Text Features

Text Feature Teacher Support Notes

Janine Schaub, December 2011

What do text features look like at the grade three level?

  • Illustrations are complex
  • Multiple illustrations per page
  • More than one kind of graphic per page
  • Some long stretches of text with no illustrations or graphics
  • Most fiction texts have minimal or no illustrations
  • Black and white illustrations in most texts
  • Some illustrations are used to match or extend the mood or symbolism of the text
  • In non-fiction texts, the graphics matches and extends the information in the text
  • Variety of graphics (diagrams, cutaways, legends, labels, charts, graphs, side bars)
  • Graphics are explained
  • Variety of layouts in non-fiction texts
  • Use of italics, bold, all capitals to signify meaning
  • Colour is used to convey meaning
  • Sentences continue over several lines and sometimes onto the next page
  • Captions provide important new information that may not appear in the text
  • Periods, commas, quotation marks, exclamation points, question marks, dashes, ellipses
  • A variety of tools such as contents, glossary, punctuation guide, titles, labels, subheadings, sidebars, author’s notes)

What might a grade 3 student be able to analyze using text features?

  • Infer setting, character’s traits and feelings and plot from illustration in graphic texts
  • Infer main idea from illustrations
  • Discuss the quality of the illustrations or graphics as an aid to understanding the text
  • Support his or her thinking using text features
  • Identify important aspects of illustrations as it relates to the meaning of the text
  • Talk about the layout (bold, font, italics, variety in the layout) as it relates to the meaning of the text
  • Discuss how a writer of a graphic novel has communicated meaning through illustrations and print
  • Discuss why the author/designer may have chosen certain text features to aid the communication of his/her ideas

What do text features look like at the grade six level?

  • Many text features appear on non-fiction layouts with most not being explained or labeled and several text features may be of no value in aiding understanding whatsoever (e.g. publisher makes a cover chrome silver to attract buyers)
  • Fiction has few or no illustrations other than the jacket
  • Black and white illustrations are in some texts
  • Full range of graphics in non-fiction texts that matches and extends understanding of the main idea
  • Some texts have challenging graphics that require readers to interpret
  • Many texts have graphs, scales, legends that require interpretation
  • Photos, diagrams, labels, cutaways, maps may require interpretation
  • Words in capitals, italics or bold signal meaning
  • Large variation in print styles, font and colour to signal meaning
  • Print and illustrations are integrated with text often wrapping around
  • Challenging layout design with informational text
  • Lots of variety in layout design often occurring across two pages
  • Symbols and icons that are not explained

What might a grade 6 student be able to analyze using text features? 

  • The layout and the illustrations as important factors in conveying meaning
  • How print characteristics like white space, layout, italics, bold, font size and style and icons help to communicate meaning
  • Infer characters’ traits and feelings and plot from illustrations in graphic texts
  • Infer themes and ideas from illustrations in graphic texts
  • Infer the meaning of symbols
  • Derive an authors purpose from text features
  • Evaluate the quality of the illustrations and graphics as they relate to the main idea of the text
  • Evaluate how the writer has used text features to convey ideas and influence readers
  • Sophisticated readers might be able to notice text features that are missing and guess at an implied author’s message (e.g. sometimes there is an accompanying photograph to a short story and there is no caption or identifying text and this was a conscious choice by the author for a particular purpose) 

Text Features-Backgrounder for Teachers

Categorizing text features

A text feature might be a structural element such as a table of contents or it might be a navigational aid such as a pull-down menu on a website. A text feature might be a design element such as the layout of a page or it could be a typographical element such as the size of the font. A text feature could also be any kind of illustration such as a map, graph, a sidebar or a timeline. Text features can be any element that is added to plain text to help readers understand.

Text Features as powerful tools

A reader’s understanding is influenced by the presence of text features. A writer can choose to influence his or her readers’ understanding by including text features. Once readers and writers understand that text features are a set of options, they can both exert their power. Readers can question the author and the illustrator’s messages and hidden implications. Readers can ask, “Why were certain text features used and for what purpose?” Writers can take a critical stance and envision alternate ways of presenting a topic depending on which text features they decide to include. Writers can ask, “Which text features would help me get my point across most effectively? How can I manipulate the layout and design of my work to influence my audience?”

How Text features aid comprehension

  • Text features can help us understand the author’s purpose (the author of a text chooses certain features and decides to arrange them in a specific way to guide readers)
  • Text features should be perceived not as a set of rules but as a set of options available for constructing a variety of meanings
  • Text features can help readers understand writing as a whole system
  • Text features assist the reader in understanding the organizational patterns of the text
  • Text features provide contextual clues
  • Text features provide visual information that is often in a pictorial format that adds to the words on the page
  • Text features assist visual learners
  • Text features assist readers in identifying the most important ideas in a text
  • Text features can assist readers in anticipating what’s coming next
  • Text features can assist readers in focusing on challenging ideas
  • Text features are often pointers to help readers find information

Text feature sample questions to help analyze text

What does this text feature tell us about how the way the book is organized?

What does this text feature tell us about the author’s intentions?

Why do you think the writer and designer of this page chose to use a diagram instead of a photograph?

Why might the illustrator of this cut-away diagram have chosen to represent her information in this way? What is particularly effective about the way she has presented her information?

How does this text feature help us find the information we are looking for?

How does this text feature help us understand the information in the book?

How does this text feature help us understand the main idea?

