Math Study Skills – How To Use Your Textbook

February 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm 3 comments

Many developmental math students think of their textbook as the device that holds their homework, and nothing else. Some students know how to use their book to increase their understanding, but they are few in number.

As a community college instructor, I feel it is part of my job to explain to my students how to get the most out of their textbook. For the most part our developmental math students did not make use of their textbook while in high school, and simply don’t realize the resources that are available to them. We simply cannot expect them to intrinsically know how to use their textbook to increase their understanding.

Class Activity – Main Textbook Features

The following is a 5-10 minute activity I use in my classes to introduce key features in the textbook, as well as how to incorporate these features into their overall study strategy.

Step 1

Put students into groups of size 2 to 4, depending on your preference. Have each group flip through one chapter in the textbook and make a listing of the different features in the book, such as Examples, “Quick Check” Exercises, Definitions, Procedures, Summaries, Warnings, Study Tips, and Calculator Tips. This should take no more than 5 minutes. Have the groups, in turn, share a feature that can be written on the board.

Step 2

Once the list is complete, go back through the features one at a time. Ask students to give an example of a situation in which this feature can be used to help students learn and understand mathematics.

For instance, students can briefly read through the examples in a section before beginning their homework as a way to warm up and review before starting to work.

Students can refer back to examples when they are struggling with one of the homework exercises.

If students are having a hard time thinking of a situation in which they could use a particular feature – offer your suggestions.


By helping your students to understand when and how to effectively use their textbook as a study aid, you are not only helping your students to be more successful in your class – you are giving them the tools to be a successful student in any class. As an alternative to this activity, you can have your students read through the preface of the textbook. The material in a preface is basically a marketing tool to show instructors the important features in the textbook and how they can be used. Sounds like something students should read as well?


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Tuesday I post an article related to math study skills on my blog. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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