Navigate Readings With Text Features

A child sits at a desk, using a finger to read a book

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Text features are a useful set of tools to help students interacts with information from readings to find extratextual information. A positive approach for teaching is to use them for more than just instruction or creating worksheets. Give students practice using text features in other ways, in a group. The table of contents, index, and glossary are not found directly in the text, but either in the front matter or as appendices.

Table of Contents

The first page after the frontispiece and the publisher's information is usually the table of contents. You will find the same features in an ebook, as well, since they are most often straight digital conversions of a printed text. Usually, they present the title of each chapter and the corresponding page number. Some will even have subtitles for subsections which the author uses to organize the text.

Glossary

Often, especially in a student textbook, words that appear in the glossary will be bolded, underlined, italicized, or even highlighted in color. As the age of the student and the difficulty of the text increase, glossary words will not be emphasized in the text. Instead, the student is expected to know to look for unfamiliar vocabulary in the glossary.

Glossary entries are very much like dictionary entries, and generally supply the definition of the word as used in context, references to related terms, and a pronunciation key. Although an author may provide secondary definitions, students should understand that even when only one meaning is listed, there could always be more. It is similarly important that students learn that even with multiples, only one should be chosen to make sense of the word in context.

Index

The index at the end of the book helps students find information in the body of the text. To research for a paper, we need to know how to use an index to find information in a text. We can also help students understand that when they have read a text and can't recall specific information, that information can be found in the index. Students must also understand how to use synonyms and related words to find the information they are looking for. They may not know that, when learning about signing the constitution, they should look first for "constitution" in the index, and then hopefully find "signing" as a sub-entry. 

Instructional Strategies

Introduce and Define the Terms

First, of course, you need to find out if your students can name and then find text features. Text features are introduced almost as soon as students begin reading in first grade. Still, the effort of learning to read has probably absorbed their attention, so they probably haven't noticed the text features.

Choose a text. It may be one you are using in your class, or you may want a non-fiction text that the students can keep in front of them. Use a text that is at or below students' independent reading levels so that decoding the text is not the focus of the lesson.

Find the text features. Send the students to specific page numbers and read together, or tell them what you're looking for, and have them point out the particular text feature. "Find the Table of Contents and put your finger on the words 'Table of Contents' to show me you found it." Then, model for them how to use each feature:

  • Table of Contents: "Let's find the third chapter. What page is it on? What is the title? What might you read about in this chapter?"
  • Index: "Help me find where in this book about dogs we can read about poodles? There is no chapter on poodles, so let's look in the Index. How do we spell poodle? Where is the letter P in the alphabet?"
  • Glossary: (When reading aloud together) "The letters of this word are very thick. We call that 'bold.' This means that we can find the meaning of the word in the glossary at the back of the book. Let's find it!"

Games

You can't beat games to get students motivated and give them practice! Try adapting your favorite games, because your genuine enthusiasm for a beloved game is likely to rub off on your pupils. Some other ideas for games related to text features include:

  • Glossary Go: Put all the words from a glossary on index cards and shuffle. Assign a caller, and divide your group into teams. Have the caller read the word and place it on the table. Have a child from each team ready when the word is read and find it first in the glossary, and then find the sentence in the text. The first person to find the word in the text raises their hand and then reads the sentence. This game asks the students to use the glossary to find the page and then to search the page for the word in context. 
  • Text Feature Treasure Hunt: There are a few ways to play this: either as individuals or in a group, hunting for "treasure" in the book itself or in a physical space. Make it a race to see who finds the item(s) first. "What does 'colonial' mean? Go!" Finding the answer from the book first awards a point. Hunting through an open book likely works best with unfamiliar words. Hunting in a group requires more preparation. Make each task a clue from the text. Make two or three sets so you can divide your group/class into more than one group. Have the words in the answer correspond to something in your class, or label locations where you hide the next clue with a word from the answer.