Studying can take variety of different forms for students. In this post for our Parenting Perspectives series, Kansas State Professor Laurie Curtis explains how students can make the most of their assigned readings for class.
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” are lyrics to a wonderful song from the classic musical, The Sound of Music. While that advice may be relevant when reciting the alphabet or reading a novel or picture book, it is NOT the best approach to reading from textbooks or other informational and non-fiction texts. When reading these types of texts, it is often beneficial to take a different approach to the task of reading. Let’s start at the end to better prepare for the beginning!
Tools of the Trade: Reading informational text requires a different approach and different tools. Gathering up additional materials such as highlighters, sticky notes, or note paper to record new learning is essential. If using a digital text, students should make sure they are familiar with tools incorporated into the application, such as the embedded glossary or dictionary, highlighting features and note taking features.
Go BACK to Begin: Prior to reading a text, it is helpful to gain insight into the purpose of the reading. One place to gather that information is from the review at end of the chapter or assigned reading. Students should review the end of the reading to access any questions that may be provided, jotting down the subject or topic of those questions as they will represent key information to be learned. Students should seek out additional resources that may be included at the end of the book, such as a glossary or supplemental websites. These preparatory tasks will focus the reading and increase retention of what is read.
Survey the Text. When land is surveyed, the area and features are noted - it is similar for a text. When a text is surveyed, the reader looks for the area (length) and the features of the text. This can help the student recognize key ideas and the time that needs to be allowed to do a good job. To get the “lay of the land”, the reader should pay special attention to to following:
- Chapter title and section headings
- Bolded vocabulary words and definitions provided
- Graphs, maps, figures or charts- noting the labels for these
- Photos and illustrations
All of these text features are clues that important information is being presented because authors know that to make sure key information is understood by all, sometimes we need to see it both through words and pictures. It is good practice for students at this point to jot down a few questions that have come to mind about the text, such as “What is this about?”, “What new information do I think I will find in this chapter?”, and “How is this information related to what I already know?”
Read Actively: Reading informational text demands an active stance from readers. Reading should be broken into smaller, more manageable “chunks” either with a sticky note or page marker to remind the reader to stop periodically to check for comprehension, asking questions such as, “What new information did I just learn?” or “What was important in this part of the chapter?” Stopping periodically can help a reader develop the habit of jotting down notes, self-monitoring for understanding, and avoiding reading page after page only to realize that he or she has NO idea what was just read.
Reading informational texts calls for a unique set of study skills and by following these simple steps, students can become more effective and efficient in the work of school!