Text Mapping as a Strategy for Understanding Intent

books stacked over each other

 Abhi Sharma/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Text mapping is a visual technique to help students understand how information is organized in content area text, especially textbooks. Developed by Dave Middlebrook in the 1990s, involves marking different text features as a means to better understand and retain the content in a content area textbook.

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Text Mapping -- A Technique to Build Skills for Understanding Text

Copying the text to create the text scroll. Websterlearning

Textbooks are a familiar genre of written communication because they form the backbone of both higher education curriculum as well as the general education curriculum found in K-12 education settings. In some states, such as Nevada, textbooks have become the single way in which continuity and uniformity in content delivery are assured statewide. There is a single approved textbook for Nevada State History, for Math and for reading. The Board of Education's power to approve textbooks gives some state boards, like Texas's, virtual veto power over the content of textbooks.

Still, well-written textbooks help teachers organize material and students to access the core content of subjects such as history, geography, math, and science. Our students are likely to see many textbooks in their educational career. Even online courses (I got my Teaching English as an Other Language certification online) require expensive textbooks. Whatever we say about textbooks, they are here to stay. In the future, electronic textbooks may actually make this technique easier to use. An important part of creating inclusive settings in secondary classrooms is to be sure that all students are able to use curricular materials including the textbook.

Text mapping should follow a lesson on text features. It could be done with a digital opaque projector and an old text you could mark up, or a copy of a text from another class. You could also introduce text features in the text for the class in the chapter before the one you use for the text mapping.

Creating the text scroll

The first step in text mapping is copying the text you will be mapping, and laying it end to end to create a continuous scroll. By changing the "format" of the text, you will be changing the way students see and understand the text. Since the texts are expensive and printed two-sided, you will want to make single-sided copies of each page in the chapter you are targeting.

I would recommend doing your text mapping in cross-ability groupings as a means of differentiation. Whether you have created "clock" groups, or create groups specifically for this activity, students with strong skills will be "teaching" the weaker students as they process the text together.

When each student or group of students has received his or her copy, or the group's copy, have them create a scroll, taping the pages together side by side so that the beginning of the chapter/text excerpt is at the left end, and each successive page goes from end to end. Do not use the taping as a means to edit. You want any inserted material (a text box, a chart, etc.) to be in place so students can see how the content may at times "flow" around the inserted materials.

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Decide on the Text Elements that Are Important for Your Text

A scroll created by taping the copies together. Websterlearning

Establish Your Purpose

Text mapping can be used to meet one of three different goals:

  1. In a content area class, to teach students how to use the text for that class. This could be a one time lesson that the special education teacher and the content area teacher pursue together, or may be done in small groups who have been identified as weak readers.
  2. In a content area class, to teach students developmental reading skills in order to transfer them to other content classes. This might be a monthly or quarterly activity, to reinforce the developmental reading skills.
  3. In a resource or special reading class in a secondary setting, especially one focused on developmental reading. In a developmental class, this technique could be repeated, either to teach students to identify certain text features or across subject areas, mapping a chapter in each of the student's textbooks, focusing on what resources are there. In fact, a year-long class could probably use text mapping to teach both formats.

Choose the Targeted Text Elements.

Once you have decided your purpose, you need to decide which ​text elements you want students to find and underline or highlight as they map the text. If they are getting acquainted with a particular text in a particular class (say, the 9th grade world geography text) your purpose is help students with disabilities feel comfortable with the text and able to find the information they will need to learn the content: and with typical students, to gain "fluency" in reading and studying the text. If it is part of a developmental reading class, you may want to focus on color coding headings and subheadings and boxing the accompanying text. If your purpose is to introduce a particular text for a particular class, you will want your mapping activity to stress the text features that are in the text for that class, especially as they will support study and success in content texts. Finally, if your intent is to build skills in developmental reading within the context of the class, you can feature several elements in each text mapping session.

Create a key for the elements, choosing a color or task for each element.

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Model and Put your Students to Work

Modeling the text mapping on the board. Websterlearning


Put the scroll you have created on the front board. Have students spread out their scrolls on the floor so they can find the things you point out. Have them check pagination and check to be sure they have every page in the right order.

After you have reviewed the key and the items they will be looking for, guide them through marking (mapping) the first page. Be sure they highlight/underline each issue you choose for them. Use or provide the tools they will need: if you use different color highlighters, be sure each student/group has access to the same colors. If you have required colored pencils at the beginning of the year, you're set, though you may require your students to bring in a set of 12 colored pencils so everyone in the group has access to all the colors.

Model on your scroll on the first page. This will be your "guided practice.

Put Your Students to Work

If you are working groups, be sure you are clear about the rules for working in groups. You may want to build a group structure into your classroom routines, starting with simple "getting to know you" kinds of activities.

Give your students a set amount of time and a clear understanding of what you want to be mapped. Be sure that your teams have the skill set you need to map.

In my example, I have chosen three colors: One for headings, another for subheadings and a third for illustrations and captions. My instructions would do highlight the headings in orange, and then draw a box around the whole section that goes with that heading. It extends to the second page. Then, I would have students highlight sub-headings in green, and put a box of the section that goes with that heading. Finally, I would have students put a box around the illustrations and charts in red, underline the caption and underline references to the illustration (I underlined George III in the text, which goes with the textbooks and caption at the bottom, that tells us more about George III.)


The question for assessment is simple: Are they able to use the map they created? One way to assess this would be to send students home with their text, with the understanding that they will have a quiz the next day. Don't tell them you'll let them use their map! Another way is to have a "scavenger hunt" immediately after the activity since they should be able to use their mapping to remember the location of important information.

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Text Mapping as a Strategy for Understanding Intent." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/text-mapping-as-a-strategy-3110468. Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 28). Text Mapping as a Strategy for Understanding Intent. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/text-mapping-as-a-strategy-3110468 Webster, Jerry. "Text Mapping as a Strategy for Understanding Intent." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/text-mapping-as-a-strategy-3110468 (accessed May 29, 2023).