How To Read Textbooks And School Notes

read textbook and notes

To get off to a good start in the new term, guide your child to read his or her textbooks with purpose. This is particularly relevant for children in secondary school or junior college, who are dealing with more challenging textbooks and reference notes.

The following reading tips are adapted from “How To Study” by Ron Fry, which has sold over three million copies since it was first published in 1989. These tips could change the way that your child engages with a subject, making for a much more fulfilling learning experience.

1. Know the structure of your textbook

Textbooks usually contain these five primary elements:

  • terms and definitions
  • examples to illustrate abstract concepts
  • examples to illustrate cause-and-effect relationships (“why does this happen?”)
  • classifications and lists
  • comparisons between ideas (“how is this similar or different from that?”).

If, during reading, your child is aware of the purpose that each section (or paragraph) serves, this will help to provide structure for making summary notes and self-testing.

In addition, textbooks also contain various features for knowledge enhancement, such as glossaries to explain unfamiliar terms, footnotes with additional information that could shed further light on a topic, and chapter summaries and review questions. To get the most out of a textbook, use as many of its features as possible.

2. Don’t hesitate to use external resources

Many textbooks are not easy reads. If your child does not understand the material in his or her textbooks, go all out to find other resources that present the same information in a more accessible manner. Look for something written in a jargon-free and conversational tone, with clear examples and illustrations to aid understanding.

3. Pre-reading is essential

Most textbooks are not written to be read for pleasure, and it can be counter-productive to try and read them word for word, from cover to cover.

Pre-reading can help your child to save on precious studying time—it is a chance to skim through the text and make quick judgements about the sections that warrant deeper reading, as well as those that are less important.

To carry out pre-reading for a textbook chapter, begin by reading the end-of-chapter summary and review questions to get a sense of what will be covered. Then proceed to read the chapter quickly, following these steps recommended by “How To Study”:

  1. Rephrase titles and headings as questions—to be answered when reviewing the topic.
  2. Take note of accompanying graphics and how they add to the text.
  3. Read the introductory paragraph of each section carefully.
  4. For the subsequent paragraphs, read the first sentence to capture the main idea.
  5. Next, evaluate what has been learned thus far—is the information gained by skim reading enough? Is one able to answer the review questions, or participate in a discussion on the topic?
  6. Give a quick summary of what has been learned, orally or in writing.
  7. Decide on the sections that need to be read again, in detail.

4. Delve into the details

When reading a section within a chapter, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Is it about a particular person or group of people? (Who)
  • Is it concerned with a particular time period? (When)
  • Is the location of significance? (Where)
  • Does it explain why something is true, or why it happens? (Why)
  • Does it explain how something works? (How)

For each section:

  • Write down key terms, and explain them by paraphrasing the textbook definitions.
  • Make a list of questions that have arisen during the reading process. If the answer is not available in the textbook, carry out further research or consult the teacher.