For many students, reading and comprehending science textbooks can be a challenge. Between the new (and sometimes difficult) vocabulary, the scientific jargon, the complex diagrams and charts, and the detail-oriented descriptions, understanding the material that is being presented can be difficult. It is easy to become distracted and lose focus, especially when the material is hard to understand. Following is a series of steps specifically designed to help students read, understand, and learn information in science textbooks and readings.
The first step is to get organized and gain a perspective on the assigned reading. Take a few moments to review the assignment to see the exact pages you are required to read. Then, begin by spending no more than ten minutes looking over the chapter or the assigned readings. You are not reading for understanding at this point, but rather to familiarize yourself with what the reading will be about and the set up of the chapter. You should skim over the introduction, graphs or charts, special sections, headings, etc. Finally, if any media is included with the chapter (a CD or a website, for example) quickly review this as well.
Now it is time to begin reading. The first time you read the material, you should try to get a basic understanding of the material, while at the same time recognizing information that you do not understand. Give yourself a second or two after every paragraph to comprehend the information presented. If the text is related to a graphic on the page, look back and forth between the two until you can see the relationship being shown. If you find yourself at the end of the page with no recollection of what you just read, stop and figure out why you are distracted, and then try to fix the problem. It can help to vary the way you are studying. For example, read the text aloud instead of silently to yourself, or stand up for a few moments to stretch your legs.
As you are reading through the material for the first time, highlight or underline the main ideas and key concepts. Keep a list of new vocabulary and the meanings of the new words. Many times understanding the terminology is half the battle to understanding the concept being explained. When you come across a sentence, paragraph, or even section you do not understand, begin to dissect the passage. Use a dictionary or the book’s glossary to define unfamiliar words, read the passage aloud, and begin translating the text into your own words. If you still do not understand the paragraph, note this in the margin.
The next step is to read the material a second time. This time you are reading the information to understand it. If you feel you are comfortable with one section, move on to the next. You should also make sure you understand the new vocabulary words that you have highlighted or written down. If you are having problems understanding some of the material, try to look at other sources that may make it easier to understand. You can look to the library, the Internet, a tutor, a study group, or your teacher for help.
The final step is to review your notes. Make sure you understand all of the information presented in the textbook, the vocabulary, and any charts, graphs, or graphics outlined in the book.