5 Signs You Should Teach Nonfiction Text Features

Why do kids need to know nonfiction text features? In this post, you'll learn about five important signs your kids aren't using them. Check it out  to learn more.

Nonfiction text features help students better understand the main idea, and knowing the look fors help students with learning content. When you think of your classroom library, have you ever thought to check the ratio of fiction to nonfiction? Chances are pretty good that the vast majority of books in classroom libraries are predominantly fiction. However, we know that reading nonfiction helps our students scholastically. Informational texts are necessary for learning, right? Yet, are we teaching students how to read and use nonfiction text features as we should? Helping students learn to use nonfiction text features helps students learn to appreciate and enjoy nonfiction.

The Research on Teaching Nonfiction text features

In Research Says/ Nonfiction Reading Promotes Student Success, Goodwin and Miller (on ASCD.org) shared a study done by Duke (2000) on the amount of informational texts students read. The study was conducted with 20 1st grade classrooms and what they found was that informational texts constituted, on average, just 9.8 percent of texts in classroom libraries. Additionally, the students spent just 3.6 minutes with informational text each day. I am not sure how this compares with other classrooms, but I am sad to say that the amount of fiction in my book collection greatly outnumbers the amount of nonfiction I have. That said, I have tried to pick up nonfiction titles as I see them at yard sales, etc.

Signs You Need to Teach Nonfiction Text Features

Students aren’t sure if a book is fiction or nonfiction.

One way to work on distinguishing fiction and nonfiction is with read alouds. If we select paired texts to share, we can demonstrate the differences between the two texts. Paired texts could include Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and Owls by Gail Gibbons or Stellaluna by Janell Cannon and Amazing Bats by Seymour Simon (or other nonfiction with these topics). You may not have time for both books on the same day, but over the course of several days, you can certainly distinguish the differences with your students.

Why do kids need to know nonfiction text features? In this post, you'll learn about five important signs your kids aren't using them. Check it out  to learn more.

To help students make comparisons, use a Venn Diagram or create an anchor chart showing the differences (t-chart) This can help you expose your kids to the important features. I love this anchor chart from Stories by Storie Keeping the pieces interactive involves the children and makes the chart a group effort. 

When you interview your students to learn their reading preferences, they only name fictional titles as favorites.

One great way to encourage independent reading is to have book conferences with your students on a regular basis. They don’t need to take too long, but the impact on motivation is huge. Discuss what your students like to read, and set goals with them on gaining exposure to other genres. If we make kids aware of nonfiction options that appeal to them (like the paired texts above), then we might coax them that nonfiction is interesting.  I have met very few kids who aren’t interested in animals, so that’s a great place to start.

Your students think you have to read nonfiction from cover to cover.

One of the great things with nonfiction is that you can select just a section or two to read if you like. Most nonfiction texts are divided up by subtopic using headings, so if a students is researching about an animal’s habitat, he/she can quickly look at the table of contents or in the index for the section that discusses habitat. This is one big reason kids need to know nonfiction text features. They need explicit teaching in using a table of contents and index in order to know which key words will get them to the information they need which takes a bit of practice

Your students get overwhelmed with wordy or vocabulary heavy texts.

Nonfiction Text features include all the “extras” in a story or article that are not the main body of text. Nonfiction text features include the table of contents, index, glossary, headings, bold words, sidebars, photographs and captions, charts, and labeled diagrams. These features can be quite helpful when they are related to the content and help with demonstrating or explaining the important concepts in the text.

Your students struggle in the content areas.

Content area reading offers us the opportunity to further work in reading time with a busy teaching day. We can “double dip” our kids by using text sets by topic. If I’m teaching matter, one of the first things I do is go through our school’s reading room to see if we have tradebooks I can use to supplement my units. Because so many classroom libraries lack a sufficient supply of relevant books, borrowing from the school library or your community library is a way to match books to readers helping struggling readers at least access the information.

Why do kids need to know nonfiction text features? In this post, you'll learn about five important signs your kids aren't using them. Check it out  to learn more.

Well, for starters, we can use the table the contents and index to locate the information we need. We can use the diagrams within nonfiction texts to see just how things like photosynthesis works or identify the parts of an insect. We can also learn to read maps. and so much more.

Why do kids need to know nonfiction text features? In this post, you'll learn about five important signs your kids aren't using them. Check it out  to learn more.

Using Text Sets in the Content Areas

I mentioned text sets, but I think this is a teaching option often overlooked. Several years ago, I worked with a little boy who was 2-3 years below level, and the only time I was able to tutor him was during science. Well, the answer for that time was to tie my reading instruction to the science he was missing. We were able to find books in the library that really tied in well.

This is a great idea for in the classroom too. Multiple copies work very well, but if you don’t have access to multiple copies, you can still supplement with what you have. You can use them as read alouds for modeling both science concepts and the text features that are included.

Recently, I created a Nonfiction Text Feature Bundle for my store. It includes organizers that can be used with any nonfiction book, task cards, teaching powerpoints, projectable task cards (one slide per page), an accordion book for interactive notebooks, and anchor charts for instruction.

Why do kids need to know nonfiction text features? In this post, you'll learn about five important signs your kids aren't using them. Check it out  to learn more.

A preview of the anchor charts are above, and you can check out the response options to the right. Additionally, the set includes powerpoint presentations for four text features.  Check it out if you’d like to include the options in your teaching plan.

Nonfiction Resources from My Shop:

Subscriber Freebie:

To help you get started, here is a little flipbook I’ve used in the primary grades. It includes the table of contents, headings, pictures, captions, and charts. It may not include all of your standards, but it is a starting point and is a freebie I had available to share with you.

Teaching nonfiction features makes a huge difference in student comprehension, so it’s important we take time to explicitly teach them and allow plenty of practice throughout our teaching day.

Pin for Later


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carla, once again you amaze me. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.