Textbook Reading: You’re doing it wrong!

Stack of books

Reading to Learn

Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.

In college, most professors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important, it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.

Note: It may not always be clear on an professor’s syllabus, but the corresponding textbook chapter for the topics listed for that week should be read before coming to class.

Person sitting at table with book and notebook open
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

How Do You Read to Learn?

The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle—and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies.

Active reading involves these steps:

  1. Preparing
  2. Reading
  3. Capturing the key ideas
  4. Reviewing

Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.

Preparing to Read

Your textbook as a whole – Start by thinking about why your professor has chosen this text. Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?

Your chapter as a whole – Explore the chapter by scanning the pages of the chapter to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Look at the headings, illustrations and tables. Read the introduction and summary. Understanding the big picture of the chapter will help you add the details when doing close reading.

Give yourself direction by creating a purpose or quest for your reading. This will help you become more actively engaged in your reading. Create questions to find the answers to in your reading using the headings of each section. You may also have learning objectives listed at the front of each chapter which could be turned into questions or you may have chapter review questions prepared for you at the end of the chapter.


Take the first question you have prepared and think about what you already know about this question. Jot the question down on paper. Begin to read the chapter and stop when you have found the answer.

Write down the answer in short form. Leave some space for additional notes you may want to add later and add the next questions. Continue reading this way until you are done the chapter or are done studying for this session.

Capture the key ideas

Before you put away your textbook and notes at the end of a reading session, go back through the questions you answered and pull out key ideas and words. You can highlight these, jot them in the space you left below your first answer or note them in the margins.

Reviewing what you read

For each question, cover up the answer and key ideas you have written. Can you still answer the question? Check your mental review against what you have written.

An open notebook on a wooden surface in front of a laptop
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Additional Reading Tips:

The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning from texts. Following are some tips you can use to enhance your reading even further:

  • Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting.
  • Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading assignments.
  • Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
  • Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
  • Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
  • Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
  • Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself where you disagree with the author. Approach finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental conversation with the author.

Adapted from College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. Original licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

Featured Image: Adapted from Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Note: This post was prepared in part for OntarioExtend Daily Extend #oext264 Crank out a Viral Edubait Robot Image.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Office 365 Planner for Groups

Asking for a Friend Series – Episode 1: How can I set up and use a Planner group in Office 365.

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This is a collection of training resources “for a friend”

Lynda.com – use your institutional log-in to access

Support.office.com – Microsoft Office Support


Blog posts

So there you go friend, (you know who you are) and if you need more, let me know (you know where to find me)!

Note: Extending my curator skills by sorting through all the stuff on the internet about this topic and picking out the good ones. I learned about curation at OntarioExtend.


Curation with classroom YouTube playlists

Screenshot of a YouTube Playlist
Playing a YouTube playlist will show all the videos in a collection one after the other.

YouTube playlists are personal collections of videos within a theme. You probably I have one, I do. My first was a set of music videos that I liked to listen to while doing Housework. I called it my Housework List. Chances are, your students have used YouTube and have experienced the concept of playlists that they have created or have used playlist that others have created.

Did you know that you can turn on a collaboration option for your playlists? If you do, anyone you share the list with can add videos to your playlist. They can also remove videos they have added. There are additional option to stop accepting videos to the list and to stop new collaborators from joining.

Imagine a classroom YouTube account where  you have set up a playlist for the major concepts and added one video to get things started. You could share all the playlists or share one playlist to a group of students and request that they add appropriate videos that help explain, illustrate or enhance that concept.

This can introduce the idea of curation to students using a tool they are familiar with and may be already using for learning as well as add content from different student perspectives that may help other students better understand and learn your course concepts.

Note: This post is in response to a Daily Extend challenge from Ontario Extend that I am participating in for professional development.

For more information on YouTube Playlist collaborators, please check out the YouTube help page here at https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6109639?hl=en

For more on Curation for learning, may I suggest “To Boost Higher-Order Thinking, Try Curation” by Jennifer Gonzalez  https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/curation/

For more on Ontario Extend, please visit https://extend.ecampusontario.ca/

Curation Confessions

Collection of books
Read again and again

What collection makes me feel warm and fuzzy? My collection of favorite books. These are not just books I enjoy but books that I will read over and over, books that become worn out with crack spines and battered pages. Books that have traveled in my suitcase or purse, rode around in my car, were carried to beaches and parks and benches. Books that have been read in the kitchen and living room and in bed.

Elizabeth Boyer’s Book of Painter series was my first set such books – sad and yet beautiful! Lyndon Hardy wrote Master of the Five Magics, Secret of the Sixth Magic, and Riddle of the Seven Realms. In these books, I found an explanation of magic presented as logic, almost like science. Steven Brust’s Vald Taltos series contains my favorite characters.

Some stories and their authors stick with you like old friends that you are pleased to meet again and even though you know the ending, you want to sit and listen and enjoy because the story is just so good.