Skip to main content
elementary girl completing a comprehension strategy graphic organizer

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
During reading
After reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

The semantic feature analysis strategy uses a grid to help kids explore how sets of things are related to one another. The grid has words or concepts to be compared on one axis and traits on the other. By completing and analyzing the grid, students are able to see similarities and differences, make connections, and discuss important concepts.

Why use semantic feature analysis?

  • It builds vocabulary and background knowledge.
  • It helps students differentiate among the meanings of related words and concepts by showing how they are similar and different.
  • It draws on students’ prior knowledge and lends itself to academic discussion.

How to use semantic feature analysis

  1. Pick a category Choose a topic or category for the semantic feature analysis. Write the name of the topic or category in the upper left-hand cell of the grid. Use more concrete, accessible topics for modeling and practice with less experienced students.
  2. Add items to the grid for comparison.Write words that name concepts or objects related to the topic in the left-hand column of the grid underneath the category name. Especially if students are new to this strategy, start with just a few.
  3. Add features to the grid Write characteristics or traits of the category across the top of the grid. Start with just a few.
  4. Analyze as a class Row by row, guide students through the process of filling out the matrix. For each item, have the students  decide where the item does or does not possess each of the traits d Keep track by putting a plus sign in the box if it does, a minus sign in the box if it doesn’t. Write a question mark or other placeholder to remind you and the students to come back to traits they weren’t sure of. 
  5. Expand the grid With input from students, add more words that fit the category and more features that apply to those words, adding rows and columns to the grid. 
  6. Analyze independently At this point, the students can continue to fill out the grid in pairs or small groups (or continue as a whole class).

Discuss the grid After the students have examined and discussed the grid in pairs or groups, facilitate a whole-class discussion about which words in the categories seem to be the most alike and the most different. Have the students share evidence to support their conclusions.

Watch a lesson (whole-class)

The teacher uses a semantic feature analysis to have students compare sea lions and sea lizards based on a nonfiction text. The students give evidence from the text to support how they filled out the grid.  In this lesson, the rows and columns are reversed because there are a lot of characteristics and only two items being compared. (Watch from about 0:05–2:09, then from about 13:18–14:59)

Watch an animated overview

This animated demonstration shows how a semantic feature analysis grid could be used for a science lesson comparing animal kingdoms. (Watch from about 0:58–3:51) 

Collect resources

Differentiate instruction

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

  • Use concrete words and concepts
  • Adjust the number of words being compared and/or the number of traits. Cover columns on the right to create grids for the same topic with fewer features for students to evaluate.
  • Begin with items that are fairly dissimilar before moving on to related words with more subtle differences.
  • Use picture representations of items or traits. (For example, if the semantic feature analysis is comparing animals, include pictures of the animals in addition to the words.)
  • Be aware of cognitive and cultural diversity as you work through the features. For example, some of games traditionally thought of as “individual” might be played as a team game in some cultures or families, or might not be thought of as a “kids’ game.” 
  • Remember that background knowledge and experience will vary from student to student. Make sure students know there may not be one right answer, and be careful to understand the student’s thought process before evaluating an answer as “wrong” or “right.”
  • Make the activity more challenging by providing a category and having the students plan and create the grid.

Extend the learning


Use a semantic feature analysis to chart information about whole numbers. See example › (opens in a new window)

Use a semantic feature analysis to chart information about polygons. See example › (opens in a new window)


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)

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.

Pittelman, Susan D.. Semantic feature analysis: classroom applications. (1991).

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Classroom Management, Comprehension, Vocabulary