Monday, August 10, 2009

Teaching Text Features

Teaching text features is one of my first orders of business for a new school year. When students understand how to use headings, the table of contents, the glossary, and other features, it is easier for them to navigate nonfiction and find out what they want to know.

One roadblock in my way is that kids don't know the word "features". Without this knowledge, they can't connect how features in text relate to other kinds of features. They have only one pathway to the text feature knowledge--which, as we know, leads to a poor representation of this idea in the brain.

But my own personal children know all about features. How did they come by this knowledge? Well, I certainly didn't sit down and do a Frayer model with them! Rather, they learned about features by playing with toys. They have at least five different kinds of boats. What are the different features? Which ones are similar? Which ones are different?

Using toys is a great motivator for kids of all ages. Bionicles, Playmobil, and other intricate toys can help kids to learn what features are. Kids can also learn about the features of the playground. What features make this playground interesting and unusual? What features do most playgrounds share?

Once students can use the word "features" to describe concrete, real-life items, they are ready for learning about features in text. Just as we can look at a toy and describe its features, they can also look at text and identify the features that authors use to make that text easier to understand.


  1. Our principal sent your blog post to us. How very true that even beyond understanding vocabuary such as "feature," there are enumerous vocabulary words that students are lacking due to minimized prior knowledge. Schema is essential to builiding on learning experiences. Starting off the year with "feature" lessons or other preteaching lessons are crutical for setting the precipice to all education. In fact, I would encourage all teachers to look ahead at all themes or units and ask yourselves, "what are they going to need to know before I teach this." This not only increases their understanding, but self efficacy towards other new learning situations.

  2. What a concrete way to make that connection!


  3. Thanks so much for the comments! Just tonight I was introduced to another use of feature that our kids will be aware of--the "special features" on DVDs. As Aidan said, after a movie, "I just HATE the special features!"