Recurring Lesson

Guided Comprehension: Knowing How Words Work Using Semantic Feature Analysis

3 - 6
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 60-minute sessions
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Do folktales, myths, and fables all have nonhuman characters? Do they all express a lesson or moral for readers to take away? Students use a semantic feature analysis to find out in this lesson. A semantic feature analysis, a comprehension strategy that helps students identify characteristics associated with related words or concepts, is used to compare folktales, myths, and fables. Students begin with an introduction to the strategy and a teacher-directed lesson in how to use the strategy to analyze a folktale. In subsequent sessions, students continue to practice the strategy in small groups by analyzing myths and fables. After students have read and analyzed the texts, they reflect on how semantic feature analyses helped improve their understanding of their reading.

From Theory to Practice

  • Guided Comprehension is a context in which students learn comprehension strategies in a variety of settings using multiple levels and types of text. It is a three-stage process focused on direct instruction, application, and reflection.

  • The Guided Comprehension Model progresses from explicit teaching to independent practice and transfer.

  • Knowing how words work refers to understanding words through strategic vocabulary development, including the use of graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic cueing systems to figure out unknown words. This strategy allows students to better understand what they read.

  • Semantic feature analysis is a classroom strategy related to knowing how words work. As students gain a working knowledge of words or concepts (e.g., literary genres), they can apply this knowledge to enhance their comprehension.

  • Current studies demonstrate that when students experience explicit instruction of comprehension strategies, it improves their comprehension of new texts and topics (Hiebert et al., 1998).

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Three instructional-level texts (see Aesop’s Fables for an online collection of fables)




1. Access Semantic Feature Analysis to familiarize yourself with semantic feature analysis. Another recommended resource is the book Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3–8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

2. Using a classroom computer and a projection screen, visit the Scholastic: Folktales website to test the audio ability on your computer. Make sure that you can play the online story The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin so that students will be able to hear it in class.

3. Copy the Semantic Feature Analysis Chart for The Rough-Face Girl onto a transparency or recreate it on chart paper.

4. Select a myth from the website Scholastic: Myths from Around the World or a print resource in your classroom to use during Stage 1.

5. Gather three instructional-level texts that match the needs of three levels of reading in your class (see Aesop's Fables for an online collection of fables).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Define and understand semantic feature analysis

  • Compare and contrast the characteristics of folktales, myths, and fables

  • Read and listen to a variety of literacy genres (e.g., folktales, myths, and fables)

  • Reflect on how using the strategy of knowing how words work helps them to better understand what they read and how they can apply it in the future

Day 1

Stage 1---Teacher-directed whole-group instruction (40 minutes)

1. Explain the strategy. Explain to students how knowing the meaning of certain words or concepts and the relationships between them can help them to better understand texts. This strategy is called knowing how words work.
  • Use an overhead or chart paper to display the Semantic Feature Analysis Chart for The Rough-Face Girl. Distribute individual copies of this chart to students as well, and ask them to follow along with you on their individual sheets.

  • Point out that the top row lists various characteristics and the left column shows two different genres, folktales and myths. Explain to students that as they read each genre, they will be looking for the characteristics along the top row and marking the columns that apply. Talk about and explain each of the characteristics listed across the top row of the chart.

  • Ask students to think about what they already know about folktales and myths. Have students brainstorm some examples of folktales or myths that they have read or are familiar with.

  • Tell students that they are going to hear two stories, one that is a folktale and one that is a myth. Use the Scholastic: Myths from Around the World website or a print resource in your classroom to find and select a myth. Have students fill in the title of the myth you choose on the line below The Rough-Face Girl.

  • Ask students to make predictions about the texts by filling in the second two rows of the chart. Students should mark a + in the column next to folktale or myth if they think the characteristic along the top row applies. A – sign can be used if the characteristic is not applicable to a folktale or myth. If students are unsure, they can mark the column with a ?. This should be done together as a class with student input.

  • Explain to students that as they listen to the stories they should be thinking about the chart and confirming or refuting their predictions.

  • Access Scholastic: Folktales to hear the story of The Rough-Face Girl read aloud. You can also use Folktales Around the World for a booklist of other folktales to read aloud in class.
2. Demonstrate the strategy. After listening to The Rough-Face Girl, show students how to return to the chart and look at each characteristic again. Demonstrate how to change the predictions/conclusions based on the story. Students should follow along on their individual charts.

3. Guide students to apply the strategy. You will have to read the myth that you select aloud as there is no audio component on this section of the Scholastic website. Students can also gather as groups to read the myth aloud together.

4. Practice individually or in small groups. Divide students into groups of three and ask them to work together to revise the predictions on their charts based on the myth that was read. Have them discuss their conclusions among their group members.

5. Reflect. Gather students as a whole class to discuss how using semantic feature analysis helped them understand and compare the two texts (folktales and myths). Discuss the differences between a folktale and a myth and have students compose a working definition of the two concepts based on the semantic feature analysis chart. Ask students to brainstorm ways that they might be able to use this strategy in the future.

Stage 2---Teacher-guided small groups and student-facilitated independent practice (40 minutes)

Before beginning Stage 2, students must be divided into three instructional-level groups. Students with similar instructional needs should be grouped together. This does not necessarily mean that students in each group are on the same reading level. Instead, they may have similar needs for comprehension instruction (e.g., students who have trouble making inferences or students who need extra practice making connections between texts).

Students are working in three different areas during this stage:

  • Teacher-guided small-group instruction

  • Student-facilitated comprehension centers

  • Student-facilitated comprehension routines

Classroom management is at the discretion of each individual teacher. You may want to assign students to small groups and set up a rotation schedule, or you may want to allow groups of students to choose their own activities. Regardless, each group of students needs to visit the three areas at least once in the three-day period.

1. Teacher-guided small-group instruction. Choose one group to begin with you as follows:
  • Review the strategy of knowing how words work and how the semantic feature analysis chart helped students better understand folktales and myths. Using the same chart from Stage 1, ask students to add a new genre, fable, to the left-hand column.

  • Use an instructional-level text to have students practice the semantic feature analysis strategy (see Aesop's Fables for an online collection of fables).

  • Guide students to write the title of the fable on their charts, predict which characteristics might apply to a fable, and then read the instructional-level text selected for their group. Working together, they should revise their predictions/conclusions and compose a working definition of fable.

  • Have students reflect on how the three genres (i.e., folktales, myths, and fables) compare and how using semantic feature analysis helped them monitor their own comprehension.
2. Student-facilitated comprehension centers. Students may be assigned to centers or choose activities on their own.
  • Drama center. Have students act out The Rough-Face Girl and then act out the myth that they read during Stage 1. Students should use the semantic feature analysis chart to make sure they cover all the elements of each type of story in their skit. Afterwards, students can discuss the difference between the two genres.

  • Writing center. Have students write myths explaining some phenomenon in their own lives using characteristics from the semantic feature analysis chart that they completed in Stage 1. Students can visit the Scholastic website to publish their myths online.

  • Research center. Have students find and read several other folktales and myths. They can record their reactions in illustrations or writing. Students can also read myths that have been written by other students at the Myths Library on the Scholastic website.

  • Internet center. Have students work independently or with a partner to complete an interactive Venn diagram comparing and contrasting a myth and a folktale.
3. Student-facilitated comprehension routines. Working in small groups, students engage in three different literacy strategies. Students should already be familiar with each of the strategies and have practiced them over time. For more information, review the Summary Sheet or refer to the text Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3–8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

Days 2 and 3

For Days 2 and 3, pick up where you left off the previous day. The suggested time for each session is 60 minutes, however, since the group on the first day only had 20 minutes in small groups, you may want to meet with them for another 20 minutes and then switch groups for the last 40 minutes. The rotation should continue until all three groups have visited all three areas. On Day 3, students will spend 40 minutes in small groups, leaving 20 minutes for whole-group reflection and discussion (see Stage 3).

Stage 3---Whole-group reflection (20 minutes)

1. Talk to students about the knowing how words work comprehension strategy that they have been learning. Ask them to tell why and how semantic feature analysis helps them better understand the differences between folktales, myths, and fables and their understanding of these texts.

2. Give students time to share the activities they completed during the student-facilitated comprehension centers.

3. Discuss the different stories that students read, and how they differed or were the same. What were students’ reactions to these stories? Which story was their favorite and why?


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assessment can be done informally using anecdotal notes and observations.

  • Evaluate students' understanding of semantic feature analysis using the charts they completed during Stages 1 and 2. Assess the semantic feature analysis charts for the following key components:
  • Did students correctly complete the charts by checking off the appropriate characteristics?

  • Can students verbally explain the difference between a folktale, a myth, and a fable?

  • Can students verbally explain how using semantic feature analysis helps them to compare different words or concepts, and thus, better understand what they are reading?
  • You can also ask students to reflect in their journals about the comprehension strategy of knowing how words work and their experiences using semantic feature analysis. Some possible journal prompts include:
  • What would you say to someone who asked you what the differences are between a folktale, a myth, and a fable?

  • In what ways does semantic feature analysis, or the strategy of knowing how words work, help you to better understand texts?

  • What other ways might you use semantic feature analysis to better understand concepts?

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