Individual Differences in Children’s Knowledge of Expository Text Structures: A Review of Literature

Melissa N. RAY, Bonnie J. F. MEYER


In this review of literature we examine empirical research of individual differences in younger readers’ knowledge and use of expository text structures. The goal of this review is to explore the influence of reader and text characteristics in order to better understand the instructional needs of elementary school readers. First we review research which has examined the influence of two textual characteristics: the hierarchical organization of macro-and micro-level propositions and the type of text structure (e.g. collection, comparison, problem-and-solution). Then we review research of three reader characteristics: overall comprehension skill, age, and prior knowledge and how their influencesmay vary in relation to the aforementioned text characteristics. Our review of research suggests that readers of all ages may benefit from explicit instruction in text structure, particularly less-skilled comprehenders. Text structure instruction should focus on highly structured texts like comparison, causation, and problem-and-solution.


Text Structure, Structure Strategy, Expository Text

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Environmental Education
Pages 67 - 82
Issue IEJEE, Volume 4, Issue 1, Special Issue Reading Comprehension
Date of acceptance 01 October 2011
Read (times) 794
Downloaded (times) 418

Author(s) Details

Melissa N. RAY

The Pennsylvania State University, United States

Bonnie J. F. MEYER

The Pennsylvania State University, United States


Alvermann, D. E., & Hague, S. A. (1989). Comprehension of counterintuitive science text: Effects of prior knowledge and text structure. The Journal of Educational Research, 82, 197-202.

Armand, F. (2001). Learning from expository texts: Effects of the interaction of prior knowledge and text structure on responses to different question types. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 16, 67-86.

Armbruster, B. B., Anderson, T. H., & Ostertag, J. (1987). Does text structure/summarization instruction facilitate learning from expository text? Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 331-346.

Best, R. M., Floyd, R. G., & McNamara, D. S. (2008). Differential competencies contributing to children's comprehension of narrative and expository texts. Reading Psychology, 29, 137-164.

Birkmire, D. P. (1985). Text processing: The influence of text structure, background knowledge, and purpose. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 314-326.

Britton, B. K., Meyer, B. J., Hodge, M. H., & Glynn, S. M. (1980). Effects of the organization of text on memory: Tests of retrieval and response criterion hypotheses. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 620-629.

Coté, N., Goldman, S. R., & Saul, E. U. (1998). Students making sense of informational text: Relations between processing and representation. Discourse Processes, 25, 1-53.

Danner, F.W. (1976). Children's understanding of intersentence organization in the recall of short descriptive passages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 174-183.

Duke, N. K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202-224.

Englert, C. S., & Hiebert, E. H. (1984). Children's developing awareness of text structures in expository materials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 65-74.

Englert, C. S., & Thomas, C. C. (1987). Sensitivity to text structure in reading and writing: A comparison between learning disabled and non-learning disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 10, 93-105.

Frederiksen, C. H. (1975). Representing logical and semantic structures of knowledge acquired from discourse. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 371-458

Garner, R., & Gillingham, M. G. (1987). Students' knowledge of text structure. Journal of Reading Behavior, 19, 247-259.

Garner, R., Alexander, P., Slater, W., Hare, V. C., Smith, T., Reis, R. (1986). Children's knowledge of structural properties of expository text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 411-416.

Goldman, S. R., Rakestraw J. A. (2000). Structural aspects of constructing meaning from text. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research: Volume III (pp. 311-335). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hiebert, E. H., Englert, C. S., & Brennan, S. (1983). Awareness of text structure in recognition and production of expository discourse. Journal of Reading Behavior, 15, 63-79.

Kardash, C. M., & Noel, L.K. (2000). How organizational signals, need for cognition, and verbal ability affect text recall and recognition. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 317-331.

Kintsch, W. (2004). The construction-integration model of text comprehension and its implications for instruction. In R. B. Ruddell, & U. J. Norman (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1270-1327). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Kintsch, W., & Yarbrough, J. C. (1982). Role of rhetorical structure in text comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 828-834.

Loman, N. L., & Mayer, R. E. (1983). Signaling techniques that increase the understandability of expository prose. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 402- 412.

Lorch, R.F. (1989). Text-signaling devices and their effects reading and memory processes. Educational Psychology Review, 1, 209-234.

Lorch, R. F., & Lorch, E. P. (1985). Topic structure representation and text recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 137-148.

Lorch, R. F., Lorch, E. P., & Inman, W. E. (1993). Effects of signaling topic structure on text recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 281-290.

Lorch, R.F., & Lorch, E.P. (1996). Effects of headings on text recall and summarization. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21, 261-178.

McGee, L. M. (1982). Awareness of text structure: Effects on children's recall of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 581-590.

McNamara, D.S., Kintsch, E. Songer, N.B., & Kintsch, W. (1996). Are good texts always better? interactions of text coherence, background knowledge, and levels of understanding in learning from text. Cognition and Instruction, 14, 1-43.

Meyer, B. J. F. (1975). The organization of prose and its effects on memory. Amsterdam: North Holland.

Meyer, B. J. F. (1985a). Prose analysis: Purposes, procedures, and problems. In B. K. Britton, & J. Black (Eds.), Analyzing and understanding expository text (pp. 11-64, 269 304). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Meyer, B. J. F. (1985b). Signaling the structure of text. In D.H. Jonassen (Ed.), The technology of text (pp. 64–89). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology.

