How to Get Students to Master Nonfiction Text Features
If you’re looking for ways to teach nonfiction text features, you’ve come to the right place. When students enter the upper grades, they are required to read more textbooks and informational texts. There is a shift from learning to read to reading to learn. These texts can be difficult for students due to the higher-level vocabulary and concept-dense content. In addition to being unfamiliar with the content, science and social studies textbooks often contain many nonfiction text features. These features supplement and present important information that students must read in order to fully comprehend the text.
What Are the Nonfiction Text Features?
Text features are all the components of a text that are not part of the main body text. There are many unique features that serve different purposes. Some help students pay attention to important words, find information, and connect important ideas in a text. Others help students visualize to make meaning of the written text or help the reader understand new or important information.
The features break down into four groups, and authors often use a variety of features to accomplish different goals.
1.) Print Features (bold print, font types/sizes, italics, and underlining) help readers stop and pay attention to important words. One of the most common and least obvious features students will encounter are print features.
2.) Graphic Aids (illustrations/pictures, photographs, maps, charts, tables, and graphs) help students visualize and make meaning of the text.
3.) Informational Aids (materials list, labels, captions, numbered steps, timelines, boxed text) helps the reader understand and organize new or important information.
4.) Organizational Aids (titles, headings, subheadings, numbered steps, glossary, and table of contents) help readers find information or connect the ideas presented in a text.
When Do I Teach Them?
There are different schools of thought on this, but I don’t recommend waiting to teach this skill. In fact, this is something that I like to teach close to the beginning of the year. Students will start reading nonfiction texts in the first or second week of school. It’s important that students understand how to identify these text features in their nonfiction texts. In addition, it’s also important that students expand their thinking to understand how the different text features help them understand the text.
How Do I Teach Nonfiction Text Features?
By upper-elementary, most students should be able to identify the different text features. However, I found that many students didn’t know how to use the features and couldn’t explain why they might be helpful. I always start with a refresher on identifying the features (see below for some different ways to teach nonfiction text features).
1.) Re-introduce or Re-teach How to Identify Text Features
Start with a refresher on identifying text features. I make a text feature wall or bulletin board that has an example of each feature. I created this bulletin board below that you can use in your classroom.
You can find this free bulletin board HERE. This helps students identify each feature. I walk students through the different text features posted on the bulletin board.
At this point, I also pass out this Text Features Printable to each student.
This printable will help guide students when identifying the different text features. You can go through this printable with them by starting with the definitions of each text feature. This is a great lesson to re-introduce and familiarize students with the features.
2. All About Me Text Feature Booklet
To further reinforce identifying the text features, have students complete my All About Me Text Feature Booklet. This is a free resource you can find HERE.
This is a super creative project for students to show what they know about the different text features.
It’s also a fun project to do to learn more about your students! It can be used as a formative or summative assessment to your lesson on identifying text features.
3.) Anchor Chart and Whole-Class Practice
Now that students can identify different text features, we meet to create an anchor chart together. This will most likely be the first time they are being exposed to a deeper level of understanding with the text features. You will now work with students to help them understand how the different text features help them understand the text.
For this anchor chart, I broke down the different text features into four categories (from above). The purpose of these categories is to show students the different features and how they are helpful to readers.
We work together to identify each text feature and discuss the purpose of each feature. Next, we look at examples in reading passages. I typically pull examples from my Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions. I do this so that every student has the same passage in front of them to work with. I pass out a copy to each student. I typically start this unit with this passage below since it includes simple text features that students have been exposed to in the past.
As the unit progresses, I increase the difficulty (add more text features, add features that may be new to students, etc.). It’s important that all students are working on the same passage with the same text features at the beginning of this unit.
While students have a copy of the text, we work together to identify the feature. We then discuss how it helps them as a reader. Once students are comfortable with all the text features and have an idea as to how it helps them, we break off to work in groups.
4.) Text Features Hunt
Next, I expose students to different informational texts and have them identify text features in the text. For this lesson, I break students into small groups and hand out a stack of informational texts. I then ask them to identify features that they see. For the purpose of this activity, I hand out colored sticky notes. Each color should represent a different text feature. If you don’t have access to multi-colored sticky notes, you can use one color and have students write the name of the text feature on the sticky note. You can also hand out the printable titled Text Feature Hunt. You can find this free printable HERE.
Before reading, students go through and identify the text features by placing the correct sticky note next to the feature.
Once they’ve identified different text features, they now go through and read the text features carefully. They answer the first question from the printable together with their group. At this time, I walk the room and make sure discussions revolve around why might the author have used this specific text feature.
Next, students read the main body text and work to answer the second guided question. They reflect on how each type of text feature helped them as a reader better understand the text.
Feel free to stop at different groups and encourage the conversations by asking questions like: How do these labels help you learn about the parts of a plant? How do these maps help you understand how the tectonic plates have shifted? Is it easier to understand plate movement by reading about it or seeing it on the map? Etc.
5.) Text Features Table
Now that students have had the chance to identify different features and have a better understanding of how these features help readers, work with students to complete the text features table. Click HERE to grab it.
You can do this whole group by referencing your bulletin board. Read aloud the card that says how the text feature helps the reader, and ask students to identify the text feature that matches.
6.) Cootie Catcher Partner Practice
Cootie catchers are a great way for students to reinforce their understanding with a fun game. These cootie catchers are set up for students to show their knowledge of how the different text features help a reader. Students can get out of their seats and pair up to test each others’ knowledge. Click HERE to grab this free cootie catcher.
One of the best things you can do is allow students the opportunity to practice these skills. I have created Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions for Nonfiction Text Features HERE.
The questions progress from identifying the text features to analyzing and explaining how they help readers understand the text. The best part is, the texts are differentiated so your students can each work at their reading level on the same skill.
You can grab these passages by clicking HERE or the button below.
This resource now includes both a paper and digital option.
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