Not all nonfiction books have text features but for the books that do, understanding them will impact a reader’s comprehension dramatically so it’s important that we teach children about the text features in nonfiction to improve their comprehension.
The nonfiction books that include text features are traditional nonfiction, browseable nonfiction, and active nonfiction. I’m using the classifications found in 5 Kinds of Nonfiction by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia.
Traditional nonfiction is fact-based nonfiction books about a specific topic.
Browseable nonfiction is a book that you don’t have to read in any particular order.
Active nonfiction is a book that shares procedures like a craft book.
Teach children to know that these nonfiction books require them to use comprehension strategies in a different way.
It’s important children access their background knowledge, determine what’s important, ask questions, infer, and synthesize — to help them comprehend the text they’re reading.
But, since the text is different than a fictional story, teach the features of nonfiction before you start reading so they can use these text features to support their comprehension.
Nonfiction Text Features
Notice the following text features and teach children what is important about each. You can do a “text walk” through the book to introduce a few at a time.
(Use books that are simple and well-written about any topic because you’re not teaching the content, simply the features)
- table of contents
- titles and subtitle
- bold word
Give readers practice noticing these text features with a Text Feature Scavenger Hunt!
Here is a scavenger hunt you can print out. (Other scavenger hunts ask for examples from the text — which I think are hard to fit in a small column space, so I didn’t do that, but you could have readers write the example text down in their reading notebooks.)
Instead of a printed scavenger hunt, I also like using sticky notes with a list or poster of the possible features you’ll find in the text.
See what you notice on each page. Not all books include everything so the sticky note method is my favorite way to notice what’s included in the book you’re reading. As you analyze and once your readers get proficient at finding the features, then talk about how the included features impact (help or hurt) their comprehension.
Ask questions like: How do the text features impact your understanding of the information? Do they help you visualize? Or understand a new word? How do they help you determine what’s the most important concept and what’s an interesting detail?
It can also be helpful to discuss when the book doesn’t have what you need–either not enough to help you through the content or not the right ones. It’s okay to find books that aren’t well-organized or well-written that you compare to books that are.
If you’re ready to get started, find book recommendations by going to my Nonfiction Book Lists for All Ages.