scholar
  25. Meyer, B. J. F., Middlemiss, W., Theodorou, E., Brezinski, K. L., McDougall, J., & Bartlett, B. J. (2002). Effects of structure strategy instruction delivered to fifth-grade children using the internet with and without the aid of older adult tutors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 486–519. Scholar
  26. Meyer, B. J. F., Wijekumar, K. K., & Lin, Y. (2011). Individualizing a web-based structure strategy intervention for fifth graders’ comprehension of nonfiction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 140–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meyer, B. J. F., Wijekumar, K., Middlemiss, W., Higley, K., Lei, P., Meier, C., et al. (2010). Web-based tutoring of the structure strategy with or without elaborated feedback or choice for fifth- and seventh-grade readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 45, 62–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meyer, B. J. F., Young, C. J., & Bartlett, B. J. (1989). Memory improved: Enhanced reading comprehension and memory across the life span through strategic text structure. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  29. Ocasio, T. L. (2006). A comparison of two instructional programs to develop strategies to improve reading comprehension (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (UMI No. 3209082).Google Scholar
  30. Raphael, T. E., & Kirschner, B. M. (1985). The effects of instruction in compare/contrast text structure on sixth-grade students’ reading comprehension and writing products (Research series No. 161). East Lansing: Institute for Research on Teaching, College of Education, Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  31. Ray, M. N., & Meyer, B. J. (2011). Individual differences in children’s knowledge of expository text structures: A review of literature. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 67–82.Google Scholar
  32. Richgels, D., McGee, L. M., Lomax, R. G., & Sheard, C. (1987). Awareness of four text structures: Effects on recall of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 22(2), 177–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Roehling, J., Hebert, M., Nelson, J. R., & Bohaty, J. (2017). Text structure strategies for improving expository reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 71, 71–82. Scholar
  34. Russell, S. L. (2005). Challenging task in appropriate text: Designing discourse communities to increase the literacy growth of adolescent struggling readers (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (UMI No. 3178568).Google Scholar
  35. Sáenz, L. M., & Fuchs, L. S. (2002). Examining the reading difficulty of secondary students with learning disabilities: Expository versus narrative text. Remedial and Special Education, 23, 31–41. Scholar
  36. Simmons, D. C., Coyne, M. D., Kwok, O. M., McDonagh, S., Harn, B. A., & Kame’enui, E. J. (2008). Indexing response to intervention a longitudinal study of reading risk from kindergarten through third grade. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41, 158–173. Scholar
  37. Smith, P. L., & Friend, M. (1986). Training learning disabled adolescents in a strategy for using text structure to aid recall of instructional prose. Learning Disabilities Research, 2, 38–44.Google Scholar
  38. Snow, C. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.Google Scholar
  39. Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  40. Spires, H., Gallini, J., & Riggsbee, J. (1992). Effects of schema-based and text structure-based cues on expository prose comprehension in 4th graders. Journal of Experimental Education, 60, 307–320. Scholar
  41. Taylor, B. M. (1980). Children’s memory for expository text after reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 15, 399–411. Scholar
  42. Taylor, M. B., & Williams, J. P. (1983). Comprehension of learning-disabled readers: Task and text variations. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 743–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Torgesen, J., Stancavage, F., Myers, D., Schirm, A., Stuart, E., Vartivarian, S., … Haan, C. (2006). Closing the reading gap: First year findings from a randomized trial of four reading interventions for striving readers: Final report. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.Google Scholar
  44. Van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., Rashotte, C. A., & Pearson, N. A. (2009). TOSREC: Test of silent reading efficiency and comprehension. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.Google Scholar
  46. Wijekumar, K. K., Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P. (2012). Large-scale randomized control trial with 4th graders using intelligent tutoring of the structure strategy to improve nonfiction reading comprehension. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60, 986–1013. Scholar
  47. Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., Lei, P., Lin, Y., Johnson, L. A., Spielvogel, J. A., et al. (2014). Multisite randomized controlled trial examining intelligent tutoring of structure strategy for 5th-grade readers. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 7(4), 331–357. Scholar
  48. Wilkins, S. A. (2007). Teaching expository text strategies to improve reading comprehension in low readers (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (UMI No. 3270462).Google Scholar
  49. Williams, J. P., Hall, K. M., Lauer, K. D., Stafford, K. B., DeSisto, L. A., & deCani, J. S. (2005). Expository text comprehension in the primary grade classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 538–550. Scholar
  50. Williams, J. P., & Pao, L. S. (2011). Teaching narrative and expository text structure to improve comprehension. In H. L. Swanson, K. R., Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of reading interventions (pp. 254–278). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  51. Williams, J. P., Pollini, S., Nubla-Kung, A. M., Snyder, A. E., Garcia, A., Ordynans, J. G., et al. (2014). An intervention to improve comprehension of cause/effect through expository text structure instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1), 1–17. Scholar
  52. Williams, J. P., Stafford, K. B., Lauer, K. D., Hall, K. M., & Pollini, S. (2009). Embedding reading comprehension training in content-area instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(1), 1–20. Scholar
  53. Woodcock, R. W. (1998). Woodcock reading mastery tests-revised (WRMT-R). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, Barkley Memorial CenterUniversity of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA
  2. 2.342 Barkley Memorial CenterUniversity of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA
  3. 3.247B Barkley Memorial CenterUniversity of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA
  4. 4.273 Barkley Memorial CenterUniversity of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA

Personalised recommendations