Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Text Features

This week, we're taking a look at text features in reading class.

From an early age, readers have to learn how to screen out information that isn't important. For example, when my kindergartener brings home copied Reading A-Z books, he knows not to read the reading level information on the front cover. My fourth graders, however, sometimes take this screening too far, skipping over headings and captions that carry information.

Teaching about text features requires that students understand what features are. Once this is done, students can start looking for features in text--and thinking about what they mean. As I teach this, I try to move beyond just identifying the text features to helping students understand how to use text features. Here are some of my big teaching points.

Text features can look different across texts
One of the difficulties for students is that text features can look very different in different texts. So I pulled together a large selection of nonfiction from the bookroom. Together, we looked at the different parts. How is the title written? What does this tell us about the text?

What do headings look like? We discovered headings that are in bold print, headings in italic print, headings that are larger than the main text, headings that are written in different colors, and so forth. But they are all examples of headings. Kids need to see this variety in order to cement the idea of the heading in their minds.

Text features are choices made by the author and publisher
Why do authors use text features? At first, students had trouble with this question. (They seemed to believe that books appear from nowhere in a puff of air.) But then we started having an interesting discussion about why authors might choose some text features over others. The book The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal is decorated with illustrations, not photographs--why? Some books have questions for headings. How is this helpful to the reader? Why might the publisher of a book choose to have many photographs?

Text features can be helpful--or not
After a day of looking through the books, students chose one to read with a partner. It was interesting to hear their conversations. "Mrs. Kissner, this one has made us ask a lot of questions, but it doesn't really have any answers," one student said. He was right--the book was one of the high-interest/low readability books that looks glitzy and exciting on the outside, but doesn't have much information.

Another student noticed the cartoon pictures that decorated the margins of a different book. "It's like they're using fiction to tell us nonfiction," she said. She and her partner decided they didn't like the combination of cartoons and nonfiction.

Text features serve different purposes
Text features have many different functions in text. They can highlight main ideas, show important details, or explain information. When students think about the jobs that the text features are doing, they can use the text features to help them understand the text.

After we looked at all of the different books, students had the chance to choose one to read on their own or with a partner. The Text Features page below helped to give a structure to their reading.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily!
    I love all of your stuff. I found you through searching google and then I saw you had a blog! Go you! I sent you an email to see if you would share those text feature paragraphs that you spoke about in a slide you created.
    I will be teaching that topic next week (3rd grade) and can use all the help I can get.
    P.s I love your thank you card idea!!
    Shelby Ford