Discourse Structures: Part 3

Let’s go back to our structured overview. You notice the top-level structures. Here in this book on seasons, it is divided into spring, summer, fall, and winter. It is very easy to compare and contrast them. What happens in the spring? This is a cause and effect question.

Are there problems? Look for them. If it gets too cold, nothing grows.

The sequence. Well, there is an order to the seasons. Spring, summer, fall, and winter.

You can point out the different top-level structures, which are also what you could call thinking paradigms. Interestingly, you find these same structures in stories. That is why you see them connected to the plot on your structured overview.

You want to teach children how to think. You may believe, "Well, my child is only in preschool." But young children, very young children, yes, even before they are one, understand the paradigm of problem and solution. If they want something, they are going to figure out how to get it. They see a toy and want that toy. They are going to try to get that toy.

Cause and effect. Something happens. Children look for the effect. You tell a child, “No.” She will look to see what you are going to do if she do what you say.

Compare and contrast. The child knows the different between you and another parent, another relative. They compare and they contrast. They act accordingly to the expectations of those they are around.

Children know sequence. They have an understanding of what will follow next.

These are patterns of thought that very young children develop early on. We use these patterns of organization in comprehending text.

Let’s go on with another book. This book is on spring. We look at the title. Then when we open the book we notice that the vocabulary words are in a different size and font face.

So, with exposition, the vocabulary is usually identified differently. Especially in science and social studies books in elementary school. There is a difference between content area books and the books they use to teach reading.

There has been a push to use more exposition in teaching reading. It used to be that reading was taught using almost all narratives, but the child needs to understand the difference between exposition and narrative, because a reader approaches each differently. You read them differently.

In exposition, you go through and read the title. You read the headings, the subheadings. You read the bold face print for the vocabulary. You look at the illustrations. You look at the questions at the back, particularly if it is a longer text.

Here are some more titles: How Do Apples Grow?, Sunshine Makes the Seasons, How a Seed Grows, and All About Fruit. Even the title gives a clue that this is expository text. This text provides information on a topic. It is informational text, and you are going to read it differently.

You can do a picture walk like you do in a narrative. Go through and look at all the illustrations. Talk about them. And that’s gaining meaning. You are implanting language for the children. This is important.

Some books almost look like an encyclopedia with the illustrations and the diagrams. Again, you can go through and talk about them. Talk about the illustrations. Talk about the pictures. Look at how the information is laid out.

A lot of times, just like in the structured overview, there will be a hierarchy. Some sentences or phrases may use a larger font size. Just read those sections of text. You don’t have to read the smaller sized print.

You can differentiate your reading of exposition based on the different ages and levels of interest. The children you read to should influence how you approach and read a text.

Here is a title, Classifying Reptiles.To me that means we are going to compare or contrast. We are going to be identifying. And with this one, sometimes you can just read sections that are pulled out from the rest of the text, as in a sidebar.

This text includes questions. Go through and read the questions. Now exposition, if it is written well, is written with a main idea and supporting details. In well written exposition you can go through and read just the topic sentence of each paragraph and get a lot of information. You can teach children how to do this.

From Seed to Plant. That sounds like time-order, or sequence. We are going to go from the seed to the plant. The book sounds like Pumpkin Pumpkin, the book that was also a story.

Some books are both. They can be a story, and they also can include the structures of exposition. A narrative, though, is not going to be written with topic sentences and main idea sentences supported by details. The structure is going to be a setting, characters, a problem, resolution, and a theme.

In the Carrot Seed, the boy has a problem and it is solved. The book explains how he solves it. You are going to see a cross over. You cannot say, “Is this narrative or is this exposition? It can’t be both!”

That’s not the way it works. But you can use the terms to talk about the text and help the children understand the differences. And then we use the structures discourse as the basis for questions. We’ll talk about that in another section.