Magazine Text Features

text features scavenger hunt

Kids don’t always have to be reading chapter books to build good reading skills. Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss enjoy reading magazines targeted at elementary aged children, and we have a few subscriptions delivered to our house monthly. We particularly like the National Geographic Kids, but we like Muse and Spider as well. When we finish reading at home, I donate the magazines to my classroom library. Recently, my fourth grade students and I worked on several activities to reinforce better non-fiction reading and expository writing skills using the magazine text features for guidelines.

PicCollage magazine text features

Standard non-fiction text features like captions, tables, sub-headings, and sidebars are great ways for students to clue in on the main idea of what they are about to read. If students have a prediction about the general topic in their reading, they will anticipate certain vocabulary and ideas, and their reading will be more accurate. We completed a fun iPad activity where students went on a text feature scavenger hunt. I gave each student 3-4 magazines to peruse and a Magazine Text Features Definition List. When the students located one of the text features, they snapped a picture. Once they had at least 7 different examples, they pulled the pictures into a PicCollage and labeled their images.

PicCollage magazine text features sample

Reluctant readers often do very well with the short articles and images you find in magazines particularly if the magazine focuses on a specific interest of the child. Help your reader clue into the common features of magazines and build those reading skills.

Ready to Research?


Each year, I approach my 4th grade non-fiction research unit with equal parts excitement and dread. I am excited because along with my students, I always learn something new about an American business founder. I dread the unit because it involves a research paper, and it takes all of my teacher super powers not to jam a child into his locker when he looks up at me and says, “I’ve read EVERYTHING and there is no information about Henry Ford.” Fortunately, I also teach common prefixes, so I can calmly remind the student that REsearch means search again.

research folder for students

Coaching these kids through their first research essay is a good thing, and they acquire so many skills because of it. As much as the process pains me, I repeat it every year. I have used this research system with 4th grade, 6th grade, and 9th grade. It works for every age on any topic in almost every subject area.

Prepping the Research

Before letting kids loose on the Internet to find facts, focus on some sub-topics. In my classroom, students write 3-5 open ended questions they will try to answer. Parents, if you are working with a child at home, brainstorm some sub-topics to give the research a direction.

  • An opened ended question is one that requires multiple sentences to answer. Instead of asking, “When did Ruth Handler sell the first Barbie doll?” ask, “How did Ruth Handler get the idea for a Barbie doll?”
  • Use the 3-5 questions or sub-topics for research. Now, every time a student opens an article, he will be trying to answer one of his questions. Rather than writing random facts, students are actively searching for information that is related to a specific idea about the main topic. In addition, the questions provide key words to help narrow Internet searches and make the research more efficient.
  • The idea is that a student tries to answer all of his questions with one source. Then, the child tries to answer the same questions with a new source. Repeat with a third source. If the child is getting the same information in all 3 sources, it is reliable information. If a student can’t answer any question, he moves on to a fourth source… or a fifth. I have been known to repeat the fact that websites and reference books will not have big red arrows and highlighted words pointing to the exact information someone might need. A student might have to summarize, interpret, and infer reading material. The information will not be provided in the same tidy way as a textbook.

student ben and jerrys research folder

The Research Folder

Create a way for students to contain all of their information, so it does not get lost traveling from school to the locker to home.

  • Give students a manila folder with pockets to hold notecards. Seal business envelopes, cut them in half with a paper cutter, and glue them to the envelope. I also print a short list of Internet reference links and sample bibliography formats, which we glue to the folder as well.
  • Students write each question or sub-topic on one pocket. Any time a student finds a fact related to one question, they write the note on the notecard and store it in the appropriate envelope. Now all related notes are grouped together in a handy carry case.

research folder A notes

Sources and Bibliography

This is very difficult for my students since it is their first serious attempt at a bibliography. Having the pre-printed bibliography page with samples pasted to the manila folder helps.

  • As students take notes, they must record the source at the same time. Do not put a source away (or click it closed) without writing the information needed for a bibliography.
  • Code all notecards from one source with some sort of symbol or letter. All “A” cards would relate to one source. Or, all cards with a star would relate to one source.

research folder bibliography

Taking Research Notes

I have to model note taking for my students, and we practice before the project starts. You may not have to go through this step, but it is still a good idea to give some reminders about note taking. I have a few rules I ask the kids to follow.

  • Never write more than one line at a time. This reduces plagiarism since students can’t copy large chunks of text. They must summarize and re-word to fit information into one line at a time.
  • Never write a word on a notecard you do not understand. Look up the unfamiliar word, write a synonym, or explain the word.
  • Avoid Wikipedia if at all possible. Anyone can post information on Wikipedia, so it is not always reliable. Kids like to go there first and then quit. I tell my students that Wikipedia is off limits (audible groans detected immediately).

research folder A notes2

Preparing the Research Paper

If students have sufficient notes, the paper is easy to organize.

  • If students are taking notes related to the questions or sub-topics, notes will be organized and ready to be translated into paragraphs as part of an essay. The organization happens while researching rather than having to sort notecards later and hope that central ideas emerge from the pile of notes.
  • Create an introductory paragraph using the open ended questions or subtopics. Those ideas become the body sentences for the first paragraph.
  • Notes from the first pocket will create the 2nd paragraph that follows the intro and so on.
  • If any extra fun facts are collected, incorporate those into the first or last paragraph.
  • This is a good time to practice or introduce Transition Words

research sample paragraphs

My system is by no means foolproof, but it is more efficient than the way I learned to prepare a research paper. To purchase my Non-Fiction Business Unit with the full research paper directions CLICK HERE.

research folder notecards in pocket

Noteworthy Non-Fiction


I will admit that I am not as familiar with juvenile non-fiction as I am with fiction titles. I always have a few students who prefer to read biographies or history books, so I am trying to expand my non-fiction knowledge. I have put together a starter list and am hoping to build it this year. Please let me know what else I can include.

Just a reminder, non-fiction is usually more difficult for children to read than fiction. If your child is reading for pleasure, definitely choose books that are below his/her reading level to keep the comprehension (and enjoyment) high.

While the majority of the titles are intended for a “school aged” audience, there are many that adults will love. I had a father and son read Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World this past school year and both raved about the story.

Biographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
  • Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
  • A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: the Story of Hannah Breece by Jane Jacobs

Autobiographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Chapters: My Growth as a Writer by Lois Duncan (out of print, copies available through Amazon)
  • Boy by Roald Dahl
  • A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen

History: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
  • Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
  • Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker

Series: Younger Readers– 1st grade through 6th grade (** I included titles that are familiar to me from each of the series, but there are many more from which to choose.)

  • Who Would Win? by Jerry Pallotta
    • Komodo Dragon v. King Cobra
    • Tyrannosaurus Rex v. Velociraptor
  • Step Into Reading (levels 3, 4, and 5) by various authors, Random House Publishers
    • Pompeii… Buried Alive by Edith Davis
    • Moonwalk by Judy Donnelly
    • Abe Lincoln’s Hat by Martha Brenner
  • If You Lived at the Time of … by various authors, Scholastic Books
    • If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore
  • Interactive History Adventures (You Choose Books) by various authors, Capstone Press Publishers
    • Colonial America by Allison Lassieur
    • Life as a Viking by Allison Lassieur
  • Who Was … by various authors, Grosset & Dunlap
    • Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart
    • Who Was Paul Revere? by Roberta Edwards