Why Start with Text Features
I was surprised. Well, not completely…with each new year it seems students know less and less about printed text. I’m not just talking about the great lost art of flipping through the oversized dictionaries to find just the right word, but all the nuances of printed text that give us so much information beyond the body of content. Of course, this year was no different, if not worse. This is one of the reasons we teach about text features in the beginning of the year to lay down a foundation for interacting with various print, both fiction and nonfiction.
At first, when I asked students what they were, they didn’t know how different fonts, captions, labels, etc. work to enhance their understanding of the information. Many of the students are used to playing with fonts, colors, or resizing images, but none do it for the purpose for conveying meaning to an audience. We want to explicitly teach students that text features are the first way they interact with a given text, whether it be a book, magazine, newspaper, online articles, or websites. They need to be taught the importance of how things are laid out on the page, or why colors and fonts are chosen.
Understanding text features works on two levels. On the first level students come to understand how to approach a text. On the first text approach, a lot of inferences are made about the main idea and general information contained in the body of the text. We do this all the time without giving it much thought. When picking up a magazine, we tend to flip through the pages, previewing it by pulling inferences from the text-features. Once finished skimming, we then go back to what first peaked our interest the most. In the same way, students can identify text features and use them to determine, predict, and formulate a pre-understanding of the text.
On the second level, knowing how text features are used for inference leads to being able to utilize them to convey meaning for an audience. It leads to design thinking and organization of how to present information through slides, powerpoints, websites, online portfolios, and other creative projects. These are the skills that are utilized by magazine publishers, textbook makers, online content creators, and graphic designers.
Introducing Text Features
In the beginning of the year, one of the foundational skills we want to establish is how to approach a text so students can derive the most understanding from increasingly complex nonfiction texts. Of course, this would be good to introduce or revisit any time of the school year. Here is how we introduce text features in the first month of the school year.
We normally use Scholastic News to have students go on a text feature hunt in order to construct an inferred main idea.
- The teacher gives a mini-lesson about identifying different types of text features and determining what they are used for.
- Guided practice is given for using text features to infer about the main idea of a given text. Use a text similar in complexity to the text for independent practice.
- Tape, or glue, a text feature rich source to the middle of chart poster paper for each group. We use Scholastic News.
- Each group will then annotate the text by labeling each text feature (identify) and summarizing the information the text feature has to offer.
- After all the text features have been identified and annotated the students examine all their clues from the annotations and construct an inferred main idea.
- This inferred main idea is used as the topic sentence to a summary paragraph, which they now do individually and turn in. They combine the inferred main idea created within the group along with the supporting details from the text features.
In conclusion, remind students that they created this summary just from the text features, showing how much information is given to us even before we start reading the article itself. This is a great way to introduce students how text features work so that they in turn can apply them to their own learning products, which will come soon!