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What Are Text Features and How To Teach Them

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Written by
Voyager Sopris Learning
Updated on November 15, 2022

According to the Program for International Student Assessment, only 19 percent of 15 year olds are proficient at making low-level inferences on a given topic or recognizing main ideas in text. Comprehension is a key pillar of reading fluency, so the more strategies educators can use to support it, the better. We've touched on strategies like dialogic reading in previous articles, but text features are another concept that can help boost comprehension levels in young readers.

What Are Text Features?

Text features are parts of written text that provide information about the content without being a part of the main text. They provide students with additional clues that can aid in comprehension. Because text features are generally written text, many students skip over them when reading, causing them to miss out on valuable information. Explicit teaching about text features can help students to understand their importance and utilize them to promote better comprehension.

Different Types of Text Features

Both fiction and nonfiction texts have important text features. Each type of text feature serves a specific purpose. Directly teaching students those purposes can help them with reading strategies and reading comprehension. Below are some common text features for nonfiction texts, as well as their main purpose:

  • Title – quickly lets the reader know what the text is primarily about
  • Table of contents – breaks down the text into smaller sections and helps the reader see the overall organization
  • Glossary – identifies significant or challenging vocabulary and provides definitions for specific terms 
  • Headings – helps the reader predict what the next section will be focusing on
  • Bolded or italicized words – signals key elements or vocabulary to the reader
  • Labeled diagrams – provides readers with a visual component that correlates to the writing or enhances the writing
  • Footnotes – allows the author to provide citations or additional information in a way that doesn’t distract the reader from the main focus of the text

Some common features for fiction texts include:

  • Title – provides readers with anticipation or insight into what the story is primarily about 
  • Pictures – enhances the imagery of the writing by offering visual elements that correlate with details of the story
  • Chapter headings – offers organization, pacing, and sometimes foreshadowing 

Nonfiction and fiction will both include their own set of text features, and some will have similar roles within the text. However, the overall difference is in the main purpose of the texts. Nonfiction is meant to inform, and fiction is meant to entertain. Therefore, there are some significant differences when it comes to organization and comprehension of the texts. 

The Difference Between Text Features and Story Elements

Text features are not the same as story elements, although both provide readers with additional information and knowledge about what is being read. Story elements are things like the characters, setting, action, and conclusion of a story. While reflecting on these can help boost comprehension of the text, they don't provide the same comprehension support as text features.

Why are text features important?

Text features are important due to their relationship to reading comprehension. Without them, readers are left to their own devices to determine organization and locate important information. If students are taught to use the text features, then they can deepen their understanding when reading. 

How To Teach Text Features

The best way for students to understand and learn from text features is to practice. Text features may seem like a too obvious concept to teach, and therefore it is an important step that many teachers and readers often overlook. However, with some explicit instruction, text features can enhance reading comprehension, literacy, and beyond. The following activities are some simple practices that can set the foundation for text features students can later utilize throughout future literacy instruction.

  • Read read read. Simply reading a lot of fiction and non-fiction books that have various text features and pointing them out will teach students to pin point them as well while reading on their own. As they continue to read different texts, their understanding and awareness of text features increases.  
  • Write text features. Have students write nonfiction stories and have them incorporate text features in their writing. This may work better with more advanced students as an enrichment activity where they may include bold letters and slanted letters.
  • Review after reading. Once you are done reading the story, have students return to the table of contents page at the beginning of the text and ask them where they found those different elements within the story.
  • Do a text feature walk. Similar to a semantic mapping technique, a text feature walk can help students predict what they'll be learning. The steps for setting up a text feature walk are simple:
    • Have students choose a feature, such as the title.
    • Have them name the feature.
    • Have them read aloud the feature.
    • Have them make meaningful predictions about the text based on the feature.
    • Repeat with all available text features before reading the main body of text.
    • After reading the main body of text, reflect on what predictions were right and which were wrong based on the text features.

Ultimately, the goal of walking students through text features is to guide them through a positive use of the features. Once students are able to identify text features and their purposes, then they can begin to access prior knowledge, make connections, and deepen understanding in a text. 

For Comprehensive Reading Intervention, Use a Voyager Sopris Learning Program

Voyager Sopris Learning® offers a variety of  reading intervention programs that can help support childhood literacy. Programs like Voyager Passport® (grades K–5) and LANGUAGE! Live® (grades 5–12) guide students through explicit, comprehensive  instruction and provide strategies for reading both fiction and nonfiction text.

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