Reading instructions for students? When and how?

If you arrive at university fresh out of upper secondary school or after several years in working life, it can be difficult to approach the task of reading large quantities of text. How would you – the teacher – describe your target group? Do they need the support of reading instructions and study techniques?

How do you read a textbook? How do you manage your time when no one breaks it down to sections for you? How can you tell if you are progressing?

Students may need the support of concrete advice on how to approach the task of studying strategically. Here are a few examples of advice that may inspire you to compile your own reading instructions, etc.

The teacher and reading instructions

Designing the course and explaining the main ideas

Propose a suggestion on how to structure time for the course so that the students get an idea on how to plan their time.

When should you work with the different parts of the course? Where can you expect to encounter difficulties? What is the purpose of different parts of the course literature? How can you tell if you are progressing, e.g., are there exercises, tests?

For programmes, it might be wise to go into more detail in the first courses and then be more general when it comes to the later courses when the students are more familiar with the procedures. In other words, adapt your instructions and support according to target group/course content.

The Canvas tool Study Planner

The Canvas tool Study Planner is exactly what it says. It helps the teacher to visualise course work along a timeline, creating a clear idea of different activities, a few of which are part of the schedule and others that are part of the students’ own work. This makes it easier for the students to understand the idea behind the course and how it is designed.

We describe the tool in a separate post, Tips: Structure in the course with Canvas Study Planner.

For the student

This website is of course here to help you as teachers, but here are a few tips that you can use in your own course and pass on to your students when questions come up about study technique and language.

Resources on study techniques provided by the University Library

Feel free to use the resources available via the University Library on study techniques, for example, the short films by Björn Liljeqvist on how to study successfully. See > Library > Study Support > Learning Lab > Studieteknik (Swedish only)

Reading textbooks

Here are a few tips focusing on how to approach large quantities of text. (You can, for example, find some of them described in the videos available via the University Library’s resources on study techniques.) This is something that many students struggle with. You may find the list useful when talking about study technique with your students.

  • Study the table of contents carefully. Refer to it frequently. It tells you what the book is about and how it is structured.
  • Skim the text, you do not have to read every word, sentence and paragraph equally carefully. It is usually more important that you understand the pattern and structure than each and every detail.
  • Highlight key text and underline keywords and phrases. But do not underline everything that seems important! Try not to underline full sentences too often. A book where half of the text has been highlighted and underlined will not be of any good use. Underlines/highlights are there to draw your attention to specific parts of the texts when you go back to look at it – they are not there to create a short version of the book.
  • Make notes in the margin. If the text present three aspects, highlight them with numbers in the margin to make it easier to find them again. Draw figures in the margin that reminds you what the text is about.
  • Make notes. Write brief points about what you reading. This will help you summarise the main ideas and creates motor memories (from the actual writing) that will help you remember.
  • Divide the reading into smaller chunks. Do not read until you drop. Take one section (chapter) at a time. Take a break and summarise, repeat, go back and review highlighted sections and your notes in the margin.

Structuring your time when you are studying on your own (Promodoro Technique)

Structure your study work in small chunks with regular breaks to allow your brain to rest from the text. No one is able to maintain focus without breaks during long days of reading. On the contrary, it will help you study if you take regular breaks to think about something else.

The Pomodoro Technique is one such strategy. It is about dividing your time into intervals of 30 minutes: Focus on your studies for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Then you do it all over again. The trick is to give your work undivided attention during those 25 minutes. It will teach you discipline and eventually it will become a habit.

Here are two short open videos about the Pomodoro Technique that you (the teacher) can pass on to the students: