Teaching Semantic Features

Picture this – a way for students to see connections between items, make predictions, or categorize topics that’s more powerful and more straightforward than a Venn diagram? You’re not dreaming, because this tool exists! It’s called a semantic features grid, and I’m here to show you how to use one!

What is a Semantic Features Grid?
A semantic features grid is a grid that consists of rows and columns. The topic is listed at the top of the grid. Vocabulary words are listed down the lefthand side of the grid, and different attributes are listed at the top of the grid, one per column.

For example, if students were studying a science unit about polar animals, the vocabulary words listed on the left-hand side of the grid would include “polar bears”, “penguins”, and “arctic foxes”. The attributes would include words and phrases like “lives in the arctic”, “lives in Antarctica”, “can swim”, “mammal”, “has fur”, and “lives on or near the sea”.

As students read the text, they would make a checkmark in the box that shows attributes of the vocabulary word. In our arctic animal example, the student would make check marks in the “lives in Antarctica”, “can swim”, and “lives on or near the sea” for the penguin row. This way, students can easily see the similarities and differences between all of the animals.

How Do I Teach How to Use a Semantic Features Grid?
There is a fairly straightforward process to teaching students how to use a semantic features grid to make connections, compare and contrast, and better understand vocabulary.

  • The SLP should select a topic based on what the students are learning. 
  • Students and SLPs brainstorm to make a grid that lists vocabulary words or concepts down the left side. Then, they brainstorm to list attributes across the top of the grid. Alternatively, you can give your students a pre-made grid so that they don’t have to fill in the vocabulary or attributes. 
  • Students read the text or listen to the text being read aloud. They look for information about the topics on the grid to determine if the relationship between the vocabulary and the attribute is true or false.  
  • Students write plus signs (+) for true or minus signs (-) for false. Alternatively, the boxes for the false statements can be left blank. For more advanced topics, “A” for always, “N” for never, or “S” for sometimes could be used. 
  • Then, students evaluate their grids and look for patterns, connections, similarities, and differences. 

Follow-Up Activities For Semantic Features Grids

After students finish filling in their grids, there are many things that they can do with that information! Here are some follow-up activities that students can do using the information on their grids:

  • Write a summary. 
  • Draw pictures to accompany the vocabulary words that depict the attributes. 
  • Play or create a matching game with vocabulary words and attributes. 
  • Swap grids with another student to see if their answers match. 
  • Play a Kahoot game with information from their grids

And if you need more semantic feature ideas and activities, then check out my Semantic Features Sort– available in Boom Cards or printable!