Language Structure & Text Features in Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Brittany Cross

Brittany teaches middle school Language Arts and has a master's degree for designing secondary reading curriculum.

In this lesson we will examine how language structure and text features can help you comprehend what you are reading and, ultimately, remember the information better!

What Does it Mean to Comprehend?

To comprehend something means to understand it clearly. For example, if you are an English speaker and someone walks up to you and says, 'Sprechen sie Deutsch?' you would probably have no idea that they are simply asking if you can speak German. You don't understand; you don't comprehend. However, when someone walks up to you and says, 'Hey, what's up?' you completely comprehend what they are asking and can easily respond.

When we talk about reading comprehension, or comprehending what we read, we are really just referring to whether or not we can understand what we read. Often in classes we are asked to prove whether or not we comprehend what we are reading. This can be done by checking whether or not we remember the information and can retell it or explain it.

Test Yourself:

  • Do you remember what the word 'comprehend' means?
  • Can you restate the example that was just used to help explain its meaning?

If you just answered to yourself that to comprehend something means to understand something and that the example was being able to understand English versus German, then congratulations! You are comprehending what you have read so far!

If not, don't worry, we're about to look at some helpful tools to aid in reading comprehension. Looking at both language structure and text features in depth can be helpful in understanding the text on a more meaningful level.

Surface Level Clues

Before you ever even start reading a text, you can examine its surface. While you may have heard the saying, 'Don't judge a book by its cover,' this does not apply when you are trying to comprehend a text. You want to judge everything you see! This can include images, fonts, graphs, use of color or layout, etc. These are known as text features. A text feature is an element that is separate, or independent, of a main text that is meant to enhance a reader's understanding and recall of a topic by drawing attention to important information.

Authors rely on text features to help communicate information for their readers to absorb, especially in non-fiction or informational texts. One of the most powerful ways writers use text features is to create headings and subheadings. If you open a magazine, journal, or newspaper, really anything with articles in it, you will see the bold print denoting a main heading and then the subheadings underneath it.

These are great clues about the central idea and the supporting details. For example, a heading might read: Deep Sea Exploration. The subheadings might include: Thermal Vents, Deep Trenches, and Underwater Mountains. This is a clear guide to help you comprehend that you will be reading about the elements of the deep sea, including vents, trenches, and mountains . . . all that information and you haven't even begun to read the main text yet!

Aside from headings, most texts will use the feature of bold text to draw attention to key vocabulary words. Scanning bold words will help you be able to gather a rough idea of the concepts that will be addressed. Some texts even go as far as to include definitions for the more important words. This idea of key words leads us to our next step for having better reading comprehension: looking at language structure.

The Word Pyramid

After you have examined the surface of a text, it's time to read the main section. As you read, you can continue to reference your text features because they will help you throughout. While you are reading, your mind should be drawn to the language structure of the text. Ask yourself, how do these words all work together to create meaning? You can consider your levels of comprehension to be like building a pyramid.

Start small and build to understanding the whole text!
pyramid

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