The University of Iowa

Text Structure Mapping: A Strategy to Improve Reading Comprehension of Informational Texts

Teacher pointing to text on the projector

When teaching students about text structure using a text map, teachers can think aloud and point out where they found the information in the text for each part of the map.


Posted on: November 6, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series that will describe instructional approaches for improving students’ reading comprehension of informational texts.

As students progress from the primary to secondary grades, they are asked to read increasing amounts of informational texts (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010b). In fact, by the time students reach middle school, the majority of reading assignments are informational texts, as students must acquire critical content knowledge by reading across the curriculum (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010a). However, many students may struggle to comprehend informational texts due to high vocabulary and content demands (Cromley & Azevedo, 2007; Denton et al., 2015), as well as unfamiliar structures (Sáenz & Fuchs, 2002).

Text structure instruction has been found to be effective at improving reading comprehension of informational texts, including for students with or at risk for learning disabilities (Gajria, Jitendra, Sood, & Sacks, 2007), and those with emotional or behavioral difficulties (Burke, Boon, Hatton, & Bowman-Perrott, 2015). Text structure is the way an author organizes information in order to achieve a purpose. By explicitly teaching students the characteristics of specific text structures and providing them with targeted practice opportunities, students’ comprehension of texts encountered across the curriculum may improve (Williams et al., 2016). Text structure instruction equips students with a cognitive tool to organize the information and complex vocabulary contained in content area texts (Pyle et al., 2017) and may increase students’ attention to the features of less familiar text structures (Hebert, Bohaty, Nelson, & Brown, 2016).

Several attributes of text structure instruction have been found to be especially influential in improving reading comprehension. First, it is important for students to learn a range of text structures (e.g., problem-solution, cause-effect, compare-contrast), rather than focusing on a singular structure type (Hebert et al., 2016). Second, teachers should explicitly teach new structures using exemplar texts that clearly contain textual elements of each structure (Jones, Clark, & Reutzel, 2016) and using graphic organizers that scaffold students’ organization of these elements (Pyle et al., 2017). Finally, the instructional sequence should include a written student product (Hebert et al., 2016), particularly when implementing this type of instruction with secondary students.

One effective instructional strategy that can be used to introduce and practice new informational text structures is text mapping (Burke et al., 2015; Stagliano & Boon, 2009). Text maps are graphic organizers in which students can display and organize important textual features. Each type of text structure map should be explicitly introduced and practiced until students demonstrate they can independently produce the text map (Stone, Boone, Fore, & Spencer, 2008). Importantly, independent application of the text mapping strategy may increase reading comprehension by improving students’ ability to self-monitor comprehension and make inferences (Garwood, Ciullo, & Brunsting, 2017).

Example Text Structure Mapping Lesson Outline

The following is a text structure mapping lesson outline in which students learn to organize a problem-solution text. A scripted think aloud for the modeling portion of the lesson can be found in the Supplemental Materials for Teachers section below, along with blank versions of the text structure map and rubric mentioned in this example. The completed version of the text structure map is provided in this post. This example lesson would be appropriate for seventh- or eighth-grade students. However, this strategy can be used with students of any age who are able to read connected text.


Begin by explaining to students that authors choose certain text structures to organize their ideas and accomplish their purpose for writing the passage. Readers who can identify the structure will better understand the text, remember the important information, and be able to use the structure to write their own texts. Review any previously taught text structures before introducing the new structure: problem-solution. Provide several examples of where students may encounter this type of text in school and life such as when reading about environmental disasters, negotiations between people or countries in a conflict, or ways a community might improve its citizens’ quality of life. Tell students the objective of the lesson is to analyze the information in a text to understand the author’s use of a problem-solution structure.

Choose a short informational text that contains clear examples of each section of the text map. Remind students that good readers read a text one time for understanding before engaging in a second reading for a more specific purpose, including analyzing the text structure. Expressively read the text aloud to students, briefly stopping to discuss any unknown vocabulary words.


Tell students that the purpose of a problem-solution text is for the author to inform the reader about a problem and present solutions to the problem. While referring to the template for the text structure map, explain that each section contains a feature of the text structure that helps the author achieve that purpose. Next, introduce each section of the text map. Explain to students that you will be thinking aloud to demonstrate how you identify and analyze the problem and solution, as well as identify relevant textual details in which the author develops the problem and establishes useful solutions (see “Example Scripted Think Aloud for Text Structure Mapping Instruction” for the modeling portion of the lesson in the Supplemental Materials for Teachers). Emphasize that students will eventually use this same type of analysis independently to map the important elements of a problem-solution text. Therefore, it is essential that they pay close attention to how you think about and identify these structural elements.

Begin by defining the problem in an informational text as “something that the author describes as going wrong, or a type of conflict.” Think aloud about how you will define the problem in this specific text. Provide a non-example, in which you offer one way to describe the problem, but explain why you will choose to frame this problem differently (see “Example Scripted Think Aloud for Text Structure Mapping Instruction” in the Supplemental Materials for Teachers section below for examples of non-examples). Point out to students the section of text on which you are basing your identification of the problem, and annotate the text by highlighting or underlining relevant sections. Explain that the problem is one of the central ideas in the passage. Emphasize that you will concisely capture the problem in one or two brief sentences, and model recording the problem in this section of the text structure map.