What does our preview of this text feature tell us about the kind of information we will encounter in the rest of our reading?

Is there another text feature that you might have used instead of the one used by the author that would have been more effective in getting across the main idea? Explain.

Examine the text features on this page and then tell me about what they reveal about the author and illustrator’s intentions. Do the author and illustrator have a messages or hidden implications?

Text Feature Glossary

1.    Structural Text Features


  • Used to orient readers to the chapter and section
  • Many books divide chapters into “sections” or “units”


  • Sometimes lists arrange information to easily show items that are of equal value
  • Sometimes lists are arranged so that items are displayed from most to least important


  • Sometimes books have information to orient you to the main ideas and location within the chapter

Titles, Chapter/Section Heading

  • Headings and subheadings help readers predict before reading
  • Signal the organizational structure of the text
  • Guide a reader’s questions
  • Aid in summarizing an author’s main ideas
  • Headings and subheadings present the material in an organized way to show relationships among concepts, main ideas, and supporting details
  • Helps organize the reader’s thoughts
  • Useful for identifying the main topic for a section of text
  • Offer students a glimpse about what they are going to be reading about and how they should prepare their own schema to be active thinkers as they read the text
  • Headings break down big ideas into smaller, more intricate details
  • One way to use headings is to turn them into questions that need to be answered

Glossary and Index

  • Gives students a basic understanding of a specialist concept or vocabulary word (glossary)
  • Assists students in finding important information in the form of a term, person, idea, or place (index).


  • Provides additional information not included in the accompanying text
  • Helps students get the gist of the nature of the photo and the significance it has for the material being covered

 2.     Navigational Aids


Web links

  • Gives students the url of a web sites to link additional information
  • Helps students understand the complexity, connectedness and breadth of information

Color Codes

  • Color codes are sometimes used in books to help readers find their way around.


  • Many books and web sites use icons and symbols in a standardized way. Once the reader is familiar with what they mean, icons and symbols can be of navigational assistance

3.  Typographical elements (Typography is the art, craft and techniques of type design, modifying type glyphs, and arranging type.)

Bold and Italicized Text

  • signal that the word is important and that we should pay special attention to it
  • Publishers use bold to highlight specific terms, names, or events that should be remembered
  • Highlights a new idea or a new term

4. Design Elements


  • Can recede or jump forward on the page making a reader take notice. Some colors seem to fall back such as blue, black, dark green, and brown. Other colors will seem to step forward such as white, yellow, red, and orange. This is why if you have a bright orange background it may seem to fight with any text or images that you place on it. The orange will always seem to move forward.
  • Can make people feel a certain way. Graphic designers, for example, use yellow when they want the reader to feel happy, blue when they want to promote dependability, and purple to signify dignity.
  • Colours can feel warm or cool (reds and yellows are warm and blues and greens are cool) and can change the way a reader feels about something he or she is reading.
  • Can represent ideas, for example, green is now connected with environmentalism.

Layout (the arrangement and style treatment of content elements on a page)

  • The designer or author of the page chooses the best way to arrange the illustrations and the text. A good layout can help the reader understand the main idea because it organizes, draws attention to certain details, and is attractive to view.

5. Illustrations

  • Visually illustrate and summarize information
  • Helps readers visualize what the text is describing
  • Illustrations save memory. They are spatial and in a sense not temporal. You look at all the pieces at the same time. When you read, you have to sequentially recall all the pieces.

Photographs (Printed images usually taken with cameras)

  • Historically, photos were seen as evidence. If someone took a picture of scene it was proof. Nowadays with the advent of digital photography and software programs like Photoshop, photos can be easily altered.  As part of students’ critical literacy it is now necessary to have conversations about photographs as “interpretations.”

Cut-away illustrations

  • Visually illustrate and summarize information
  • Show us a view of something we couldn’t see in ordinary life
  • Show us something that would otherwise be hidden from view
  • Helps reduce clutter, focuses our attention on certain parts


  • Visually illustrate and summarize information
  • Can help you understand the main parts

Exploded diagram

  • Visually illustrates and summarize information
  • Shows how small pieces fit together

Pictures, maps and cartoons

  • Visually illustrates and summarizes information
  • Builds background knowledge
  • Provides vicarious experiences
  • Sparks reader’s interest so he/she might read text
  • Helps emphasize an important point

Pull Boxes

  • Similar to sidebars in effect, these usually feature following content: connections, features, strategies, profiles
  • Pull boxes often contain brief material that means that the reader will need to look elsewhere for more complete information


  • Offers information that complements but is not always essential to the main text.


  • Visually illustrates and summarizes information
  • Offers not only information, but also comparisons and processes between and among important concepts


  • Emphasizes the data
  • Presents the data in an organized way
  • Emphasizes relationships and patterns amongst data
  • Helps a reader visualize
  • Assists in making generalizations (think of the difference in looking at raw data)


  • Visually illustrates and summarizes information
  • Line graphs help the reader see comparisons over time
  • Bar graphs can be good at helping the reader compare data
  • A pie chart works to compare items to the whole (percentages) and
  • Pie chart helps a reader visualize how small or big a part really is compared to the whole
  • Emphasizes the data
  • Presents the data in an organized way
  • Emphasizes relationships and patterns amongst data
  • Assists in making generalizations (think of the difference in looking at raw data)

Please click on file below for Word Format:

Text Feature Support Notes for Teachers

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