Activity: Helping a Child Learn from a Textbook


The purpose of this activity is to learn how to help students get the most out of their interactions with their math textbooks. This activity is most effective when you complete it after you have reviewed everything else in the unit.


  1. Identify a student, either one you work with or one you know through your family or friends.
  2. Ask the student if you can have a conversation for about 10-15 minutes about his or her math textbook.
  3. Start by finding out how the student currently reads math textbooks. Ask questions like the following:
    1. Do you like your math textbook? Why or why not?
    2. Are there any differences between how you read your math textbook and how you read other books? If so, what are they?
    3. About how much time, on average, do you spend reading a single section in your math textbook?
    4. Do you focus equally on all parts of the book? If not, which parts do you focus on more?
    5. What do you do while you’re reading the math textbook (for example, take notes, work out problems, write down questions, just read)?
    6. How much of the math that you learn comes from reading the textbook?
    7. How do you feel when reading the math textbook?

      If these questions seem too complicated for the student, perhaps choose just one or two of the simplest (e.g., question “a” or question “g”).

  4. After getting an idea about how the student currently reads the math textbook, use the information you’ve learned in this unit to suggest strategies that the student might find helpful. For example, if the student claims to read the math textbook just like any other book, you might suggest that the student try working out problems and writing down questions while reading. If the student focuses equally on all parts, point out that the student might benefit from identifying the most important concepts and then focusing on them. If the student gets frustrated because the textbook is too confusing, pick a paragraph and have a student read line by line, explaining each line to you.
  5. Based on the discussion in Steps 3 and 4, have the student choose one specific change to make in how he or she reads the math textbook.
  6. Reflect on the activity. Did the student’s way of reading a math textbook differ from your own approach? If so, how? Based on your short interaction with the student, would you say that he or she is an active reader of the math textbook? If not, what specific things would help the student become a more active reader? Did you learn any helpful strategies from the student? (By talking with several students, you can often pick up a handful of creative and useful strategies!)