Three Ways to Help Students Use Text Features

Issue 6Getting students to read from a wide variety of texts is often a challenge in the classroom. Some of the challenges can be time, resources, and ways to help the students access all the different types of texts. Many teachers are using the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s student magazine, Iowa Ag Today to offer rich non-fiction text into their learning.

Rich student discussions can occur about the author’s purpose in the nonfiction text of Ag Today. The most common purposes of this type of text are to explain, inform, to teach how to do something, to express an opinion, or to persuade readers to do or believe something. Knowing the differences between nonfiction and fictional text can truly help students understand the meaning better.

Ag Today is aesthetically pleasing to readers as it offers text features to help them understand the text. These text features include and are not limited to print features such as bold print, symbols and icons; graphic aids like maps, charts and timelines; illustrations including photographs, drawings, or cartoons. It is imperative for teachers to explicitly teach students about using these features to help them with their understanding of the information presented.  Here are three ways to do this:

1.  Model through a think aloud. Talk through how you as a reader would tackle the text and how you would use the text features to help understand the text. Look at each page and ask students how an illustration helps them in their reading, or look at a map and ask why the map was added to the text. Students need to have conversations on the importance of text features in their reading to help them use them to better understand their reading. Teachers can also use this time to have students make predictions about what the text may be about after looking at text features.

2. Create a quick reference for to students to access when using text features. Here is an example list students can insert into their working notebooks or turn into posters for the classroom wall:

  • Maps: Help a reader visualize where places are in the state, nation, or world.
  • Captions: Can help understand a picture or photograph.
  • Illustrations or photographs: Help to visualize the text and make it real. They may also help determine what is important within the text.
  • Special print: Look for bold, italics, or underlined words to determine key vocabulary.
  • Graphs: Can help understand important data within the text and assist in interpreting.
Issue 6 centerfold

In this example from Issue 6, text features are used to draw attention, provide additional information, and help students visualize and understand what they read.

3.  Using Ag Today in the classroom not only helps with reading of nonfiction texts, but it also offers opportunities for students to write. Teachers can preview the text with students and then have them write questions they may have about the text features they see. In addition, there are many think and discuss prompts within the text for students to talk with another student and to write their thoughts as well. This truly helps students realize the importance of discussing, reflecting, and writing about what they are reading.

Students reading Ag Today - Issue 2In conclusion, it is imperative for students to have access to multiple types of texts in the classroom. Ag Today is an excellent example to use for not only various content areas but also learning how to use text features for understanding. I would encourage teachers to start with a few strategies such as the ones shared here and slowly add more as you see students becoming more familiar with using text features. Happy reading in your classroom!

-Jody Still Herbold, Education Consultant, Northwest AEA

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