Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Teaching Text Features

I had a great day at the Pete & C conference yesterday! It was such a lovely group. A conference in Hershey always has the plus side of great souvenirs to bring home--Scharffen-Berger tasting squares for the boys, dark Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for my husband. (And maybe a bag of those new Lancaster caramels for me...)

This year I decided to start our nonfiction unit with a quick look at text features. I feel as if text features are best learned through meaningful use instead of pointless practice. If you want to understand what is in a photograph, you will learn to take the time to read the caption. If you are sifting through pages of text to find particular details, you will learn to use the headings to get around. Therefore, I like to give a quick overview of the different text features and then use the words frequently over the next few weeks.

I created this PowerPoint several years ago to frame our initial discussion of text features. Notice that this focuses mostly on the recognition--it is meant to show students the vast array of different forms that these features can take. We'll dive into function more in our later conversations.

Text features from Emily Kissner

Students had their "Antarctica" booklets on their desks, as well as an assortment of other texts. (I just copy an assortment of articles on the topics into one handy booklet--this allows the students to have core readings at hand throughout the unit. I have the Antarctica texts that I've written in my various text structure packets, plus a few from Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears and Toolkit Texts.) And then we looked at the text features!

With each feature, I asked students, "What do you notice?" Intermediate readers have trouble separating topic from structure. At first, they focused on the words of the titles. With some guiding questions, they started to make some bigger generalizations:
-Titles are usually at the top of a page
-Titles have fancy writing
-Titles are usually big

From titles we moved on to looking at headings. Kids made the generalizations much more quickly with these:
-Headings are in bold print
-Sometimes they are in boxes
-They are usually short
-They show us topics (Some students couldn't produce the word "topic", but instead called it "what we're going to read about next". Good to know!)

My timer went off as we were concluding our discussion of headings, and I tried to wrap things up so that we could move on to class. But one student had her hand up. She urgently wanted to share! But was it related to headings? With some students, you can never be sure. It was with some hesitation that I asked, "Do you have something else to tell us about headings?"

"I wanted to say that titles are only in one place in the text, but you see headings throughout the text," she said.

Wow! Leave it to students to always surprise me with their thinking. What a neat observation, and a pretty nifty use of throughout.

Our next order of business was to introduce the reading homework for the week, which was an advertisement for an Antarctic cruise. I introduced the homework with this real advertisement:

I asked students, "What kind of text is this? What is it trying to get you to do?" We discussed the persuasive nature of the video and how the authors put together the message.

 I ended by showing students the website for the cruise company. "What text features do we see on this website? How are they different from the features that you saw in your Antarctica booklets?" I was curious to see how students would transfer what we had just talked about in traditional texts to a digital text.

I noticed that there was a lot of variation in what students called the various digital features--menus, places to click on, arrows down. However, they did manage to figure out how one would find the price of an Antarctic cruise. (And the price is just as breathtaking as the scenery...)  Students ended by partner reading the homework text, getting new vocabulary words for the week, and reading words with the teachers.

So tomorrow--have to squeeze in one more teaching day before the big storm!--we'll finish looking at the text features of bold print, italic print, photos, captions, and illustrations. Learning how these text features function in a text, however, will be the work of the next month.

(Assuming we have school.)


  1. I just love hearing about your lessons. They inspire me so much! I just want to copy you... Thanks for sharing.
    Simply 2nd Resources

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad that you find the blog helpful. :)

  2. I wish I could express just how much I enjoy your blog. It's like a REAL professional conference every time I read it. Thanks for the hard work and dedication!

  3. That's so wonderful to hear! Thank you so much!