Read Smarter, not Harder with Text Features

Text features for nonfiction are a great tool to help students focus on their reading. Most of the reading material in middle school and high school is nonfiction.  Students struggle with nonfiction text. You might have told students to slow down, reread the text, add more evidence to their answer, or take better notes. While that may be helpful, it isn’t really getting at the tools students should be using when they read and take notes. So, how do you support students’ reading comprehension of nonfiction? The answer is simple. You teach them how to use text features which will improve their understanding of the text.

What are Text Features?

Students match the definition to the correct text feature.

Text features are tools used in nonfiction text that will help the students navigate through the text as they read. Below are some examples of text features:

Headings – tell what the section is about

Captions – give information about the photo, chart, or map

Text boxes – give important or interesting information

Glossary – includes words and definitions, located at the back of the book

Table of Contents– gives beginning page numbers of each section

Diagrams – drawings that show or explain something

Photographs – pictures taken by a camera

Illustrations – drawings by artists that show what something looks like

Bold words– written in dark print

Labels – names specific parts of the drawing or image

Indexes – list important ideas in alphabetical order and provides the page number

Maps – visual representation that shows where something is located

Before Reading

Text features for nonfiction play a role in student’s comprehension and should guide their thinking when reading informational text. To support students’ thinking before they read nonfiction, spend time discussing maps, diagrams, tables, captions, headings, etc. Have students complete a scavenger hunt. This will help the students better understand the tools to using nonfiction text.

Students preview text features in a scavenger hunt before they read.

Preview text and ask questions. What do you think this section is about? (Students look for headings, bold words, and any visual text features to help them. Why is this map included with the text?) Discussions while previewing text will help improve the students’ vocabulary acquisition.  Previewing text also allows readers to see how the author organized the text. 

During Reading

Students take notes on main ideas and details. Then, they use their notes to write a summary.

Have students use the text features in their assignment.  Students can write two column notes identifying the main ideas and details. Students use section headings to help identify the main idea. Then, they find supporting details in the text. After completing their notes, students then write a brief summary about what they read. Another activity is to have students change each heading into a question.  Then, have the students write an answer to that question based on what they have read. Don’t forget to model for the students so they understand the directions before they start reading. All of these are examples of how to use informational text features to guide the reading process. The text features guide students to self-monitor their comprehension.

After Reading

Have students discuss their notes in small groups and in a class discussion.  Use this as formative data. Are students able to write the main points of each section they read?  Can they explain key vocabulary words? Are they interpreting the information in the photos/captions/diagrams? If not, reteach and clarify as needed.

Students will eventually feel comfortable with these tools.  It won’t be long before they use the academic vocabulary in their class discussions.  “This maps shows … The author includes this diagram to explain …”  You are sure to see improvements in the students’ comprehension of nonfiction text when the text features are used before, during, and after reading.


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