nonfiction text features

My students always grasp a concept better when I pair it with a hands-on activity. With that in mind, I am always on the hunt for ways to make learning more interactive. This was my thinking when I sought to really make the learning stick when teaching nonfiction text features as part of our informational text unit.

So how did I do it? Enter the scavenger hunt.

When used effectively, this simple activity provides a big bang for your buck since it offers a creative and interactive outlet that simultaneously encourages knowledge and understanding. 

We’re talking about middle school – need I convince you more?!

Step #1: Introduce the Types of Text Features

Middle school students have already had several years’ worth of exposure to text features, so I find that they simply need a refresher when it comes to the types of text features. Additionally, I think it’s more important at the middle-grade level to place emphasis on why authors use particular text features. 

The first step was to provide a mini-lesson explaining that authors use nonfiction text features in their writing to present or integrate information that will help the reader develop a better understanding of the topic.

Next, I share information about different nonfiction text features. These include

  • a table of contents
  • titles, headings, and subheadings, 
  • bold or underlined or highlighted text,
  • charts, graphs, maps,
  • timeline,
  • glossary,
  • sidebar,
  • an image, illustration, or photograph with or without a caption.

Of course, students will have seen many of these elements before, but they haven’t spent much time considering the purpose of the features.

To help with that, we categorize the types of nonfiction text features we discuss based on their purpose:

  • To help the reader understand key ideas
  • To help the reader build knowledge
  • To represent information

I recommend capturing this on a note-taker that students can reference in future activities like the one displayed below!

nonfiction text features notetaker

Step #2: Embark on Your Nonfiction Text Feature Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are one of the ways I have been successful in making learning both student-directed and hands-on. Not only is a scavenger hunt engaging for students, but it is also manageable for teachers to set up, too.

For this particular lesson, a well-structured scavenger hunt gets students to learn about nonfiction text features while searching for them in their ‘natural habitat’– aka a published text, newspaper, or magazine.

Before students begin their hunt, provide a list of text features for them to look for or have them use their Types of Text Features note-taker from your mini-lesson. 

Supply groups with a stack of magazines along with scissors and gluesticks. Give them time to “go on the hunt” for as many examples of nonfiction text features as possible to add to their collage.

create a nonfiction text features scavenger hunt

Make sure they take the time to label each of the nonfiction text features they add to their collage!

To make this manageable for digital learners, you can have them complete a digital scavenger hunt and add their examples to a collage using Google Drawings! 

Step #3: Determine the Nonfiction Text Features’ Purpose

When I’m teaching nonfiction text structures, I tell my students that “Nonfiction writers organize their ideas in a logical way that best communicates their purpose for writing.” Our goal, as readers, is to determine the big ideas in a text and understand how the author develops them. The same is true for the use of nonfiction text features. 

After students search for text features, I continually circulate and ask various students why they think a particular text feature has been used. What does the text feature do? Or, what’s the job of this feature?

An important tip at this point in the learning is to make sure students consider the purpose of the text feature once they’ve found it but before they cut it out of the magazine. 

Where the informational text features are found is important context for understanding its purpose. If students cut out the example and then later try to identify its purpose, they’ll likely have to scramble to remember where it was and why it was used.

Step #: 4 Check for Understanding with An Exit Ticket

Once students complete their scavenger hunt, you could collect the work in order to check for understanding about them all… but the last thing teachers want more of is a stack of grading. 

Instead, do your regular check-ins during the task, and then use an exit ticket. The information that you can collect from an exit ticket is invaluable.

nonfiction text features exit ticket

An exit ticket doesn’t have to be complicated! An exit ticket can vary from a sticky note to a single page. For this lesson, an exit ticket that’s about half of a page is ideal–enough room to record key information but not too daunting for students to complete (or the teacher to review!).

Here are a few options to close out this lesson:

  1. Invite students to choose three text features they found and explain why the author included them.
  2. Ask for a 3-2-1: Three text features they understand best, two they need more time/information to better understand, and one that they have no idea on or could not find.
  3. Invite students to define text features, explain why authors use them, and list a few examples.

In reviewing the data from the exit tickets, you can determine the next steps for learning and build those into an upcoming lesson.

This was a wonderfully engaging and hands-on way to get students to clearly understand nonfiction text features before moving on to a more complex lesson on nonfiction.

To make this even more manageable for you, check out my no-prep, ready-to-deliver lesson with everything mentioned above.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to hear from you if so! Drop a comment below or tag me in your posts on IG. Happy teaching!