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Semantic Feature Analysis

The semantic feature analysis strategy uses a grid to help kids explore how sets of things are related to one another. By completing and analyzing the grid, students are able to see connections, make predictions, and master important concepts. This strategy enhances comprehension and vocabulary skills.

Key Information



When To Use This Strategy

Before reading
After reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

Why use semantic feature analysis?

  • It illustrates how words are both similar and different and emphasizes the uniqueness of each word.
  • It draws on students’ prior knowledge and uses discussion to elicit information about word meanings.

How to use semantic feature analysis

  1. Select a category or topic for the semantic feature analysis.
  2. Provide students with key vocabulary words and important features related to the topic.
  3. Vocabulary words should be listed down the left hand column and the features of the topic across the top row of the chart.
  4. Have students place a “+” sign in the matrix when a vocabulary word aligns with a particular feature of the topic. If the word does not align students may put a “–” in the grid. If students are unable to determine a relationship they may leave it blank.

Download blank template

Collect resources

Language Arts

Use a semantic feature analysis to compare genres of books across story characteristics. See example ›


Use a semantic feature analysis to chart information about whole numbers. See example ›

Use a semantic feature analysis to chart information about polygons. See example ›


Use a semantic feature analysis to teach students about the types of dinosaurs and their characteristics. See example › (opens in a new window)

Social Studies

Use a semantic feature analysis example to help students compare different U.S. Presidents. See example › (opens in a new window)

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, students with learning disabilities, and younger learners

  • Adjust the number of categories depending on the learner. Use concrete words and features for learners who have difficulty with abstract thoughts.
  • Begin with items that are fairly dissimilar and move toward using items where the differences are more subtle.
  • Follow up assignments can vary from using the information learned about one category to assignments that ask students to compare and contrast across categories.
  • Be deeply aware of cognitive and cultural diversity as you work through the features. Some games which are considered to be “one player” games might be played as a team game in certain cultures or even families. A similar situation exists as to whether a game is a “kid’s game” or not. Be careful to understand the student’s thought process as you evaluate their answers as “wrong” or “right.”

See the research that supports this strategy

Anders, P. L., &Bos, C. S. (1986). Semantic feature analysis: An interactive strategy for vocabulary development text comprehension. Journal of Reading, 29, 610-617.

Billmeyer, Rachel. (2003). Strategies to Engage the Mind of the Learner: Building Strategic Learners. Dayspring Printing: Omaha, NE: Dayspring Printing.

Johnson, D. D. &Pearson, P. D. (1984). Teaching reading vocabulary. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Richardson, Judy S., and Raymond F. Morgan. (1999). Reading to Learn in the Content Areas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Texas Education Agency. (2002). Teaching Word Meanings as Concepts (opens in a new window).

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Classroom Management, Comprehension, Vocabulary