What is Expository Text?

I love teaching with nonfiction.  There are so many possibilities for my students to fall in love with informational text.  The topics are endless and I'm lucky to have quite a few books in the nonfiction section of my classroom library.  I decided to return to a focus on nonfiction, specifically expository text for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and our holiday break in the middle of December.  We've had many conversations about hybrid texts and now we are studying how expository text is different.  I'm amazed at how astute my students are.  

We started the week with an inquiry about expository text. We looked at lots of different examples and wrote about what we noticed.  It's always amazing to me how observant kids can be when we give them opportunities to slow down, think, and have conversations.  They noticed the usual things...captions, titles, index, glossary, headings, subheadings, etc.  They also noticed things that my students in the past haven't noticed before:  acknowledgements from the author, dedication, additional websites and author notes.  Our chart is filled with their noticings.  (I think I may have just made up a word).

Inquiry Leads to Definition

This year, I decided to add a component to my nonfiction study.  I wanted the kids to write their own definition of expository text, instead of me just giving it to them, or assuming that they had a good understanding from our conversations.  I adapted the Zoom In Zoom Out graphic organizer that we had used in our inquiry teacher group last summer when coming up with a definition of teacher inquiry.  I gave it to the students to complete with a partner before we gathered as a whole group to create our own definition.  It was very interesting to listen in on the conversations between students as they shared their thinking.  I was quickly able to ascertain who understood certain concepts and who still had some gaps in their understanding of nonfiction.

Here is some of their thinking:

Expository Text is Similar To:

The Important Parts:
  • It has true facts
  • You can learn something new
  • You can read it for pleasure or to do research (Isn't that an interesting observation?)
  • Title, Index, Glossary, Headings (we decided to call these ways to organize the text)
  • Diagrams, Photographs, Captions, Bold Words etc. (we agreed that we learned important information with these features too)
  • The author can be talking to you
  • It is about a lot of different topics
What it's Not:
  • A story
  • Fiction
  • Made up
  • Fantasy
The next step was to synthesize our information...I wanted the students to own the definition.  We decided which parts were most important to include. This is their final definition:

Our Definition:

Expository nonfiction is text that has facts where you can read and learn new information.  It is organized and has visual information that gives the reader more information.

We will hang the definition on a bulletin board that is dedicated to our thinking and learning about expository nonfiction.  

I'm looking forward to the rest of this unit.  We'll be delving into: 
  • how the different organizational and visual features support readers, 
  • taking notes and learning which note taking tools best help us (different readers will find that different tools better support them)
  • favorite authors and series
  • evaluating the author's credentials
  • studying different text structures
  • finding other sources of nonfiction we like (we already love Wonderopolis, other webistes, magazines, etc.)
I'll be using Steve Moline's book I See What You Mean to guide my students in critically analyzing the visual features of nonfiction and how these features can be used as readers and writers.  If you haven't seen this book, you need to check it out.  I also just ordered Chris Lehman's Energize Research Reading and Writing.  I wasn't able to attend his session at NCTE.  A friend took notes for me and went on and on about how great the session was.  Right after receiving Robin's notes, I read Franki's post.  Five minutes later, the book was in my Amazon cart.  (Gotta love "One Click" shopping).

Now that I'm back into blogging mode, I'll keep you posted on our progress.

What mentor texts do you like to use when studying nonfiction?


  1. It is common for educators to choose random story texts and fiction based materials when doing reading and writing activities with students. The idea of using expository text is good in that it allows developing readers and writers to appreciate the wealth of knowledge that surrounds them.
    As you stated Julie, there are so many possibilities for students to fall in love with expository materials...i believe that the variety of topics are vast and caters to the different interest desires of each student.
    Using expository materials will not only heighten interest in reading but also add variety to the reading interests that students may have. Their fascination will go beyond comics and novels, to articles, commentaries and even blogs.
    Just yesterday, a group of us student teachers were in a session with our lecturer, who asked us to list materials we could place in our classroom to foster the Print-rich environment, other than books....(fiction based books)
    Not many educators would think of placing news articles, internet blogs, and even cooking recipes for students to peruse.
    It's time to stop placing the option of using expository materials for reading and writing activities. Students should be exposed to varying genres of literacy and appreciate the contribution of each.

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