Next, tell the students that when analyzing a problem-solution text, it is critical to understand the significance of the problem in order to later identify possible solutions. Explain that the significance of the problem means why it is important or harmful, or, in other words, the reason the reader should care about the problem. Describe the significance of the problem in the exemplar passage, and underline or highlight the sections of text in which the author outlines the significance. Reiterate that the significance of the problem highlights the need to fix the problem and sets the stage for the author to present possible solutions. In addition, connect the problem’s significance with the reader’s feelings about the problem. For example, the reader may feel worried, concerned, or scared. Record the significance of the problem on the text structure map.

Finally, tell students that the next step in thinking about problem-solution texts is determining possible solutions. Define solutions as “things the author suggests will fix or help the problem.” Explain that in a problem-solution text it is important to not only identify possible solutions, but also understand their rationale, or the reasons the author gives for each solution. For the rationale, allow the reader to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions. Identify a non-example of a solution in the exemplar text, and explain why you will not record that particular solution in the text structure map. Identify one to two possible solutions the author presents, and explain your reasoning for selecting these solutions to record in the text map. Highlight or underline the sections of text in which you found the solutions. Connect each solution to the significance of the problem, and analyze the rationale presented. Tell students that the rationale should describe why each solution will address the problem and its significance. Locate the rationale in the exemplar passage by highlighting or underlining relevant sentences, and record the rationale for each solution on the text structure map.

Guided Practice

Provide students with a new, short informational text that is organized uniformly by a problem-solution structure. Preview the text by talking with students about any headings or graphics and clarifying any unknown vocabulary words. Then, ask pairs or small groups of students to read the text together one time for understanding. Monitor to ensure students read the entire text before directing them to return to the text to analyze the text structure, using the problem-solution text map. As students collaborate with their peers to complete the maps, redirect any misunderstandings. Probe students’ analyses of the problem-solution structure by asking questions about the importance of particular sections of the map or how specific sentences or paragraphs contribute to the overall text structure.

Students may require guided practice with several different passages before they are ready to map problem-solution texts independently. It is essential to address any student misunderstandings or difficulties with particular sections or concepts by explicitly re-teaching parts of the text map. For example, students may require additional instruction on identifying the author’s rationale for suggested solutions or choosing the most convincing evidence that demonstrates the harmfulness of the problem. These targeted re-teaches may include additional modeling and guided student discussions to ensure understanding of the section.

Independent Practice

Assign a short informational text for students to analyze independently, using the problem-solution text map. Again, it is critical that the chosen text exemplifies a clear problem-solution structure and contains all structural elements included in the map. Use the Problem-Solution Text Structure Rubric (see Supplemental Materials for Teachers) to provide students with targeted feedback regarding the accuracy and completion of their text maps. Direct students to revise inaccurate or incomplete sections based on your feedback. Finally, ask students to reflect on the use of text mapping to support their comprehension of problem-solution texts and how they might apply this new skill in the future.

Example of a Completed Text Structure Map

The following is an example of a completed text structure map based on a passage about a mine collapse that trapped miners in Chile. 

Problem: (Be brief and use your own words!)

The mine collapsed, trapping 33 Chilean gold and copper miners 2,300 feet underground

Significance of the problem: (Why is the problem important? How is it causing harm? In other words, why do we care about the problem?)

The men could die of thirst, starvation, or lack of oxygen.

The mine could collapse further
Solution(s) for the problem: (How can this problem be fixed or helped?) Rationale for solutions: (How does the solution work? Why will it be effective?)
1. Drill very small holes and use them to deliver supplies. The miners will receive food, water, medicine, and oxygen. This will help the miners stay healthy until they can be rescued.
2. Slowly drill a rescue tunnel. Then, remove each man using a special capsule. The tunnel will be the right size for the rescue but not so big or drilled so quickly that the mine will collapse further. The capsule will protect the men as they leave the mine.

The goal of text structure instruction is for students to comprehend new, authentic texts encountered across the curriculum. However, explicit instruction of specific text structure types, such as problem-solution, is an important first step to understanding passages that contain a range of organizational features. Text structure mapping provides teachers with a dynamic instructional tool that can be used to help students learn cognitive frameworks for organizing such features (Pyle et al., 2017) and ultimately improve comprehension of content-rich informational texts (Burke et al., 2015).

Supplemental Materials for Teachers

PDF iconExample Scripted Think Aloud for Text Structure Mapping Instruction

A scripted representation of an educator modeling text structure mapping for a problem-solution text.

PDF iconProblem-Solution Text Structure Map

A graphic organizer to help students display and organize important features from a text about a problem and solution.

PDF iconProblem-Solution Text Map Rubric

Guidelines for providing students with targeted feedback regarding the accuracy and completion of their text maps.


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