Teaching text features is mandated in the Common Core standards (RI.5). Although teaching text features appears in numerous grade levels, students still struggle to grasp this concept. Recently, I was talking with one of my former students about a text feature assessment she had coming up. (She’s in 4th grade now.) As she was reviewing her notes, I glanced down at them and asked her what a heading was used for…*thinking to myself… I taught you this in 2nd grade!* After thinking about it for a few seconds, she could not answer me. How can teachers make text features more engaging so that students will retain the information?
First, students need a reference point that they can refer back to. I have been using anchor charts for many years now and students love the fact that they can use them. When students are contributing ideas and are involved in creating the anchor charts, students use them the most because they understand the chart’s purpose. However, in upper grades, this could become an issue when teachers have to remove their anchor charts for standardized testing. Hopefully, students could still visualize what is on the anchor after having seen it/used it/created it.
(An example of a non-fiction text feature anchor chart found on Pinterest.)
In the past, I have taught text features in small groups as part of my guided reading groups by creating a book out of old Weekly Readers. At first, I tried doing this whole group, but many students were lost and wasted a lot of time when picking out particular features. Looking back, I feel that students may have got caught up in the “we are making a book today” part instead of the intended outcome of the lesson–text features. Perhaps the lesson would have been more effective if I had made the books prior to the lesson. I feel that it is important for students to create the books because this allows them to have ownership in choosing what they think is interesting. Also, focusing on one text feature per day would allow students to dig deeper and develop more understanding of the particular feature.
Many schools have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy or access to devices. Teachers could incorporate technology throughout these lessons by using the nonfiction books on the Epic Books app. Students could go on a “text feature hunt” and list all of the text features they find in a book they choose. This would allow students to show what they have learned learned throughout the small group lessons while utilizing technology. This could be completed during literacy centers. Teachers can also set up a QR code with a video on text features for students who are struggling to determine the difference in text features.
This video created by eSpark Learning is about 3 minutes long (an amount of time that would be appropriate for elementary students). Throughout the video, eSpark tells about the importance of the text feature and gives examples of each.
Teaching text features this year, I plan to do things a little differently. My school has access to iPads, so I will incorporate Epic Books into my lesson, as well as creating an anchor chart. I’m looking forward to applying these new ideas when teaching my students about text features this quarter!