5 Textbook Reading Tricks

Textbooks can be intimidating. That's because most people just dive in and start reading at the beginning of a chapter. On goes the game-face with a 'let's get this over with' grimace. Two to three sentences in and they're already having to go back and reread to understand the material.

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That's if their internal motivation is strong. But what about students in upper elementary or middle school who might not yet realize how important reading for information is?

There is a way to make text book reading more effective.

Think about what you do when you're planning a night out at the movies. You scan your eyes over a newspaper ad that gives you the title and the basic plot. You see pictures, captions, and you ask yourself questions. Why can't we apply that same strategy to textbook reading? We can!

While it’s true that some textbooks are written devoid of compassion for the poor unsuspecting reader, most are carefully written with their target audience in mind. Most follow a fairly predictable pattern and a clearly marked trail of clues.

The key is in recognizing the clues and using them to build meaning even before reading the first paragraph. In fact, pre-reading actions often spark curiosity so that people willingly read the whole chapter.

TITLE

Read the title. It often holds a clue to the main idea in a text. The reader can make guesses about the content of the chapter and see how close they came after they’ve read.

ILLUSTRATIONS and their captions

Most of us are naturally drawn to the pictures in a text first. There’s good reason for this. Most people are visual learners regardless of what other senses we might prefer to use. Illustrations, especially good ones, create a very powerful visual pathway into the brain. The more pathways to the brain information takes the more likely it is to end up in long-term memory.

HEADINGS

These give a preview to how the main idea will be broken down into supporting ideas. In a Social Studies or History textbook, these headings often form a timeline of events. Reading them first gives the reader a bird’s-eye-view of a certain time period or major historical event. In a Science text, they might outline stages of development or steps in a process. Jotting the headings down as a list lets the reader make sense of the whole chapter even before they begin reading the full text. After all, when you get in the car, don't you feel better about the experience if you know where you're going first?

READ THE QUESTIONS

Textbooks almost always have a list of questions at the end of each chapter. Some wise textbook writers have begun to place these at the beginning instead. Reading the questions beforehand fuels our curiosity so that we naturally want to tie up loose ends by finding the answers as we read. Questions let us know what information we are expected to find and retain. They also help us differentiate between information that is key, and that which supports key ideas.

VOCABULARY

Most texts have a list of bolded words and phrases either at the beginning or at the end of a chapter. I do not recommend trying to memorize them before reading the chapter. It's enough just to say them aloud and read the definitions at this stage.

So . . . the next time you or your offspring must read a chapter in a scary three-inch-thick textbook, just use this checklist first and see what happens to your interest level and comprehension:

TITLE
ILLUSTRATIONS and captions
HEADINGS
QUESTIONS
VOCABULARY and definitions

Wait a minute! Here's one more trick. Even if you've run out of time to read every word of text, read at least the first and last sentence in each paragraph where the topic sentence is most likely to be. That will put you miles ahead of those who merely read through page by tedious page.

You'll never be afraid of a textbook again!

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