What are Text Features?
The term text features is used in an academic setting to describe all of the components or features associated with an article or nonfiction text that are not considered the main text. The most common text features of a book include the table of contents, the index, headings, captions, bold words, illustrations, photographs, the glossary, labels, graphs, charts, and diagrams. Many of these text features can also be found in newspapers, magazines, or individual articles.
Text features are used to help navigate and locate specific information provided in a nonfiction text in an easier and more efficient manner. Often times, authors put information in the text features that are not included in the body of the text, so it is imperative to understand how to use them effectively.
What is the Purpose of Text Features?
Each text feature has a specific purpose in nonfiction material, while the overarching goal of every text feature is to quickly and easily gain access to information. Text features make reading informational text and research materials more efficient. The table of contents and index allow the reader to quickly locate which pages of the book contain specific information; the knowledge can be acquired without having to read the entire book.
Many times, information is depicted or documented in photographs or illustrations throughout the book accompanied by captions below each one. The bolded words in text are usually new vocabulary words that are often defined in the glossary or mini dictionary located in the back of the book.
Lastly, visuals or data that match the information are often placed in graphs, charts, or diagrams. These three text features are very important because more often than not, the data is not actually written in the body of text. Each text feature used in a nonfiction source provides as much value as the actual text. The combination of text and text features presents informational material in an organized and structured format that readers can obtain with ease.
Strategies for Introducing Students to Text Features
Students should have the opportunity to learn about and use text features in every nonfiction material beginning in kindergarten. One simple introductory activity that even five-year-old students can complete is the idea of going on a scavenger hunt in the book for text features. Younger readers can look for bold words and photographs while upper grade readers can complete a checklist for every text feature located in the material. When we provide students with a variety of nonfiction sources, they can compare and contrast how text features are used to give information.
Another strategy to take this scavenger concept to the next level is to have students create an anchor chart of text features. Students can work in pairs or groups using magazines and newspapers to cut out each specific text feature. Then, they should organize them on chart paper or poster board, glue them down, and label each one. Thus, they are using a text feature to complete the assignment. Keep these child-friendly anchor charts on display for students to memorize each one.
In addition to recognizing and understanding the purpose of text features, students need to understand how to apply their knowledge of how to utilize the text features. Therefore, students should be provided with a book or article related to a science or social studies objective they already have background information about. Then, they can apply specific text feature tasks including using the glossary to find out the meaning of an unknown bold-faced word.
Students can also make a prediction of what information they think they will learn based on the titles of the chapters in the table of contents or the headings throughout the text. A higher-level thinking activity is to give students paragraphs and have them create the heading to match the content. Students can also create captions for photographs or illustrations. Each student can be assigned a particular section, chart, or diagram of a text and given the task of being an expert for the information from that visual or text. They are responsible for conveying the information to their classmates.
When students are encouraged to actually use text features in reading nonfiction materials, in content areas, and in research projects, they see first-hand the benefit of how text features make understanding information so much easier. This is when they will automatically seek out text features in nonfiction materials to make the reading comprehension process that much simpler.