Reading a Textbook Effectively

Do you read your textbook in much the same way you do a novel?  Open to the assigned pages and dig in, right?  Some students find that using a Textbook Reading System is a good way to identify the most important ideas when they read, allowing them to maintain focus and read intentionally.

Reading a textbook well is a skill that good students master.  By reading it “well”, you’re not just watching the words go by, you’re finding a way to interact with the material in order to really learn the content.  Textbook Reading Systems are methods that have been developed to help you connect with the content in a meaningful way.  These are some of the most commonly used, but you may be able to devise your own based on the commonalities in these methods.


1. SQ3R

SURVEY:  Glance over the headings in the chapter to see the few big points that will be developed. Also read the final summary paragraph if the chapter has one. This survey should not take more than a minute or two and will show the main ideas around which the discussion will cluster. This will help you organize the ideas as you read them later.

QUESTION: Now begin to work. Turn the first heading into a question. This will give you a specific purpose for reading the material and thereby increase comprehension. It will bring to mind information already known, thus helping you to understand that section more quickly. The question will also make important points stand out at the same time that explanatory detail is recognized as such.

READ: Read to answer that question, i.e. to the end of the first headed section. This is not a passive plodding along each line, but an active search for the answer.

RECITE: Having read the first section, look away from the book and try to recite the answer to your question in your own words. If you can do this you know what is in the book; if not, then glance over the section again. Repeat these first 4 steps for each section.

REVIEW: When the lesson has been read through in this way, look over your notes to get a birds-eye view of the points and their relationship and check your memory of the content by reciting the major subpoints under each heading. This checking of memory can be done by covering up the notes and trying to recall the main points. Then expose each major point and try to recall the subpoints listed under it.


2. P2R

PREVIEW: Begin by reading the introduction or, if there is none, the first couple of paragraphs. Next, page through the assignment and read the headings. Glance at any charts, graphs, diagrams, or pictures. Finally, read the last paragraph or two. The goal of this step is to get an overview of the material and develop a sense of the progression of ideas.

READ: Now, mark ten pages of reading and read the material,
taking notes of important information. The number of pages you read can be adapted to the particular book you are reading.

REVIEW: After reading ten pages, review the information. You can do this in a number of ways:
1) summarize, in your own words, the author’s main points;
2) write down three or four sentences summarizing what you’ve read;
3) close the book and recite the key information under each heading;
4) quiz yourself on questions or problems at the end of the chapter;
5) create questions you may see on the exam about this material and answer them.

3. S-RUN

SURVEY: First, survey the chapter. Read the title and the introduction, as well as all headings, charts, diagrams, and graphs.

READ: Now read the section.

UNDERLINE: Underline material that explains the section’s heading.

NOTETAKING: After completing the previous steps, take notes on the material. Summarize the main points of the section.

4.  K-W-L

K = what you KNOW

W = what you WANT TO KNOW

L = what you LEARNED

This reading strategy most often employs a sheet of paper divided into three vertical columns with the headings K, W, L.  Before reading, in the “K” column, you jot down what you know about a particular topic.  The “W” column is where you write a list of questions you’d like to learn about this topic.  The final, “L” column, is completed after the reading and it contains the information gained from the lesson.  Ideally, the questions you generated for the “W”  column will have answers in the “L” column.


5. THIEVES: Last but not least, the “cheat”…

While it would be great if every student read every word of every assignment, that isn’t always possible.  Don’t ever go into a lecture not knowing what it will be about!  Didn’t get a chance to read the chapter?  While THIEVES is a good pre-reading strategy, it can also be a good substitute for the times when you just can’t get the reading done!

TITLE: Don’t skip this, it tells you what the chapter is about!  As you read it, question yourself (How does this connect to the last chapter? What do I already know about this subject?)

HEADINGS: The section headings give you the specific topics covered in that reading.

INTRODUCTION: the intro acts as an overview of the chapter and may also connect it to what you’ve already learned; you may also find a list of chapter learning objectives.

EACH PARAGRAPH’S FIRST SENTENCE: Often the first sentence of a paragraph is the topic sentence and will tell you what the paragraph I about.

VISUALS & VOCABULARY: tables, graphs, photos, maps and other graphics aren’t included to make the text pretty, they’re there to make a point or to support the topic at hand.  Look them over and be sure to read the captions and labels.  Pay attention to the words that are highlighted or italicized as they are likely key words.
END-OF-CHAPTER QUESTIONS: will give you an idea of the important ideas from the chapter.

SUMMARY: if your text has a chapter summary (or section summaries), reading these will help you to glean the big ideas.