Providing text structure

Paragraphs give structure to a piece of writing and organising information to suit the type of text and its purpose. Effective use of paragraphs assists the reader to navigate through the text and tell them when it has moved onto a new point. In formal writing using the first sentence in a paragraph (the topic sentence) to align your ideas and structure is essential for conveying clear meaning in your writing.


Explicit teaching

Students are to understand the purpose of a paragraph: To break a text into organised ideas with each paragraph dealing with just one idea or aspect of an idea. This main idea should be clear to the reader and flow from one paragraph to the next.

Depending on the purpose of the text, the structure and layout will be varied. Students need to be shown the key features of the type of text(s) used in your subject and where possible, discuss the link to other KLAs to encourage students to transfer their knowledge. See Online resources for examples.

General strategies

For students to gain a better understanding of using paragraphs to structure their writing, they need to be exposed to the use in a genuine context, specific to your KLA. The different types of paragraph/text structures can be amplified by exposing students to different types of text on the topic currently focused on in class. Allowing students to compare and contrast the examples will provide a deeper understanding of the impact of text structure.

Some general strategies for improving paragraphs for whole text structure include: deconstructing exemplars; ‘Order, order!’ sequencing text from ‘cut up’ paragraphs; reconstructing text for a different audience/purpose; ‘Guess who’ identifying the purpose of the text and who the targeted audience might be based on the structure; peer editing with a focus on structure; ‘What’s missing?’ students to complete a partially written text that has a key paragraph missing using the information from the rest of the text.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: order, order!

This activity can be done at any stage of the topic and is a great introduction to text structure by analysing the choices made by the example authors.

  • Using either the information text or sample pieces of writing on your current topic, cut the text into separate paragraphs.
  • Students to work in pairs/small groups to get the text back into sequence.
  • During the activity, teachers to encourage the students to justify why they are making their choices.
  • Once they have sequenced the text(s), discuss how they worked it out:
    • What did they do first and why?
    • What was easy/challenging
    • Why does there need to be an order/structure?

Variations: include time limits/table points to increase engagement; have more than one text cut up so the students need to look carefully at the structure and content to sequence them; students to move around to other groups and question why they sequenced it in that particular way then adjustment can be made if needed; read the jumbled text first to emphasise the confusion for the reader; have one piece missing from the text (introduction, a body paragraph, ingredients, one of the steps) and have students construct it based on the clues in the rest of the text.

Activity 2: navigating online verses print

With an increase in the use of online text, students are to explore the variation to text structures in this format. With online readers generally scanning for information and only wanting something specific, there is a great focus on partitioning text into different sections.

For example, comparing a printed recipe to online will see the same content but broken into different ‘tabs’ for ingredients and instructions.

Students are to investigate the similarities and differences between an online text and print text related to the same topic. (Appropriate comparative texts may need to be sourced by the teacher prior). This can be completed using a table or graphic organiser.

Extension: using a website creator, students are to create an online text following the appropriate paragraph structure for its purpose as well as the structure of an online text. This may involve adapting a current piece of writing to the online structure or working in groups to create a text from the beginning. It is important that the text is aligned to the current topic to provide students with a realistic context and support learning rather than just ‘add on’.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1763: Text structure and organisation: Understand that the coherence of more complex texts relies on devices that signal text structure and guide readers, for example overviews, initial and concluding paragraphs and topic sentences, indexes or site maps or breadcrumb trails for online texts.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Outcome 3: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts (EN4-3B) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: understand that the coherence of more complex texts relies on devices that signal text structure and guide readers, for example overviews, initial and concluding paragraphs and topic sentences, indexes or site maps or breadcrumb trails for online texts.

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