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Social Sci LibreTexts

5.3: Dealing with Special Texts

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  • Learning Objectives

    Recognize strategies for reading special types of material and special situations, such as the following:

    • Mathematics texts
    • Science texts
    • Social studies texts
    • Primary sources
    • Foreign language texts
    • Integrating reading with your family life
    • Online reading

    While the active reading process outlined earlier is very useful for most assignments, you should consider some additional strategies for reading assignments in other subjects.

    Mathematics Texts

    Mathematics present unique challenges in that they typically contain a great number of formulas, charts, sample problems, and exercises. Follow these guidelines:

    • Do not skip over these special elements as you work through the text.
    • Read the formulas and make sure you understand the meaning of all the factors.
    • Substitute actual numbers for the variables and work through the formula.
    • Make formulas real by applying them to real-life situations.
    • Do all exercises within the assigned text to make sure you understand the material.
    • Since mathematical learning builds upon prior knowledge, do not go on to the next section until you have mastered the material in the current section.
    • Seek help from the instructor or teaching assistant during office hours if need be.

    Reading Graphics

    You read earlier about noticing graphics in your text as a signal of important ideas. But it is equally important to understand what the graphics intend to convey. Textbooks contain tables, charts, maps, diagrams, illustrations, photographs, and the newest form of graphics—Internet URLs for accessing text and media material. Many students are tempted to skip over graphic material and focus only on the reading. Don’t. Take the time to read and understand your textbook’s graphics. They will increase your understanding, and because they engage different comprehension processes, they will create different kinds of memory links to help you remember the material.

    To get the most out of graphic material, use your critical thinking skills and question why each illustration is present and what it means. Don’t just glance at the graphics; take time to read the title, caption, and any labeling in the illustration. In a chart, read the data labels to understand what is being shown or compared. Think about projecting the data points beyond the scope of the chart; what would happen next? Why?

    Table 5.2 “Common Uses of Textbook Graphics” shows the most common graphic elements and notes what they do best. This knowledge may help guide your critical analysis of graphic elements.

    Table 5.2 Common Uses of Textbook Graphics

    Figure 5.3 Table


    Most often used to present raw data. Understand what is being measured. What data points stand out as very high or low? Why? Ask yourself what might cause these measurements to change.

    Figure 5.4 Bar Chart


    Used to compare quantitative data or show changes in data over time. Also can be used to compare a limited number of data series over time. Often an illustration of data that can also be presented in a table.

    Figure 5.5 Line Chart


    Used to illustrate a trend in a series of data. May be used to compare different series over time.

    Figure 5.6 Pie Chart


    Used to illustrate the distribution or share of elements as a part of a whole. Ask yourself what effect a change in distribution of factors would have on the whole.

    Figure 5.7 Map


    Used to illustrate geographic distributions or movement across geographical space. In some cases can be used to show concentrations of populations or resources. When encountering a map, ask yourself if changes or comparisons are being illustrated. Understand how those changes or comparisons relate to the material in the text.

    Figure 5.8 Photograph


    Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

    Used to represent a person, a condition, or an idea discussed in the text. Sometimes photographs serve mainly to emphasize an important person or situation, but photographs can also be used to make a point. Ask yourself if the photograph reveals a biased point of view.

    Figure 5.9 Illustration


    Used to illustrate parts of an item. Invest time in these graphics. They are often used as parts of quizzes or exams. Look carefully at the labels. These are vocabulary words you should be able to define.

    Figure 5.10 Flowchart or Diagram


    Commonly used to illustrate processes. As you look at diagrams, ask yourself, “What happens first? What needs to happen to move to the next step?”