Focus On Biography: Text Features Help Answer Close Reading Questions (Day 3 of 5)

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Objective: SWBAT explain how text features help the reader locate key facts, and answer who, what, where, when, why and how questions.

Big Idea

How do biographers organize information about people who “turn(ed) this world upside down”? Martin Luther King, Jr. as a child

Get Ready

10 minutes

The text I chose for this lesson is First Facts About American Heroes by David King, which is an anthology of one page biographies. The book is a higher level text (6.5) with an interest level of grade three. The readability is more difficult because of the specific vocabulary on each page. Because of the rigor of the text, I am going to have the children read this in heterogenous groups with students who have above grade level skills. We are also going to use the “Great Questions” poster that points out the need to identify hard words so that students remember not to just read right over them. We will re-read for fluency for all students as well.    

I also chose this book because it is rich in text features – bullets, timelines, subtitles, captions, boldface text and banners. The CCSS stress the need for students to navigate complex text, including informational texts, which often are complex precisely because students need to analyze their text features while reading the text. As RI 2.5 points out, using text features helps readers efficiently locate key facts and information. So often, even good readers skip over the illustrations and other graphics to read the main parts of the text. Not paying attention to the information carried in graphic elements handicaps their comprehension. And even if the bulk of the text is above a readers' ability, often the text features act as "snapshot" of the idea presented, aiding a less skilled reader.

Finally, I made this selection because the passages are SHORT, only one page for each biography.  Honing in on short passages for close reading is something the CCSS encourages.

While this book worked very well for my purpose, I believe another anthology of biographies would suffice. I would be sure to look for one with a mix of text features.

I gather the class to the rug. I show the class the book and page through it excitedly. I tell them that MLK was a VERY famous leader who inspired people to change the world into a better place, and that this book has biographies of other change agents: people who made our country a better place. I show them the table of contents and ask them to tell me what they notice; some noticings that might emerge: red and black text, names and page numbers, some photos of people, etc. I ask them to raise their hand when they spot Martin Luther King, Jr.’s name. We turn to that page.

In case an appropriate book is difficult for you to find, I included the six pages from the 112 page book in the resources.



Get Set

15 minutes

I show the students the two-page spread. We look at all the parts, the timeline at the top, the bullet points, the text, the photos and captions, and the subtitles. I read to the students the text, and we use the poster Great Questions To Ask For Close reading to guide us as I read each section. I mark words that we must clarify. We discuss for meaning, or I look the words up.  

I add a question: What text feature did the author use to present the information? As we read and view the one page of text and photos, I use sticky notes to label the text features on the page. I also ask again and again… “What question did the author answer?"



Go to Work

20 minutes

I group my students into teams heterogeneously. The teams consist of 3 or 4 above, at and below grade level readers.  I appoint a team leader whose job is to solicit input from each member. We practice having the leader say, “What do you think, ____?” to each member. We also practice active listening skills and consensus for group share out.

Each team gets two copies of the same page of another civil rights leader. The students are to:

  1. Read the page with a partner. 
  2. Mark hard words. 
  3. Change partners and read again. 

All four team members may help each other out with difficult vocabulary. If none of the students can “figure it out” they are to mark it with a dot under the word, as they will need to clarify the word. They can raise all hands and I will come to help them, or they may get a dictionary to look the word up. (These are HARD words so I am liberal with teacher help. Frustrating the students is counterproductive!) This speaks directly to RI 2.4 - Determining meaning of words and phrases. 

The task is to look at each section and ask the Great Questions. When done, the team is to fill out the Questionnaire, which asks them to respond to the following prompts:

  • What information did the author present with bullets?
  • What photos did the author include? What information did the caption give?
  • What were the subtitles?
  • List three questions the author answered for the reader. 




15 minutes


We return to the carpet and each team gets to use the doc camera to showcase their work and tell about the leader they read about. I ask them to tell the leader's name, when they lived and two facts they learned about them. I ask them to conclude by telling the class what change the leader was working for. We place one of the copies of the biography and the teams’ completed questionnaire on our Focus on Biography Bulletin Board in the hall. 

 Completed questionnaires:

Questionnaire 1

Questionnaire 2

Questionnaire 3