Class Notes EDIS 771: Reading in Content Areas
Spring 1999
Thomas H. Estes, Instructor
University of Virginia

Strategies for Reading to Learn

Expository Paragraph Frames



Expository paragraph frames provide a structure for retelling information presented in expository text. They are based on the principle that information in exposition is structured in a way that is logical and serves to makes the information clear to the reader. In effect, the organizational structure-- the composition-- of the text provides the structure for its comprehension. If this is to be true, however, the student needs to be familiar with the various structures that authors employ and to have practice in utilizing those same structures in comprehension. The purpose of expository paragraph frames is to teach students the structures of text they can expect to encounter in what they have to read.

There are five basic ways in which authors may choose to organize information in expository text:

  1. Description-- in which a topic is introduced and followed by its attributes;
  2. Sequence-- in which a topic is introduced and followed by details that need to be presented in an order;
  3. Cause/effect-- in which an event or act and its effects are described;
  4. Comparison/contrast-- in which the similarities and differences in two or more things are presented;
  5. Problem/solution-- in which a problem is presented followed by one or more solutions.


Using a procedure such as paired reading, students are first asked to read and retell the selection they are studying. Meanwhile, the teacher will have created a paragraph frame for the text that students can work together to complete. The frame is made of a series of incomplete sentences (or sentence starters) that the students can complete by using information from the text. The resulting paragraph should summarize (and simplify, where possible) the original passage.

For example, consider the following introductory paragraph from Microsoft‚s Encarta, a multimedia encyclopedia:

     The cell is the fundamental structural unit of all living organisms. Some cells are complete organisms, such as the unicellular bacteria and protozoa; others, such as nerve, liver, and muscle cells, are specialized components of multicellular organisms. Cells range in size from the smallest bacteria like mycoplasmas, which are 0.1 micron in diameter, to the egg yolks of ostriches, which are about 8 cm (about 3 in) in diameter. Although they may differ widely in appearance and function, all cells have a surrounding membrane and an internal, water-rich substance called the cytoplasm, the composition of which differs significantly from the external environment of the cell. Within the cell is genetic material, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), containing coded instructions for the behavior and reproduction of the cell and also the chemical machinery for the translation of these instructions into the manufacture of proteins.

For this expository paragraph, the teacher would construct a descriptive frame like the following:

All living things are made of cells. For example, ___________________,

__________________________, ______________________________,

_________________________ , and __________________________are all

made of cells. Cells vary in size from ________________________________

to _______________________________________. All cells have 3 parts:

____________________, _______________, and ___________________.

Every cell's DNA has 2 functions: _______________________________,

and _____________________________________________________.

The cell is the fundamental structural unit of all living organisms.


Olson, M. W. & Gee, T. C. (1991). Content reading instruction in the primary grades: Perceptions and Strategies. Reading Teacher, 45, 298-307.

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