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.

How to use: Individually 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 >

Social Studies

Use a semantic feature analysis example to help students compare different U.S. Presidents. See example >

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.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Extreme Animals

Extreme Animals

By: Nicola Davies
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The strongest, toughest animals survive amazing conditions — all because of special characteristics.

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?

By: Steve Jenkins
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Clear, textured illustrations of animals and their special parts (e.g., tail, nose) focus readers on the special function of each. Not only is it likely to generate a description of the appendage but its function (what it does), and of the animal and its environment. Other books by Steve Jenkins, such as Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, may also generate rich descriptive language.


A Semantic Feature Analysis improves students' comprehension, vocabulary, and content retention. This strategy helps students to examine related features or concepts and make distinctions among them. By analyzing the completed matrix, students are able to visualize connections, make predictions, and better understand important concepts.

I chose this strategy because it allows the students to see the term in more than one way to enhance comprehension and vocabulary skills. With this strategy all the information that is collected is put into a grid that is easy to read and reference. This is something that I think students could continuously use throughout the year and with many different subjects.

I have never used this strategy in my classroom, but I am eager to try it with my students. I think that it offers great opportunities for differentiation. I really like that you can easily adjust the level of difficulty by careful selection of the categories that students are asked to examine. I also like the idea that this could be used to have students compare words across different categories or lessons. What a great way to have students develop higher level thinking skills.

hi, it would be great to know what type of categories have been used for this activity, thanks for the post, really interesting

nose of animals
Context marine, land and air
Bottlenose, trunk, bill
Other examples...snout, pugnose, beak.
Ell word strategist
Lawrence, Mass

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