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What the HECK is structure in English?!

Here’s my road to teaching structure in my English classroom:

  1. First 10 years: Didn't know ‘structure’ was a thing I should be teaching. (It was a subconscious act in my own writing.)

  2. Next 5 years: Saw it in the curriculum. Ignored it. (It's probably nothing. There's structure, and there's language. Surely language is the important thing - I'll stick to that, thanks!)

  3. Next 5 years: Guilt. (I think I should be doing something about this but what the heck is structure anyway? I think I'm the only one who doesn't know ... but I think I'm probably doing it accidentally ...right? OMG.)

  4. The last 5 years: Actively thought about it, played with working out what structure is and how to fit it into my programme…but for much of that time I was out of the classroom, so I had time to think. LOL. Cry.

If you’re still in camp "Structure?! Oh, I'll teach letter-writing because letters have a clear structure but OMG do we even write letters anymore?" you’re not alone!

Let’s get this party…structured with a basic overview you can use as your ‘go-to’. So, structure is:

Structure in English

How something is narrated:

  • First person

  • Second person

  • Third person limited – telling the story of one of the characters.

  • Third person objective – telling the story of all the characters but staying out of their heads.

  • Third person omniscient – AKA eye of God – sees all, knows all (in the characters’ heads).

  • Alternating/change in narrator.

Structure in English

The way people's words are woven into the text:

  • Dialogue

  • Direct quotation

  • Paraphrasing.

Punctuation. Especially:

  • Ellipses (…)

  • Dashes

  • Colons

  • Semi-colons (Remember the rule: have a complete sentence either side.)

  • Brackets - round or square (they have different purposes)

Structure in English


Syntax – the arrangement of words in a sentence. For example:

  • The waka moved swiftly through the water at dawn.

  • At dawn, the waka moved swiftly through the water.

Interesting sentence beginnings. For example, beginning with:

  • An adverb – Swiftly, the waka moved…

  • A preposition – At dawn, the waka moved…

  • A present participle (AKA a verb in the present tense) – Paddling like mad, Sid…

  • A word ending in …ed – Exhausted, Sid…

  • The wee words – With… If… As…

Sentence structures. For example:

  • Your basic simple, compound and complex structures – teach those first for solid grammar. Tip: begin with what a complete sentence needs (a subject and a verb), then extend to object, then teach what a clause (clauses contain a verb) and a phrase is (phrases are verb 'phree'!).

  • Minor sentences – Nah.

  • Parallel structures – He waits; he shivers.

  • Listing

  • Steam of consciousness – long, rambling things that go on for days without a full stop (like, on purpose - LOL).

  • Heavy in the adjectival phrase – This device is thin, elegant and sure to impress.

Structure in English

How deeper meanings are shown - Eg:

  • Allusion

  • Allegory

  • Contrast

  • Extended metaphor (I love Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son” for teaching this.)

  • Juxtaposition

Structure in English

Arrangement (for want of a better word) – This includes:

Narrative structure – this is about IDEAS. Eg:

  • The structure of an essay paragraph with point, explanation, example, critical thinking.

  • The structure of a story – the tragedy, the hero’s journey, the twist at the end, beginning with a crisis then multiple crises from there, the basic exposition, middle, satisfactory end, flashback, foreshadowing…

Actual layout on the page – this is about LOOKS (AKA format). Eg:

  • The layout of a letter with address at the top, date, salutation, body, complementary close etc.

  • The layout of a script with speakers down the side, stage directions in square brackets/italics etc.

  • A poem with words written in the shape of a snail.


There you go – structure in a nutshell! (Tip: I laminate teaching checklists – eg: key steps in reading – and leave them on my desk to refer to. Anything to avoid more thinking, remembering, or reinventing of the wheel!)

For a free printable download of this overview, click here.


Sue 🌻

Structure in English

Also available in my TPT store here.

Structure in English

This says it's for NCEA 1.3 Writing, but in truth it could be used for Years 10-13!

Also available in my TPT store here.

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