Strategy for Success: Understanding Textbooks

Written by Ms. Olinger, Middle Team Teacher

Learning strategies work well with our students as it gives them a concrete way to move through a specific skill. Traditional classrooms often use textbooks, and students must be familiar with the organization and the tools contained in the text.  A strategy that I teach in my Content class, HOVER, gives students a preview of a chapter or reading selection. After mastering the strategy, the student will be able to use the learning aids provided in the textbook and its features to both gain information and facilitate further study of the chapter content.


Such aids as headings, learning objectives, vocabulary, review or study questions, pictures, diagrams, graphs, and charts are investigated in this strategy. This survey helps direct attention toward the most important information contained in the chapter and gives a detailed framework as the student becomes familiar with the key terms used in the chapter.


Each step is a separate pass through the chapter or reading selection. Layering your learning; building the foundation.

Here are the steps:

  • H- Headings:  Read through all the headings and subheadings turning each heading into a question.

    This helps to activate your thinking. Think about how the headings provide an outline or framework for the chapter information.

  • O- Objectives:  Find and read through the objectives.

    Objectives serve as the road map to keep the student on course. They are statements about what learners should be able to do AFTER they read the text. Reading the objectives BEFORE you start helps you focus on the information the author considers most important; what you are expected to know. Depending on the text, objectives can be listed in the front of the chapter, in a separate study section, or a guide given by the instructor.

  • V- Vocabulary:  Read the key words to familiarize yourself with the new vocabulary. Read the words around the vocabulary word to find and read the definition.

    The key terms used in most textbooks are crucial to understanding the information discussed in the chapter. Familiarity with the key terms BEFORE you start to read them in context will facilitate your learning. Vocabulary words are often bolded or can be found in a special word list at the beginning or end of the chapter. In some textbooks, they are found in the margins along with the definition.

  • E- Enrichment Features:  Read the caption with each enrichment feature as a way to familiarize yourself with the chapter contents.

    Enrichment features increase your interest and enrich the understanding of the chapter information. Enrichment features include:

    • Illustrations, cartoons, and diagrams
    • Tables, graphs, charts and maps
    • Marginal notes or summary statements
    • Sidebar articles and case studies

      By looking at the enrichment features BEFORE the in-depth reading, the student reduces the likelihood that he/she may be distracted by the graphics when reading in-depth. The learner will be able to refer to the graphics at an appropriate time during the reading.

  • R- Review Questions: Locate and read the review questions.

    The purpose of reading review questions at this stage of study is NOT to answer them, but to gain a sense of what information is most important. Look for the open-ended or short answer questions. Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true/false are NOT recommended for this purpose since they include distractors that may confuse the learner.  Review questions may be found at the beginning or end of the chapter, in an accompanying study guide or provided by the instructor.


Using this preview strategy gives the learner a systematic way to gain key concepts and vocabulary while building the foundation to facilitate further study of the chapter contents.