Helping kids to understand structure in writing

Perhaps the most common area of need we see when students join My Academy for tutoring is writing. From early primary right through to adult education, writing is both an important life skill and a challenge, as students encounter new forms and styles of writing for different situations and levels of learning.

The range of text types students are expected to learn is broad: narrative, exposition, literary critique, information report, news article, poetry, CV… the list goes on. Even in primary school students are expected to master a variety of forms, particularly if they are considering scholarship entry or other competitive exams.

And writing is not just a matter of punctuation, spelling and grammar. There are recognised rules to writing sentences, paragraphs and entire texts and these require regular exposure, discussion and writing practice to master. This is why writing skill support is the most common reason people come to us.

Although qualified primary teachers both at the child’s school and at our centre are expert at working through the skills and knowledge needed for students to become strong writers, as a parent it helps to have an awareness of the structure and features of different text types in order to support your child with at-home tasks. The rest of this article outlines the
basic structure and features* of two of the most common text types introduced in primary school and carried on through high school and tertiary education, and then provides a few tips to aide students’ understanding.

 

Of course, each of these text types (and others) could be tackled in a lot more detail in separate articles – but if you require more information on a particular type of writing, our staff are always happy to answer your questions and provide examples.

THE NARRATIVE

Purpose: to entertain, sometimes to instruct or inform

Types: many different genres such as fairy tale, mystery, romance, short story, novel. Each genre will have its own particular features

Structure:

  1. Orientation: introduces the setting, the characters and the situation. It’s the who, what, where of the story. The
    orientation should seek not only to orientate the reader but to gain his or her interest
  2. Complication: introduces the problem and moves the story through the problem and related events to a climax. This is the main body of the text
  3. Resolution: After the climax, the story is brought to a satisfying conclusion. It may involve a twist but it should still feel ‘finished’.

Supporting Features:

Stories use language that is appropriate for the genre and the readership. For example, if it is set in the olden days the characters may use more formal, traditional language in dialogue.

A story usually contains a mix of narration (usually in first or third person) which tells the story and describes people, places and action in creative and interesting ways, and dialogue, which is the characters talking – shown through the use of inverted commas or ‘speech marks’ and other supporting punctuation. Aspects such as character development, theme and setting need to be considered in story writing.

The language of stories is usually more personal and creative that that of other text types. It is important that students
understand the distinction and undergo a variety of activities to develop their creative writing skills.

Ways to help students understand narrative:

 

  • The plot sandwich: The orientation is like the top layer of bread; the complication is like the filling; the resolution is the bottom layer of bread. Using visual and tactile representations can help students understand structure
  • The plot hill: Similarly, drawing a hill with the orientation at the bottom, the complication rising up the hill, the climax up the top and the resolution coming down the hill on the other side can be a good way to visualise plot. Have your child write dot points on each part of the hill about what will happen in their story, by way of planning before writing
  • There are many other planning templates available for planning plot, character and setting in writing
  • Brainstorming characters and their traits is a good way to start thinking about realistic characters. Even a fairy tale character needs to be believable by having human traits and behaving and speaking consistently within these traits

THE EXPOSITION OR PERSUASIVE ESSAY

Purpose: to persuade the reader of a particular point of view on an issue

Types: Expositions are essays that analyse and evaluate and a persuasive essay or argument in an example of this. Young students often need assistance differentiating between a formal written argument and a debate, which is designed to be spoken and can use less formal language at times. Strictly speaking, a ‘rebuttal’ should only feature in a spoken debate. Other examples of persuasive writing that differ from the essay are advertising copy and letters to the editor/to council.

Structure:

  1.  Introduction: states the topic and the position taken; outlines the main supporting arguments that will be covered in the essay
  2. Main Body: a series of paragraphs (in primary school, commonly three), each expanding on a different supporting argument for the main position. The supporting argument is backed up with examples and
    factual evidence, which may include statistics or quotes (which should be referenced)
  3. Conclusion: restates the main position, summing up what has been covered and reaffirming the point of view held

Supporting features:

Written arguments use persuasive language that is based in fact but may contain emotive word choice. As students move into high school the formality of language used in essays is expected to increase, as well as the use of sophisticated and topic-specific terminology. Likewise, the amount of research or resources drawn upon to support the argument is at a higher level as students progress.

Ways to help students understand exposition:

  • Beginning with a basic structure and moving to more complex essays works for most students, both in primary and high school. This allows students to start thinking about putting forward a point of view and justifying it, without being bogged down by structure. For example, playing ‘Soap box’ as a family can get students started: each player is given a topic and must speak non-stop for 1 minute on that topic. Choose an argument such as ‘Why peanut butter is better than jam’ for fun.
  • Start with familiar topics that are easy to brainstorm. For example, a primary school child can easily come up with ideas for ‘Why teachers should wear uniforms too’ and a high school student may be able to develop an argument around a social or historical issue being studied at school.

* Structure and features of text types drawn from Derewianka, Beverly 1990, Exploring How Texts Work, Primary English Teaching Association, NSW.

 

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