Written to provide information and explain topics, expository text is the antithesis of narrative works, which are stories created to entertain readers. A well-balanced diet of literature and informational works is recommended as the optimal way to produce readers who can engage with a variety of books. However, it is expository or nonfiction reading in the form of books, news sources, journals and text books, that is most needed to prepare students for college and career.
Because college study is made up largely of independent expository reading assignments, K-12 classroom reading which is heavy on narrative, provides less experience for learners on how to grapple with difficult vocabulary and complexity. The ASCD, formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, advises educators to encourage students to re-read expository text and help them recognize and understand page organization such as side bars, charts, bullet points and headings. Educators should eventually provide less teacher-supported scaffolding to encourage greater independent reading for deep meaning.
"Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading" reports that ACT-tested students who could read complex texts were more likely to be ready for college than students who could not effectively read complex texts. Because college students are expected to read large amounts of text independently and use the knowledge in class discussions, research and tests, the ability to extract meaning from complex nonfiction text is an assumption college professors make about the young people in their classes. The 2005 ACT study also found that student readiness for college-level reading had steadily declined, showing only 51 percent of high school graduates meeting ACT's benchmark for reading.
Higher Level Vocabulary
TextProject concludes that 90 percent of words in everyday reading are forms of 4,000 known vocabulary families, such as the words work, working and workable. Rare vocabulary words, estimated to number about 300,000, are specialized terms, often multi-syllabic, unknown to the reader because of infrequent encounters in normal reading situations. Expository text adds to the different forms of reading teachers need to assign regularly to provide students with experience reading technical and specialized terms that may occur only occasionally.
Close reading is a strategy to find the layers of meaning that lead to deeper understanding. Common Core standards recommend using short, informational passages to practice this method of intense, focused reading. Articles, biographies and historic primary sources are some forms of brief, yet complex selections with which to practice close reading strategies. Having the skill to read cognitively through expository text written to inform with reasoning and evidence is a critical feature of developing a nation of knowledgeable readers.
- Common Core Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects: Appendix A -- Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards
- ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development): It's Complicated -- Common Core State Standards Focus on Text Complexity
Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.