Books Language Arts Professional Learning Reading Research Skills

Research Skills: Text Features

How often do you give your students a book and they can’t find any information in it? It seems if a page isn’t blinking and flashing they can’t seem to work it. Explicitly teaching text features can help your students understand how to process information better. This won’t just help with their reading, but it will help with all of their research, following directions and locating information quickly in all their subject areas.

To be clear, when we are talking about text features, we are talking about things authors or editors do to organize informational writing. We often assume students know what we’re talking about when we ask them to look up something on the table of contents. Some students might not even know what that is.

When teaching text features use a book that’s already in your classroom and your students may need to use throughout the year. We always use our social studies textbook for our example. You may need more than one book to show all of the different features.

With your students, can you find:
Table of Contents: A list of chapters or units that are groups usually by a common topic.
Index: a list of all topics in the book with the page numbers where they appear; it’s found at the back of the book
Glossary: a list of definitions for words (like a dictionary) found in the book; it’s usually near the back of the book. Words from this list are usually bolded in the text.
Vocabulary Boxes: When there is a challenging word on a page, it will sometimes be found along the side of the page in a box with a definition.
Photographs: these are real pictures; they are connected to the information on the page
Captions: This is writing that explains the photograph, diagram or drawing.
Diagrams: These are labelled drawings to explain information found on the page.
Drawings/Illustrations: These are pictures that are drawn to clarify the information on the page. Sometimes illustrations are used when there isn’t a photograph available to share.
Side Bars: A few sentences or a paragraph that is self-contained, but explains something related to the information on the page.
Headings/Titles: These are the titles along the top of pages.
Subheadings: These break up information into smaller sections.
Maps: Visual representations of the land.
Charts: Sometimes information is put in a chart so it’s easier to compare information.
Page Numbers: Each page is numbered so you can easily find the unit or chapter you are looking for.

Be sure to explain that when doing research, we don’t need to read the whole book. We need to quickly locate information related to what we are researching and only read the material about that topic. This means sometimes when we do research using books, we only look at a few pages in each book or skim read to determine if the information on the page is relevant to our search.

Teaching text features is not a single lesson. Once you’ve taught the features once over with the whole class, talk about these features when you meet in your guided reading groups, when you’re modeling reading, when you’re sharing information and when your class is looking for
information. The only way students will master text features is to make them feel comfortable by drilling it into their lovely brains.

Give your students a book along with the list of text features so they can find as many of them as possible. Allow students to use sticky notes to label the different text features on a page or a in a book.

If you’re a member of our free resource library page, you can get your own premade template to use with this activity.

What activities do you like to do with your students to help them master text features? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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