Study Skills for Teens: How to Read Textbooks

We are starting a new series for homeschooling high schoolers to help them build their study skills. Here is the first lesson on study skills for teens: How to Read Textbooks.

Study Skills for Teens: How to Read Textbooks

Study Skills for Teens: How to Read Textbooks

High school is such a different experience for many homeschooling teens. Many of us homeschooling parents used few textbooks with our younger children. However, when our kids hit high school, we felt we needed to move towards more textbook use because:

  • Textbooks help our teens learn things that we do not feel highly confident with, OR
  • We want our teens to start studying with textbooks to help them prepare for college, OR
  • They are expressing the desire to use textbooks for certain subjects

However, high schoolers that I have worked with have often told me that they get overwhelmed with all the reading. They are right. Textbooks contain a LOT of reading material and tons of information. Teens need to develop a new set of study skills!

Therefore, let me share some tips that I have found have helped my own high schoolers and those I have worked with.

How to develop the study skill of textbook reading

Before we start, we need to discuss a few different kinds of textbooks. This is a very simplified look at textbooks.

7Sisters-style textbooks

You may have noticed that in the textbooks from many publishers, each chapter is about the same length (even if they do not have the same amount of material to cover in each chapter. This gives these texts consistency. However, our teens told us that the busywork (or filler) material irritated them and took the fun out of learning.

Therefore, 7Sisters textbooks are no-busywork texts with no filler. In fact, the texts are written at Average or College-Prep levels so that most students can read and understand the information (and hopefully even enjoy it)! Each textbook also includes information on ways to meaningfully level up to Honors. That way teens who need a powerful credit on their transcript can earn that level in a way that is right for them.

Some of 7Sisters’ most popular textbooks include:

History and Philosophy of the Western World
Click image for full description.

Average-level traditional textbooks

For teens who do not plan on going to college, average-level textbooks can help them cover material in a simple, readable format. Chapters are short and chapter questions are limited. (An example of this is Pacemaker series.)

For teens who don’t like to read, here are some tips to help.

College-Prep textbooks

Most textbooks that are available to homeschooler high schoolers are written at a College-Prep level. Vocabulary and explanations assume a higher-level of skill. There is more material than average textbooks. Chapter questions are usually longer and more intense.

How to read textbooks

Your teens are likely to feel more confident and retain attention and information better with these tips.

Special note for 7Sisters textbooks

7Sisters textbooks are unique because they contain an optional guide to help teens level up to Honors for their transcripts. Therefore, before your teen starts working on the text, it is wise to talk with them about their goals. Then you can look through the leveling-up options and make a plan for those activities.

Now, back to reading textbooks!

Step One: Read the “headlines”

Before teens begin reading the chapter, it is wise to take a minute and:

  • Tell yourself WHY you are reading this chapter. (Come up with a good reason and your brain will work with you better.)
  • Read the chapter title
  • The introduction to the chapter
  • Then the section titles for the chapter
  • Notice if there are vocabulary lists. Read those over.

Step Two: Read the end-of-chapter questions

If there are questions at the end of each section, read those also.

The questions will let you know what the textbook thinks is actually important.

Step Three: Read one section at at time

Start by reading the introduction paragraph and the concluding paragraph. This gives you a framework of the section. Then read until you have found the answer to the questions for that section.


  • Take note of any italicized words
  • Read any text-boxes, sidebars or photos
  • Feel free to highlight interesting or important information or jot simple thoughts down as you read

If you are pressed for time, skip the rest of the section (unless you are reading a 7Sisters text, which is parsimonious- so every word counts). If you have time, read the rest of the section.

Step Four: Write the answers to the questions

Even if you do not need to turn these in, writing the answers to the questions will help you digest the material you read. Not only that, but these answers can become a study guide for you as you prepare for a chapter test.

Step Five: Ask yourself: What were the important ideas from this section?

What did the textbook want you to know about this subject? Write these ideas down. This will help you retain the information and will be part of your study guide for a test.

Step Six: Practice 50/10

For every fifty minutes of reading, take a ten minute break. Walk around or do some stretches. Get a drink of water and some protein, if you feel thirsty or hungry. While it may feel like a waste of time, ten-minute breaks actually give your brain time to digest the material. Then it will be ready to reboot for the next fifty minutes.

Step Seven: Tell yourself that you did a good job!

This sounds cheesy but our brains learn better when we create a positive environment. In other words, when we use positive self-talk, our brains process information better! SO: you can do this!

Have a good time learning! (When it is time for test-taking check out this post on how to study for tests.)

Study Skills for Teens: How to Read Textbooks

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Vicki Tillman

Blogger, curriculum developer at, counselor, life and career coach, SYMBIS guide, speaker, prayer person. 20+year veteran homeschool mom.

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