Meyer, B. J. F. (2003). Text coherence and readability. Topics in Language Disorders, 23, 204-224.

Meyer, B. J. F., Brandt, B. J., & Bluth, G. J. (1980). Use of top-level structure in text: Key for reading comprehension of ninth-grade students. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 72-103.

Meyer, B. J., & Freedle, R. O. (1984). Effects of discourse type on recall. American Educational Research Journal, 21, 121-143.

Meyer, B. J. F., Middlemiss, W., Theodorou, E., Brezinski, K. L., McDougall, J., & Bartlett, B. J. (2002). Effects of structure strategy instruction delivered to fifth grade children using the internet with and without the aid of older adult tutors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 486-519.

Meyer, B. J. F., & Rice, G. E. (1982). The interaction of reader strategies and the organization of text. Text, Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, 2, 155-192.

Meyer, B. J. F., & Rice, G. E. (1989). Prose processing in adulthood: The text, the reader, and the task. In L. W. Poon, D. C. Rubin, & B. A. Wilson (Eds.), Everyday cognition in adulthood and later life. (pp. 157-194). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Meyer, B. J. F., Wijekumar, K., Middlemiss, W., Higley, K., Lei, P., Meier, C., & Spielvogel, J. (2010). Webbased tutoring of the structure strategy with or without elaborated feedback or choice for fifth- and seventh-grade readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 45, 62-92.

Meyer, B. J. F., Wijekumar, K., & Lin, Y. -C. (2011). Does individualization of web-based structure strategy instruction increase fifth graders’ reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 140-168

Ohlhausen, M. M., & Roller, C. M. (1988). The operation of text structure and content schemata in isolation and in interaction. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 70-88.

Ozuru, Y., Dempsey, K., & McNamara, D. S. (2009). Prior knowledge, reading skill, and text cohesion in the comprehension of science texts. Learning and Instruction, 19, 228-242.

RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Retrieved April 27, 2009 from

Ray, M.N. (2011). The development of structural awareness: The relationship between age, skill, and text (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

Richgels, D. J., McGee, L. M., Lomax, R. G., & Sheard, C. (1987). Awareness of four text structures: Effects on recall of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 177-196.

Ritchey, K., Schuster, J., & Allen, J. (2008). How the relationship between text and headings influences readers’ memory. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33, 859–874.

Roller, C. M. (1990). The interaction between knowledge and structure variables in the processing of expository prose. Reading Research Quarterly, 25, 79-89.

Rossi, J. P. (1990). The function of frame in the comprehension of scientific text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 727-732.

Sanders, T. J. M., & Noordman, L. G. M. (2000). The role of coherence relations and their linguistic markers in text processing. Discourse Processes, 29, 37-60.

Smith, T. F., & Hahn, A. L. (1989). Intermediate-grade students' sensitivity to macrostructure intrusions. Journal of Reading Behavior, 21, 167-180.

Spooren, W., Mulder, M., & Hoeken, H. (1998). The role of interest and text structure in Professional reading. Journal of Research in Reading, 21, 109-120.

Taylor, B.M. (1980). Children's memory for expository text after reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 15, 399-411.

Taylor, B. M., & Samuels, S. J. (1983). Children's use of text structure in the recall of expository material. American Educational Research Journal, 20, 517-528.

Vauras, M., Kinnunen, R., & Kuusela, L. (1994). Development of text-processing skills in high-, average-, and low-achieving primary school children. Journal of Reading Behavior, 26, 361-389.

Van Dijk, T. A. & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

van den Broek, P., Young, M., Tzeng, Y., & Linderholm, T. (2004). The landscape model of reading: Inferences and the online construction of a memory representation. In R. B. Ruddell, & U. J. Norman (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1249-1269). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Voss, J. F., & Silfies, L. N. (1996). Learning from history text: The interaction of knowledge and comprehension skill with text structure. Cognition and Instruction, 14, 45-68.

Weaver, C. A. I., & Kintsch, W. (1991). Expository text. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research volume II (pp. 230-245). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Williams, J. P., Hall, K. M., Lauer, K. D., Stafford, K. B., DeSisto, L. A., & deCani, J. S. (2005). Expository text comprehension in the primary grade classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 538-550.

Williams, J. P., Nubla-Kung, A. M., Pollini, S., Stafford, K. B., Garcia, A., & Snyder, A. E. (2007). Teaching cause-effect text structure through social studies content to at-risk second graders. Journal of Learning Disabilities. Special Issue: Teaching History--in all its Splendid Messiness--to Students with LD: Contemporary Research, 40, 111-120.

Wylie, J., & McGuinness, C. (2004). The interactive effects of prior knowledge and text structure on memory for cognitive psychology texts. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 497-514.

Yekovich, F. R., Walker, C. H., Ogle, L. T., & Thompson, M. A. (1990). The influence of domain knowledge on inferencing in low-aptitude individuals. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 25, 259-278.

Yochum, N. (1991). Children's learning from informational text: The relationship between prior knowledge and text structure. Journal of Reading Behavior, 23, 87-108.

Related Papers