Disclosure: I have received books from DK Publishing to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed within this post are my own and have not been influenced in any way.
Think about the books you have read to your children early in their lives. Were they stories? Poems? How many were “fact” books that were not told in story form?
If you are like most parents, most of the books you read with your children are narrative, fiction stories. However, we know that children will often be able to recognize narrative (story) structure by age 3, where many children never really full grasp all of the expository text structures out there.
What do you mean when you say “narrative” and “expository” text structure?
Narrative and expository text structure are two ways to describe how many texts are organized.
Narrative text structure is the one you are probably most familiar with because it is the formal term to describe story structure. Stories all have characters, settings, events, a problem, a climax, and a solution. Having this structure helps readers to remember what happened in the text when we ask them to recall what they have read.
Expository text structure is the term used to describe what we often think of as “textbook style” writing. In the US, exposition is often harder for children to understand. The most common expository text structures are description; listing (enumeration); sequence; compare and contrast; cause and effect, and problem and solution.
Raise of hands – how many of you knew that?!?!
Yep, that’s the problem. We spend a lot of time learning about story structure, but don’t usually have the same exposure to expository text structures. So, when we try to remember what we read in exposition, we have difficulty organizing it in our brains. Ultimately, we end up leaving some important parts out.
Note: Narrative and Exposition are NOT synonymous with Fiction and Fact/Information. Narrative and Exposition describe the structure of a text while Fiction and Fact/Information describe the purpose of the text. You can definitely have a narrative book that is informative or (less frequently) a fiction book that is exposition.
How Can Star Wars Help Develop My Child’s Expository Text Comprehension?
Many expository texts for young children are written about animals, people, or places. However, not all kids like to read about these topics. My oldest, for example likes to read about presidents and Star Wars, but he would rather go to bed early than read an animal book (so not my kid!).
For years I have recommended DK Publishing‘s books to my preservice teachers as the gold standard in expository text publication (DK publishes narrative books too, of course, but their exposition particularly stands out from the rest of the market). Their books use text features (headings, illustrations, captions) with purpose and with the reader in mind and have a lot of information available to curious kids. So many informational books written for little ones have minimal information available. Instead of giving a full description of a topic, kids often get a simple sentence that can lead to misinformation (and boredom!).
- Find a Lookin’ Book on a Topic Your Child Enjoys. We like to order what we call “Lookin’ Books”. Lookin’ Books are what we call expository text that is too difficult for the boys to read on their own, but has lots of text features that make the books perfect for looking at on their own (and then we read it in chunks together). One of our recent favorite Lookin’ Books is DK’s Ultimate Star Wars book. At 311 oversized pages, it has enough content to keep my son engaged for months to come.
- Read in Small Chunks. Most exposition is not meant to be read in one sitting or even from beginning to end. My boys look at the Table of Contents and choose a subtopic that they want to learn more about and we read that section.
- Read the Whole Page. Don’t skip over captions or charts – those features carry lots of information that support or extend children’s understanding of the text.
- Try Not to Feel Awkward. Some parents say they feel awkward reading exposition aloud – they say they feel “boring.” However, studies show that early exposure to oral reading of exposition allows young children to mimic the style of expository text in their own retellings (which demonstrates comprehension).
- Don’t Shy Away From ALL Gimmicks. I am generally a bit leery of books that seem to have a gimmick to get kids to read. However, in my transition from stuffy literacy professor to in-the-trenches mom, I have realized something very important. Sometimes those gimmicks are what gets kids to pick up a book in the first place. As long as the book is well written, I will often seek out books with sounds or toys attached to them. Some of our favorite expository books in the past year have been DK’s LEGO Star Wars series that come with exclusive minifigures. (We own The Yoda Chronicles, The Dark Side, and The Visual Dictionary). I have found the boys immediately build the minifigure, add it to their collection, and then read their book over and over again. Sounds like a win-win to me!
- Seek Out Activity Books. Activity books can extend kids’ purposes for reading. We really like the Star Wars Ultimate Factivity Collection because it requires the boys to process factual information to participate in the activity.