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LearningTip #16:
Effective Use of Textbook Features
Can Improve Textbook
Reading and Learning

By Joyce Melton Pagés, Ed.D.
Middle School Instructional Specialist, President of KidBibs

The KidBibs Virtual Bookstore!
For the convenience of our readers, and in association with Amazon.com, KidBibs offers the following related resources for secure on-line purchase:

 
For Grades 1-3:
My First Dictionary        
Roget's Children Thesaurus
The New Puffin Children's World Atlas
The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia

 
For Grades 4-6:
Scholastic Children's Dictionary
Roget's Student Thesaurus
The Kingfisher Young People's Atlas of the World
The Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia

Mini-vacations.  That's what many students think they are.   Yes, many students think the chapter introduction, graphs, tables, maps, diagrams, and chapter summary are mini-vacations---something that they don't have to read!

Students need to learn that these are very important features for them to use in their textbooks.  These features actually make textbook reading easier!

In spite of the pressure that textbook publishers are under to pack a lot of information into a small amount of space, they devote a considerable amount of space to these features in textbooks.  They do this because, when used properly, these features help the reader comprehend the selection and learn the information.

A failure to use these parts of the chapter can make reading a textbook chapter much more difficult to read.  Needless to say, the goal of reading textbook information is learning.  If the student is not successful with the textbook, the learning doesn't occur.  Further, the way the student learns the information affects how well the s/he will be able to remember it later.  When readers fail to use textbook features effectively, their comprehension often consists of  "bits and pieces" of information without having the information fit together in a coherent meaningful whole.  This means that any learning that occurs is likely to be memorizing for the short term instead of conceptualization for the long term.  The following tips can help children better utilize the features of a textbook so that learning is easier and more highly conceptualized.

                                         Parent Tips            Teacher Tips        Homeschooling Tips

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Parent Tips

1.  Show your child how to use parts of the textbook or parts of the chapter when s/he has questions about the information.  Mention the textbook features that you're using while you look up the answers to their questions together.

2.  Have the child in third grade and up read his/her textbook selection silently.  Children become good silent readers by reading silently.  Oral reading slows down the child's reading and can inhibit their development as independent readers with effective reading strategies.  

3.  Have the child survey the selection/chapter before s/he reads it.  In doing this, the child should peruse the headings, subheadings, pictures, graphic aids, etc. and develop a mental "big picture" of the information to be read.  This mental "big picture" can be used to get the child to think about what they already know related to these topics.  This makes it easier for the child to relate the new information to what they already know.  This is when real learning occurs!

4.  Show your child how to turn a heading or subheading into a question.   For example, a heading which says "Our Five Senses" might be turned into one of the following questions:  What are our five senses? OR How do our five senses help us?  Have him/her write their question on a stick-on note and mount it near the heading.  Then the student should read to answer their question.  After they've finished reading the section, have them go back and answer their question.

5.  Have the child divide the reading selection into small portions of writing---initially maybe only one or two paragraphs.   After s/he has read the first small portion of text, have him/her put what s/he read in his/her own words.  The child may then reread what s/he just read (if s/he missed some significant information) or read the next small portion of text and put that information in his/her own words, etc.   Reading short portions of text helps the child experience success with silent reading.  As the child experiences success and develops confidence with silent reading, the portions of text should get longer.  Putting what was read in his/her own words helps the child develop strategies for assessing his/her own understanding of the information;  this puts the child in charge of his/her comprehension and reading strategies instead of having him/her wait to see whether s/he can answer the teacher's questions.  This moves the child closer to becoming an effective, strategic, independent reader who can handle many different types of reading material.

6.  Sometimes it helps a child better understand information if s/he can read how someone else explains the same information.  Supply your child with references such as dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias for him/her to use to clarify or reinforce information.  Some of the references in the KidBibs Virtual Bookstore at the beginning of this LearningTips article might be good materials to add to your child's personal library or to keep in his/her study area.   Children's books about the content being studied can also be used to clarify and/or reinforce information in the textbook.  LearningTips article #15 provides some suggestions on this topic.

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Teacher Tips

1.  Find out which textbook features your students know how to use.  Develop a short Textbook Usage Inventory for one of the students' textbooks; this will enable you to assess their ability to use the features of the textbook to support their learning.  A sample Textbook Usage Inventory is provided at the end of this article. 

2.  Model how to use the features in textbook chapters and the parts of a  textbook.  Help students understand that these features make the reading easier, not harder.  When a student asks a question, demonstrate how to find the information by using the index, appendix, or other appropriate tool.  Verbally walk the students through the use of textbooks features to help them understand their use.

3.  Have students in third grade and up read their textbook selection silently.  Students become good silent readers by reading silently.  Oral reading slows down the child's reading and can inhibit their development as independent readers with effective reading strategies.  

4.  Teach students to survey their chapter before they read it.  In doing this, the students should peruse the headings, subheadings, pictures, graphic aids, etc. and develop a mental "big picture" of the information to be read.  This mental "big picture" can be used to get the student to think about what s/he already knows related to these topics.

5.  Teach students how to turn a heading or subheading into a question.  Have them write their question on a stick-on note and mount it near the heading.  Have them keep that question in mind while they're reading.  Then after they've finished reading the section, have them go back and answer their question.

