How to Teach Text Features in NonFiction

When you think of reading, charts and graphs probably aren’t the first things to come to mind. But when reading nonfiction texts, these elements play a role in understanding the text. Many times I’ve asked students to read a caption or refer to information from a chart, only to get a blank stare back. This just tells me how important it is to directly teach text features in nonfiction.

What are nonfiction text features?

Text features are the elements of an informational text not found within the main body of the text. This includes elements that come before and after the text (such as the table of contents or glossary) and the elements surrounding the text (such as labels and graphs).

To help students understand the importance of text features, I like to give them a few examples. In one example, I will have them read directions to another teacher’s room. For example, “Walk out the front doors of the library and take a left. Walk until you see the 300 walkway and take a left. Go three doors down. Mrs. Cramer’s room is on the right.” Then I show them a map of the school where I’ve drawn a line to the classroom.

I ask students, which would be more helpful? My written directions or the map? More often than not, students agree that the map is more concise and a lot less confusing!

Text features in nonfiction have the same impact. They make information concise, easy to understand, and often add on additional information or context to what was read.

What are the different types of text features in nonfiction?

There are lots of text features out there, but there are some main ones that I make sure my students know. Here are the text features I recommend reviewing:

  • types of print
  • captions
  • insets and sidebars
  • table of contents
  • index
  • glossary
  • title page
  • charts and graphs
  • labels
  • timelines
  • hyperlinks
  • bullets
  • diagram
  • map
  • text box

I suggest directly teaching these text features. By 3rd grade, students should be familiar with them and be able to utilize them!

When students lack the knowledge to properly use text features, their comprehension will suffer as a result. For instance, imagine a student in a science classroom. They are completing a lab, and in the lab procedure is a diagram with labels. If a student cannot understand and comprehend the diagram, they may miss out on key steps or even complete the lab incorrectly.

Another example is using a map in social studies. They might be learning about the states or trade routes. If they cannot correctly read and understand a map (or know to read the caption for a description of what’s being shown), they will miss out on a lot of helpful information!

How can I teach students about nonfiction text features?

As I stated above, I highly recommend directly teaching text features. What I mean is, actually calling out the text features by name and showing students examples, as opposed to waiting until you see them in context.

Of course, as you come across text features in nonfiction writing, you also want to point them out and engage with them. But students need to understand what text features are and how to use them first!

That’s why I created this Nonfiction Text Features Activity for Google Slides. This digital activity makes it easy to directly teach each text feature, get students to interact with the feature, and understand how it’s used. It’s perfect for second and third grade students.

There are seventeen total slides in the activity, each featuring an interactive activity for students to better understand a text feature. For example, students will match the description of a whale’s body parts to the diagram. They will also read a graph, then drag and drop images to answer questions about information in the graph.

These slides are easy to assign, and you don’t have to do any prep work. You can use them in the classroom as independent work or centers. Or bring them into a library lesson on text features and informational text. 

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