Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fun with Features

We're talking about text features! Today we started out by examining the word feature. I've noticed that students already know the term "text feature", but they tend to say it really fast, as all one word--textfeature.

But the word "feature" is a high utility word, one they will be able to use across disciplines and situations. I used a simplified definition for students, telling them that a feature is "a part that gets your attention." They did have experiences with the word, and we talked about a DVD's special features, their facial features, and a car's features.

Next came the fun part. I have two sons, so I have acquired a large quantity of Playmobil toys. I brought in five different boats. "These boats all have different features," I told students. Then, they got into small groups to examine the boats and label the features with notecards. The purpose here was twofold. I wanted students to practice looking closely at an object and analyzing the parts. I also wanted to look at how the different boats had different features. The fireboat, for example, has a hose, while the airboat has a fan.

It was so successful! Students were highly engaged in looking at the features, and they shared their knowledge. "I know a lot about boats, and this is a galley," one student told the others. Many of the students were familiar with a winch, but struggled with what to call the steering mechanism. Wheel? Joystick? Steering wheel? I just loved the conversation, because it really flowed from our work with paraphrasing. Students were working to name a concept and tossing out various words, judging them, and reshaping them.

Of course, I can't just teach about the features of boats. We had to apply this to text. "Just like the feature on a boat is something that gets your attention, something that makes it interesting, a text feature is something that gets your attention in text."

I had prepared envelopes with text features written on small cards. In new groups, students looked at high interest magazines and tried to match the cards to text features in the texts. "I don't know much about text features," one boy sighed. "I don't read those kinds of books." He stared down at the page of Kids Discover. "Are there any text features there?"

"Well, think about what you did with the boats," I coached. "You looked to see what got your attention. What gets your attention there?"

He looked down at the page. "An eel."

"Is an eel a text feature?" I asked, trying to get him to move beyond the image on the page to the name for the image.

"Well, I guess it's a picture," he said grudgingly, going to his envelope. "So that's a text feature?"

We had a great time with the text features, and students were more eager to learn about them than ever before. Starting out with the real, concrete features of the boats made everyone relaxed and interested. If you don't happen to have a fleet of plastic boats at home, this works just as well with other objects. A collection of coats would work, or holiday decorations, or really anything with lots of neat little parts.

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