Discourse Structures Part 2

I want to continue looking at the structure of text. Prose is divided into narrative and exposition. Narratives have a title. The setting tells where and when. Narratives have characters. Narratives have a problem. Every good story has a problem. There is a resolution. And most stories have a theme.

When you are reading to a child you can point out the difference between a story and an exposition. Exposition is written to explain. An example is a simple book, A Tree is Nice. Some people may call this book a story, but there isn’t a problem. There isn’t a main character. The trees are the topic, but the text doesn’t have a problem that is resolved. The theme, if it has one, would be similar to the title in that a tree is nice.

A Tree is Nice is another one of my favorites from when I was little. A Tree is Nice. Trees are very nice. They fill up the sky. They go beside the rivers and down the valleys. They live up on the hills. Trees make the woods. They make everything beautiful.

The book explains about trees. It provides detail, almost a list of ideas that go with trees. So, this text is exposition. It is not a story. You are not going to have children finding a resolution or a theme.

The text has a main idea. It has important points. But the book represent exposition. It explains.

Notice on the structured overview, description or explanation, and then there are what we call top-level structures: sequence, problem-solution, compare-contrast, cause-effect.

A Tree is Nice does not have any of the top-level structures. It is a listing or description about trees.

Let’s look at some more features of exposition that you can use to point out to your child.

For example, in the book, Apple Tree, the title sounds like a topic. And if I look in the back of the book, I see an index. An index at the back of a book is a clue that it is not a narrative. It’s an expository text.

If I open the book, I see headings included in the text. Each section has a heading, which is a clue that the text is exposition There are pictures that illustrate the subtopics in the book.

If nothing else, go through the book and only read the headings. For younger children, you don’t need to read all the words on each page. Read the headings and point out the illustrations.

It’s amazing how many children in school, when they take tests, don’t look at the illustrations, and yet the illustrations and images are provided to convey meaning, to help them comprehend. They need to be studied. We need to teach children to “read” the pictures.

So, we have headings, the index, and illustrations. We have a table of contents. Let’s look at that.

In the book, The Life and Times of an Apple, a table of contents is provided. A table of contents can be in either a narrative or an exposition. Picture books that are narratives usually don’t have a table of contents, but chapter books do.

In an expository text, look at the content listed in the table of contents. This helps to form a framework for placing ideas from the text. These ideas are then connected to our schemata.

In some expositions, you can show the child how to use the table of contents to choose which sections you want to read. In the section, The Life of an Apple, the book has pictures, labelings, illustrations, and diagrams.

You and your child can go through the book, read, and get meaning, and yet not read every word, which is an important point. Many young people go to college and get thick books in which they are assigned to read hundreds of pages, and there are still students who start at the beginning and think they have to read every word to have read the assignment.

You need to know the purpose for reading, and it's not necessarily to read every word.

In reading to a child, first of all, talk about, this is a story or this is a book we are going to find out information. Maybe you don’t want to use the word, exposition, with a preschooler, but you can say we are going to learn about something. In The Life of an Apple, we are going to learn about apples. We are going to learn about the seasons.

In another book on seasons, you can go through and just talk about the pictures. The headings are the different seasons. It’s spring, summer, fall, and winter. Point out the differences between the seasons.

These are examples of how to help a child learn the differences between exposition and narratives, in other words, discourse structure.