A reading strategy that works in every content area

A crucial factor for the success of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is coordination between language teachers and content teachers. A clear point of contact is, without any doubt, the one related to reading strategies. As I have described in previous entries, there is a great variety of reading strategies but today I would like to share my reflection on a specific strategy which enables students to understand   how the information within a written text is organized and, therefore, increase their comprehension of the text. In order to make the most of this strategy, coordination between language teachers and content teachers is essential.

To develop the text structure strategy, language teachers should start by introducing the idea that texts have organizational patterns called text structures.  Then, students should know why they are going to learn about this so language teachers will proceed to explain that if students identify how the text is structured, they will be able to organize the information in the text in a graphic organizer. This will help them to make connections between the text and visual representations of the text and, therefore, to understand the ideas in the text much better.

How many text types should language teachers focus on in order to facilitate reading in the content areas? Yesterday I developed a CLIL seminar session on this and content teachers agreed that a simple classification including the most common patterns of organization would be enough. My proposal includes the following patterns:

- Cause and effect
- Chronological
- Compare and contrast
- Order of importance
- Problem and solution
- Sequence
- Spatial/descriptive

To develop the text structure strategy, language teachers should:
  • Show examples of paragraphs that correspond to each text structure.  You can use this handout I presented yesterday.
  • Make students read different texts, and ask them to determine the text structure and organize the information  by using a suitable graphic organizer. We found  this worksheet  really useful. You will find it together with a broad range of reading and writing resources  on  www.ereadingworksheets.com website. 
After the procedure above has been completed, content teachers will be able to ask their  students to read in their content areas and they will experience how this visual learning strategy will improve the reading comprehension of students. What is more, students will also remember and recall this information better because it has been learnt both visually and verbally.

If you are thinking of sharing the proposal above with the staff at your school, the following 5-minute video can be very helpful since it explains how to teach students to identify text structures in any subject:

Additional resources:

The RMC Research Corporation's Center on Instruction website offers  a collection of Informational text Structure Templates that language teachers can use to introduce this strategy. You can download these templates from here.

-  Click here for a collection of graphic organizers in Word format.


  1. You've hit the spot, text models/structures are clearly very helpful to process texts in a faster, more efficient way. To a certain extent we've always taught them in ELT and modern textbooks are proof of it.
    However, what we don’t always have, in my experience, is a homogeneous and persistent use of graphic organisers and common terminology across the school. This often creates confusion among the students and undermines the effectiveness of teaching text structures.

    A common approach is needed not only for the subjects taught in English and ELT, but also for the other teachers, especially the language teachers. Hence, the importance of a decent working linguistic project in the school, where these issues are settled.

    A final point: we must be careful and think of the level of cognitive development of the students when introducing a text structure. As Jennifer Gonzalez points out in the video, argumentative structures are not easy to handle except in its most basic form by most young learners. This is even more true of texts with subordinate structures.

    This is not to say that we shouldn't try and train our students in text structures more complex than the ones we currently use, especially in the ELT classroom, especially if we do it in an across-the-school and graded way. Traditional education sometimes underestimates the capabilities of students, offering them lower-level cognitive challenges. Fortunately, this is changing.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment. I am absolutely convinced that coordination and gradual exposure are the key ingredients to being successful at making our students deal with those complex texts. As you point out, this new joint approach is becoming a reality in many school contexts.