Tricky Subheadings: Inferring the Meaning of Creative Subheadings

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SWBAT infer the meaning of subheading and subtitles in nonfiction texts

Big Idea

Understanding subtitles and subheading in nonfiction texts helps readers locate information quickly.


5 minutes

In a previous lesson, students learned to use text and graphic features as a guide to information in a nonfiction text. Sometimes readers read a nonfiction text from cover to cover but often times, readers are looking for specific information within the text. Titles, subtitles, headings, and subheadings help direct us.

However, sometimes, the titles and headings can be obscure. When a student reads these obscure titles, they can be thrown off track and have a difficult time locating the information they are looking for. This lesson helps students identify the difference between types of titles and heading and infer their meaning.

I start by showing students two different subheadings, "Sparkles Up Above" and "Types of Stars". Students are called on to share the difference between the two titles. I hope that students notice that one is straight forward and the other leaves room for interpretation. 

Titles can be straight forward or we might need to infer their meaning. In this lesson, students are going to practice inferring the meaning of subtitles and subheadings in nonfiction text.

Modeling and Guiding

10 minutes

For this lesson, I use a few pages from the National Geographic Reading Expeditions, "Mexico" and "Understanding Electricity". However, there are so many articles and nonfiction texts that have subtitles with different types of subheadings or subtitles. 

First, I show students the article with the more direct subtitles, "Mexico". Thinking out loud, I explain how I read the titles first in order to focus my thinking about what I will be reading. I notice that the titles in this article are really easy to understand and when I read the section, the text matches the subtitle directly.

Not all subtitles are so direct. I show them another example of a text with subheading that are less clear, "Understanding Electricity". The first subheading I read is, "Blow Wind Blow." This is more like a phrase or something someone would say. I am going to have to infer the meaning of this title by using what I already know and some text from the article. I know that this article's title is "Understanding Electricity" and I also remember that you can make electricity with wind power. I wonder if this section is about how electricity is made using wind power. At this point I explain that I just made an inference that I need to verify by reading on. I read the text that comes after "Blow Wind Blow" and discover that it is about wind power. Inferring first helps me focus on the understanding the text that I'm planning on reading.

Now its their turn. I read the next title in the article, "Here Comes the Sun" and ask students if this subheading is clear and direct one or a subheading that we need to infer the meaning of. Students share that it is not direct and we will need to infer. I ask them to think about the text and what they already know and then share it with a partner, make an inference. Some students have already learned about solar panels and share that that background knowledge helped them infer the meaning of the title. 

I reinforce the need to read on to check whether or not they are correct. As I read, they listen for clues that confirms their inference. 

Practice and Share

15 minutes

Once I've modeled how to notice the differences between subheading and infer their meanings, I give students a chance to do the same work in their own text. 

When they read, they should write down in their learning journal the subheading, whether or not it is direct or inferred, and a meaning if they have to infer. 

Some students realize that the book they chose is written with only direct and clear subheadings. I congratulate them on identifying that and suggest the look for ones that do not have titles that are as clear. 

When students are ready to share, I ask them to pick one subtitle to share and explain their thinking. I also ask them if they read on to verify in order to emphasize the importance of checking for understanding. Some subheadings will be very clear in telling a reader what that section is about but when it is not, we don't just skip it but instead prepare our brain by inferring the meaning.