We read for many reasons: to stay abreast of current research and trends, to learn how to accomplish a certain task or develop a new skill, to keep up with the latest news, or perhaps simply to enjoy a well-told story. The way we read different types of material can vary as well. For example, you’re likely to read a journal article much more attentively than you would a piece you found in a popular magazine.

Obviously, it benefits us to pay closer attention to the reading material that will have a lasting effect on our personal or professional lives. For many students, a textbook may be one such resource, as it contains information that builds a foundation for their understanding of course concepts. And even though students may acknowledge the importance of reading the textbook material you’ve assigned, they may not know that the way they approach a chapter for study purposes should differ from the way they would read a novel or a favorite website.

In Practicing College Learning Strategies, Sixth Edition, Carolyn H. Hopper offers a list of basic strategies students can use to increase their understanding and retention of the material they’re reading for their courses. Encourage your students to take these steps and consider whether or not they feel that their reading time has been more productive:

Reading Strategy: Before You Read

• Survey the chapter.
• Recall what you already know about the subject.
• Predict what you may be looking for by forming a question in your mind.

Reading Strategy: While You Read

• Visualize what the author is saying.
• If it is complicated, read it aloud.
• Look for the answer to the question you predicted.
• Stop and look up any words you don’t understand.
• Then rephrase it in your own words.
• Try to relate it to something you already know.
• Wait until you finish a paragraph before for you mark anything.

Reading Strategy: After You Complete a Paragraph

• Check to see if your predicted question was what the paragraph was actually about.
• Determine the main idea and supporting detail.
• Write a question in the margin that information in the paragraph is the answer to.
• After you write your question, mark the answer to your question by highlighting, circling, or numbering the text so you can quickly see the answer to your question. (Come up with a system that works for you.)

Reading Strategies: To Use After You Have Marked Your Text

• Cover the paragraph you have just read and marked. Using the question you wrote in the margin, test yourself.
• Recite the answer aloud.
• Reflect about what you read. Try to connect it to other things that you know. Try to make it personal. Predict what the next paragraph will be about and start the process all over again.

Before You Put Your Book Away
• Review the key points of the selection.
• Make a summary or study guide for the selection. (Hopper, pp. 154-155)

Reference: Hopper, Carolyn H. 2013. Practicing College Learning Strategies, 6th Ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


What advice and encouragement do you offer to students as they approach your reading assignments? Share your suggestions below, or send them to [email protected].