Narrative Elements in Expository Texts

A Corpus Study of Educational Textbooks


  • Nina L. Sangers Utrecht University
  • Jacqueline Evers-Vermeul Utrecht University
  • Ted J.M. Sanders Utrecht University
  • Hans Hoeken Utrecht University



narrativity, educational texts, concreteness, imaginability, quantitative corpus-based analysis


While the use of narrative elements in educational texts seems to be an adequate means to enhance students’ engagement and comprehension, we know little about how and to what extent these elements are used in the present-day educational practice. In this quantitative corpus-based analysis, we chart how and when narrative elements are used in current Dutch educational texts (N=999). While educational texts have traditionally been considered prime exemplars of expository texts, we show that the distinction between the expository and narrative genre is not that strict in the educational domain: prototypical narrative elements – particularized events, experiencing characters, and landscapes of consciousness – occur in 45% of the corpus’ texts. Their distribution varies between school subjects: while specific events, specific people, and their experiences are often at the heart of the to-be-learned information in history texts, narrativity is less present in the educational content of biology and geography texts. Instead publishers employ narrative-like strategies to make these texts more concrete and imaginable, such as the addition of fictitious characters and representative entities.