Semantic Feature Analysis – A Teaching Strategy

Semantic Feature Analysis - A Teaching Strategy

Semantic feature analysis (SFA) uses a grid to help students visualize how topics are related to one another. Learners complete the grid to see connections between items, make predictions, or categorize topics. 

When to Use SFA

Use semantic feature analysis any time students have a list of topics to compare and contrast. This strategy is helpful to use when:

  • finding similarities and differences in characters or settings
  • categorizing math or science properties
  • classifying social studies topics
  • comparing people or events in history

How to Use a Semantic Feature Matrix

  1. The teacher should select a topic.
  2. Students construct a grid that lists vocabulary words or concepts vertically down the left side. List features to analyze horizontally across the top of the grid.
  3. Students evaluate topics on the grid to determine if the relationship is true or false.  Students write plus signs (+) for true or minus signs (-) for false. Variations to the “+” and “-” signs may also be used. For example, “A” for always, “N” for never, or “S” for sometimes could be used.
  4. Evaluating similarities and differences is the purpose of creating the SFA matrix. Follow-up activities with discussion. You may also have students write paragraphs explaining their findings.


The handout contains this simple SFA. Both blank and answer key versions are included. Place the blank SFA page on a projection device such as a SmartBoard. Complete the matrix as a class. In just moments, students will understand how SFA charts should be completed.

This free handout includes three activities.

Semantic Feature Analysis
Semantic Feature Analysis

Example of a Semantic Feature Analysis ActivityMore Samples

Skills Covered

This strategy helps students —

  • improve comprehension
  • make predictions
  • recognize relationships among concepts
  • develop vocabulary

Differentiating Instruction

SFA is an easy strategy to differentiate. When listing features, begin with concrete ideas. As you move to the right, use more abstract thoughts. Cut off columns on the right side of the matrix based on learners’ needs.

Another way to differentiate is to have students leave boxes blank that are false and place checks in boxes that are true. I would not recommend this for all students because blank boxes could mean “I Don’t Know.” 

Give SFA a Try

This free handout includes three activities.

The first is the one explained above. The second is an SFA to use with the book The Westing Game. Students evaluate The Westing Game teams to determine if they will be successful in winning the game. Finally, a vocabulary SFA is included. Use this printable with any list of words. Students look for parts of speech, affixes, roots, and multiple meanings. 

Semantic Feature Analysis

Semantic Feature Analysis


Gay Miller

Permanent link to this article: