Table of Contents Structure - Part I

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Have you ever heard about the different ways you can structure a table of contents? Neither had I… at least not until I was asked to model a lesson in third grade. I looked everywhere for information, but didn't find much. All I had was Lucy. (I have an ongoing inner dialogue with Lucy Calkins. I start out asking her “why are you doing this to me?” and then I continue on, dive in, and I always end up telling her - in my head - “you’re a genius! I love you!”)

My third grade friends are coming to the end of their nonfiction unit. They’re beginning to use their expertise to write nonfiction books. In order to structure their books, they needed to make a plan. Creating a table of contents was a good place to start. It can be set up in a variety of ways: parts, types, ways, or first to last. Keep reading. I promise it’ll make sense!

Here’s our example for tornadoes. Tornadoes is such a HUGE umbrella topic, so this activity will help focus in on something more specific. In addition to the information on the anchor chart, I could have done a variety of other parts, ways, types (can also be called characteristics, which helped some of my students understand it better), and first to last categories! 

  • Parts of a Tornado (shown)
  • Tornado Alley: Information by state
  • Be Prepared (shown)
  • How a tornado is formed
  • Types of tornadoes (shown)
  • People (meteorologists, rescue workers, storm chasers, etc.)
First to last: anything on a scale
  • Fujita Scale (shown)
  • Famous tornadoes in history (time/biggest to smallest/most to least destructive)

After I talked them through my anchor chart, we made an anchor chart together (below.. don't judge. Real life anchor charts aren't pretty). The students picked animals as their topic. We brainstormed different subtopics within the category of animals and came up with dogs. The picture below is before we finished the chart, so first to last isn't there. The kids came up with a few ideas from first to last, you can see them below:

  • Body parts (shown)
  • Items needed to take care of a dog (shown)
Types (characteristics):
  • Dog breeds (shown) *could break it down even further!*
  • Kid friendly dogs
  • Hypoallergenic dogs
  • How to take care of a dog (shown).
First to Last:
  • Smallest to biggest dog breed
  • Famous TV and movie dogs in history
  • The life cycle: puppies to adult dogs
  • A day in the life of a dog from morning to night.

I had students practice with a partner on a very familiar, topic (not their actual topic) to see if they understood the process. Then we moved on to their area of expertise! They don’t have to fill out the entire chart, if there is a specific set up that works best for their topic, I let them go with it!

Want these graphic organizers? Download them for FREE on Google Drive. This is also an excellent companion to my nonfiction text features resource.

Don't forget to check back next week to find out where to go from here! 


  1. Great post and I love your new blog design! I'm also your new Bloglovin' follower. I already follow you on Instagram. I'm A.K.A. @litlovegal1. :)
    Literacy Loving Gals

  2. Thanks so much Colleen!! :) Just found your Instagram!


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