A photograph of a two story house with a wraparound porch

Source: House in Gretna, Universal Pops, Flickr

One way to gain a better understanding of an informational text is to analyze its organization. In other words, how is the piece structured? Imagine a house. A house is a structure, and it is organized in a specific way. It has a foundation, walls, and a roof. The interior of a house, though, can be organized in many different ways. Are all of the bedrooms on one side and the living areas on the other? Are some bedrooms on one side and some on the other with living areas in the middle?

These layouts may seem arbitrary at first, but they do have purpose, and when looking for a house to live in, people analyze the layout of the house. For example, suppose the house faces east. If all he bedrooms face west, this layout will ensure that the occupants aren’t awakened by the sunrise. Maybe the parents prefer the children’s bedrooms to be on the opposite side of the house from theirs, to decrease noise. Or maybe the parents want the children’s bedrooms to be near theirs so that they can keep an eye on them. If you aren’t searching for a home to lease or buy, these differences in organization may not mean anything to you.

An architectural plan of a six room first floor of a house and a blueprint of a ground floor of a large, six room house

Source: Little White House floor plan, Self-made, Wikimedia
Sample Floorplan, Boereck, Wikimedia

Let's look at structure and organization in a text. Read the short article below from the New York Times. 

The Claim: Brain Freeze Only Happens on Warm Days

By Anahad O’Connor

THE FACTS: “Brain freeze” may not sound like the stuff of serious scientific research, but it is both puzzling and common enough to have warranted several studies in the medical literature over the years.

The phenomenon, also known as ice cream headache, occurs when a very cold substance touches the back of the palate, causing the rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels in the head. According to some studies, this causes pain receptors to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, the major carrier of sensory information from the face to the brain, resulting in a stabbing pain in the face or head.

But it may not affect everyone. Researchers have found that only about a third of people experience it, and despite one common misconception stemming from early studies, it does not occur only on warm days.

In a report in the British journal BMJ in 2002, a scientist at McMaster University in Canada conducted a study involving 145 middle school students over two winter months. All—to their delight—were given moderate servings of ice cream. Some were randomly instructed to consume it slowly, while others were told to wolf it down in five seconds or less.

About 30 percent of students in the “accelerated eating” group developed the headache, compared with 13 percent in the “cautious eating” group.

A photograph of a young boy eating an ice cream cone holding his hand to his head

Source: Brain Freeze , Jayel Aherma, Flickr

“In contrast to previous studies,” the report said, “our results suggest that ice cream headache can be induced in cold weather even in subjects who eat their ice cream at a slow pace.”

Some studies indicate that migraine sufferers may be more prone to these cold-induced headaches, though others have disputed that finding.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Brain freeze can occur in both warm and cold weather.

A photograph of an African Grey parrot sitting on a perch

Source: Psittacus erithacus -perching on tray-8d,
L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Wikimedia

Let’s look at how the article is organized. The writer addresses the topic, explains what an ice cream headache is, describes the study, and then reports the conclusion. The writer follows a linear path that is logical and easy for the reader to follow. The writer organized the article to fit the topic.

Now, click the link to open the graphic organizer that contains another article from the New York Times. You can save, download, and print this file. When you are finished using the graphic organizer, return to this section. Graphic Organizer Instructions


take notes icon Now, answer the questions below using your notes.

  1. This article is organized by—

      a. mentioning the types of animals that can learn language, cautioning the reader not to think animals can learn to communicate as well as humans, and explaining the applications of Dr. Pepperberg’s research.

      b. describing Alex the African gray parrot, comparing his language skills to primates who know American Sign Language, describing how Dr. Pepperberg came to know Alex, providing the opinions of other researchers, and explaining how Alex learned to communicate.

      c. explaining the results of studies about how animals acquire language, describing Alex’s ability to learn language, and arguing that animals can be taught to speak as well as humans.

      d. detailing the life of Alex the gray parrot and debunking the idea that Alex really understood what he was saying.

  2. Why do you think the writer chose to organize the essay in this way?

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. b
  2. The writer needs to compare Alex’s skills with other animals so the reader will have some idea of the significance of Alex’s skill. The writer needs to explain how intelligent Alex really was in order to suggest that animals really do understand what they’re saying.