The teaching of text features is essential for non-fiction reading. Many teachers forget this crucial step. I like to do this in a way where the students co-construct their learning with me, rather than providing a list of features for them and expecting them to learn it. Through the co-construction and reinforcement afterwards, students are able to name many text features, their purpose and remember to use them as needed. Why else would we want them to use them? Why else would authors put them in their writing?
I have had great success with the following process:
I start by asking students to look at the non-fiction books which I provide. I ask them to notice what the author has done to help them as a reader. This is often difficult for them, because they immediately begin to read for content, rather than notice the text features themselves. A great success I have had, is by providing the students with non-fiction books they cannot read. For example I take a selection of French books into a regular English classroom.I took a variety of Spanish and Italian books into a French Immersion classroom. At first the students are rather taken aback by ths, as are their teachers! I then ask the students to notice everything the author does that can help them understand what the book is about. We brainstorm together. Usually the first feature they notice is –pictures/photographs “great” I say. That is your first text feature and I begin our brainstorming list. With younger children, I have samples ready to glue beside the words so that they have the visual to help them understand. Usually after that other children will notice drawings, paintings. I add that to the list. “what else?” I ask. Labels, captions, titles often come next. I will ask the students to look carefully at the front and back of the books to see what else the author might have done to help us. Generally at this point students gain more confidence in the process-they begin to point out contents,glossary,index, even page numbers. students begin to realize I am not asking about the content-just the appearance of the book. Even non-readers begin to point out text features. Because they are all on an even plane,everyone can participate. We begin to ask-“what would that be called in English? Why would it be there? How did the author think that would help his/her reader?
That is enough for one day.
On the second day, I bring in non-fiction books in the working language of the class. We review the list we co-constructed together. I ask the students to look through the new books and see if the author has added any of the text feature we have on our brainstorming chart. You can see a copy of my chart at the top of this blog. That particular chart was for a grade 4 classroom. If the students have not-noticed what I consider to be crucial text features for their grade level I will usually add to our class chart by saying” Hey look I found one too!” I want this chart to be owned by all of us not just me as the teacher.That way it can be used all year,by the students to improve their comprehension and non-fiction writing. Students begin to incorporate the text features into their writing.Having the co-constructed anchor chart posted is not a distraction in the classroom, because every child now owns part of it and understands it. As new students arrive-we review the chart.
On the third day, I have the children do a text feature treasure hunt. I give them a graphic organizer with the names of the features on our chart. I give them a non-fiction book. Their job is to search the book for the features listed on their graphic organizer. The must write the page number of the feature on the sheet. Then a with partner, the pairs check each others work to see how many features are in the book. I originally started this process with a checklist, but I realized to make them accountable and also easier for them to check-we had to add the page numbers.
We occasionally go back to a text feature hunt during the year, adding new features as the students discover them.It is helpful to keep reviewing asking not only what it is, but also how it helps them as a reader.
Try this out! Let me know how it goes.