6.  If students lack experience and confidence with silent reading, have them break the silent reading selection into small portions of text---initially maybe only one or two paragraphs.   After s/he reads this portion of text, have him/her put the information in his/her own words--sometimes it helps for the stusdent  to tell a buddy what s/he recalls.  The child may then reread what s/he just read (if s/he missed some significant information) or read the next small portion of text and put that information in their own words, etc.   Reading short portions of text helps the student experience success with silent reading.  As the student experiences success and develops confidence with silent reading, the portions of text should get longer.  Putting what was read in his/her own words helps the child develop strategies for assessing his/her own understanding of the information;  this puts the child in charge of his/her comprehension and reading strategies instead of having him/her wait to see whether s/he can answer the teacher's questions.  This moves the child closer to becoming an effective, strategic, independent  reader who can handle many different types of reading material.  LearningTip article #19 includes several good silent reading strategies.

7.  Sometimes it helps a student better understand information if s/he can read how someone else explains the same information.  Supply the students  with references such as dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias for them  to use to clarify or reinforce information explained in the textbook.  Some of the references in the KidBibs Virtual Bookstore at the beginning of this LearningTips article might be good materials to add to your classroom library.  Children's books about the content being studied can also be used to clarify and/or reinforce information in the textbook.  LearningTips article #15 provides some suggestions on this topic.

8.  After the students have had experience reading textbook chapters and summaries, have them stop before reading the chapter summary.   Have them write their own summaries based on their understanding of the information.  Then have the students read the actual chapter summary and compare it to their own individual summaries.  It often helps to have the students underline [in their summaries] the information that was included in the actual textbook chapter summary.

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Homeschooling Tips

1.  Find out which textbook features your child knows how to use.  Develop a short Textbook Usage Inventory for one of your child's textbooks; this will help you assess their ability to use the features of the textbook to support their learning.  A sample Textbook Usage Inventory is provided at the end of this article. 

2.  Show your child how to use parts of the textbook or parts of the chapter when s/he has questions about the information.  Mention the textbook features (glossary, index, diagram, bold face type, etc.) that you're using while you look up the answers to their questions together.

3.  Have the child in third grade and up read his/her textbook selection silently.  Children become good silent readers by reading silently.  Oral reading slows down the child's reading and can inhibit their development as independent readers with effective reading strategies.  LearningTip article #19 includes several good silent reading strategies. [In the field of reading, the word "strategy" is used to mean two different things:  (1) a strategy can be the mental/brain process(es) that a learner uses when s/he is learning or processing information AND (2) a strategy can be the instructional method or procedure that a teacher or parent uses to help the child learn information.]

4.  Have the child survey the selection/chapter before s/he reads it.  In doing this, the child should peruse the headings, subheadings, pictures, graphic aids, etc. and develop a mental "big picture" of the information to be read.  This mental "big picture" can be used to get the child to think about what s/he already knows related to these topics.  This makes it easier for the child to relate the new information to what they already know.  This is when real learning occurs!

5.  Show your child how to turn a heading or subheading into a question.   For example, a heading which says "Our Five Senses" might be turned into one of the following questions:  What are our five senses? OR How do our five senses help us?  Have your child  write their question on a stick-on note and mount it near the heading.  Then have your child read to answer their question.  After they've finished reading the section, have them go back and answer their question.

6.  Have the child divide the reading selection into small portions of text---initially maybe only one or two paragraphs.   After s/he has read the first small portion of text, have him/her put what was read in his/her own words.  The child may then reread what s/he just read (if s/he missed some significant information) or read the next small portion of text and put that information in his/her own words, etc.   Reading short portions of text helps the child experience success with silent reading.  As the child experiences success and develops confidence with silent reading, the portions of text should get longer.  Putting what was read in his/her own words helps the child develop strategies for assessing his/her own understanding of the information;  this puts the child in charge of his/her comprehension and reading strategies instead of having him/her wait to see whether s/he can answer your questions.  This moves the child closer to becoming an effective, strategic, independent reader who can handle many different types of reading material.

7.  Sometimes it helps a child better understand information if s/he can read how someone else explains the same information.  Supply your child with references such as dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias for him/her to use to clarify or reinforce information.  Some of the references in the KidBibs Virtual Bookstore at the beginning of this LearningTips article might be good materials to add to your child's personal library or to keep in his/her study area.   Children's books about the content being studied can also be used to clarify and/or reinforce information in the textbook.  LearningTips article #15 provides some suggestions on this topic.

8.  After the child has had experience reading textbook chapters and summaries, have him/her stop before reading the chapter summary.   Have him/her write their own summary of the information.  Then have him/her read the actual chapter summary and compare it to the summary that s/he wrote.  It often helps to have the child underline [in their summary] the information that was included in the actual textbook chapter summary.

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Well, now we've spoiled the mini-vacation that children take when they skip charts, tables, maps, graphs, chapter introductions, and chapter summaries.  Over time, they'll realize that these textbook features make the reading easier to read and understand.  Easy, interesting reading with good comprehension---that sounds like a vacation to me!

Sample
Textbook Usage Inventory

Use your social studies book to answer the following questions.

Parts of the Textbook

1.  What is the name of Chapter 3?_______________________

2.  In which chapter can you find a map of Africa?___________

3.  What is the definition of the word, "plateau"?_______________
___________________________________________________

Graphic Aids

4.  What is the population of Brazil?______________________

5.  What is the capital of France?________________________

6.  Which South American country grows the most coffee?_______

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