The Importance of Nonfiction Text Features

We all know that our children should be reading at least some nonfiction.  Maybe they like to read books on their favorite sports stars, look at magazine articles from Highlights or Scholastic News, or research animals online.  No matter what form your child’s nonfiction reading takes, a key to understanding nonfiction is the ability to recognize common text features.

What are Text Features?

Nonfiction text features are the aspects of text that make certain words stand out in some way.  The text features either highlight part of the text as important or help increase understanding of the text.  When a child is able to identify and use nonfiction text features, they become readers who understand more of what they are reading.

Common Nonfiction Text Features

While there are many kinds of text features, these are some of the most common ones that children should be familiar with.

  • Headings – Most nonfiction is broken up into sections. Magazines are divided into articles. Nonfiction books have chapters, and those chapters are divided into sections. Encyclopedias are separated into various entries.  Headings tell us what each section will be about.  Noticing those headings will help your child learn to pick out specific information they need from that article or chapter.
  • Bold Print & Italics – Both of these nonfiction text features perform the same task.  They are used to call attention to important words or definitions in the text.  This is especially important when your child is learning to study.  Words that are in bold print or italics are words that are more likely to be on a test or quiz.
  • Pictures & Captions – While pictures make a text much more enjoyable for a child, it is the captions on the pictures that make pictures an essential part of the text.  A caption is the text under a picture that explains what the pictures shows.  Children can then look at the picture and read the caption to gain more information about the topic they are reading about.
  • Diagrams & Labels – Similar to pictures, diagrams give information in picture form.  However diagrams are designed to show the parts of an object or animal.  Diagrams can be interesting, but to be useful they should also include labels.  The labels give the names of the different parts that are being shown.  Children can learn quite a bit about an object just through looking at the labels on a diagram.

You don’t have to sit your child down and teach them these text features.  Chances are they have already noticed them in their reading.  Instead, just take the time once in a while to point out a nonfiction text feature and talk about it with your child.  Ask them why they think the author chose to use that text feature.  See if they can tell you what the feature is called and what it is used for.  Simply talking with your children about the nonfiction text features will show your child that they are important and worth noticing.  What other nonfiction text features do you notice when reading?

Photo by:  Chris_Parfitt

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