Strategies for Reading History Textbooks

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Reading a history textbook requires a different approach than the way you read a science or math textbook. Since reading about history is like reading a story, there are a lot of details that you need to be able to pull out about the events and the people you are studying. Because history is open to interpretation, you also have to consider the source of the information you're reading, including any possible biases the writer may have.

Use the following strategies when reading a history textbook.

Scanning for the Unfamiliar

Sometimes historians use specialized words when writing that can make it difficult to understand what they're saying. Before you begin your detailed reading of assigned pages in a history textbook, scan these pages for words that jump out at you as being unfamiliar. Sometimes these unfamiliar words are defined in the margin on the page in which they appear. If not, write each of these words in your notebook and then find their meanings in the glossary of the textbook or in a dictionary. Write the meanings as you find them. Doing so before diving into your reading will give you a better understanding of the text.

Multiple Passes

This method of reading a history textbook involves three passes over the material. The purpose of this method is to help you avoid getting stuck on the many details that appear in a history textbook. By evaluating different parts of the text with each pass, you will build on your knowledge and understanding each time.

Here is what to do for each of the three passes.

The Five-Word Method

To help you identify the central ideas of what you are reading, for each page, write down the five words, concepts, or ideas that you feel are the most important. Doing this will make you think hard about what you are reading and will help you prioritize what is most important.

HINT: Using the five-word method before a class discussion or an exam is a great way to help you remember what you have read.

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