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Ebooks as Textbooks Part 8: Textbook structure

Textbooks usually have a structure, and it doesn't matter if it is an electronic textbook or a paper printed one, the people who put the textbook together usually make it have a structure to help you better understand what you are reading and learning. Textbooks are usually a type of text known as informational or expository text - this is text written to inform, and can be things like textbook chapters, newspaper and magazine articles, and other reference materials like encyclopedia items. The other kind of text that you usually encounter in school is narrative text, where a story is being told - which could be fictional or non-fiction. And while textbooks are informational text, many will also have narrative text, usually as stories to help you better understand the concept, although in an English or literature class the stories are often more the focus of the learning.

Textbook Elements
With an electronic textbook it might be hard to see the structure, because you cant riffle through the pages get a quick glance at a chapter. But paging through a chapter of an etextbook can tell you much the same.  To get an idea about how your etextbook is designed, start by going through a chapter. Don't try to read the chapter, instead the goal is to see the etextbook's structure. Usually you will find the following things may make up the chapter in addition to the content text: chapter titles, section headings, special notation or call out boxes, bold words, italic words, images and graphics, charts and graphs, and sections such as introduction, summary, questions or problems.  You can start with organizational structure of titles and sections. Usually you find a textbooks grouping information  from large to smaller, such as the textbook's Title, then Units, then Chapters, which are composed of Sections and Subheadings (see figure below), ,which are listed in the Table of Contents of the book. Often chapters have sections such as the Introduction section which will put the section's information into context to help identify why it is important, and usually there will be a chapter section that is a summary, which will try give you a short version of the entire chapter. Most textbooks will also have a chapter section that is about problems or questions, these you can use to check your understanding or practice your learning of the chapter's contents.

Words that are in bold or italics font are usually important, so those are words to pay attention to. Often they identify the important vocabulary of the chapter. Depending on the text topic there might be charts and graphs. Charts usually are a form of summary - putting a large about of information into a compact space for easy comparison, and may be a form of a data table. A graph is a visual display of numerical information, something that is also a form of summary, making it easier to see what the numbers are showing. Other images that you might find in a textbook include Maps to show locational information, and photographs or illustrations that are pictures to emphasize or illustrate important points from the chapter or may just be interesting.  Usually these images will also have captions that explain about them. Some things in printed textbooks that you might not find in a digital textbook are things like a glossary, because of the built in interactive dictionary, and an index, since you can search the text.

Breakdown Structure 
Look at the following example chapter page from a Life Science etextbook.
Notice the Table of Contents over on the left side (although it does only list chapters). Next, look at the make up of the chapter sections, in this case there is the chapter title, followed by the section and then the subsection. You should also notice that this text uses bold words, here to identify vocabulary, and with the images are captions that help explain them.

There is research that shows that you can get a lot out of just reading the chapter summary. So I suggest that you always start reading a textbook chapter by reading the introduction and the chapter summary (usually at the  beginning and end of the chapter)- this should give you some background and a framework for when your read the rest of the chapter.

Structure Reading Strategy
One good reading or study strategy that can be effective for many using digital textbooks' chapters is to do the following.

  • First highlight the chapter title
  • next read the introduction and summary - and highlight the entire paragraph of each.
  • Then go through the chapter, not reading but instead looking for the following and when you find them you highlight them: all section headings/titles; and bold and italicized words that look like they might be vocabulary or important words (versus ones used for emphasis) 
  • Next read the paragraphs. depending on where they are in a section they could be instructional or summary paragraphs (usually at the beginning or end of a section - so look for things like first or last sentence summaries - if they have those then highlight them.
  • For other paragraphs that are informational or supportive - those you don't highlight, instead after reading the paragraph, pick an important word or phrase and use that as the anchor for a note, and in the note, write a summary in your own words about what that paragraph is saying. 
  • Then go through the chapter and look at the images and graphs. Pick a word or phrase in the paragraph that relates to the diagram or graph, and then use that as an anchor to make a note, where you describe the picture or what the graph is displaying. 
Here is a page from a textbook that I have done using the above strategy. Notice that the titles have been highlighted, along with bold words and image captions, then the additional elements like summary notes for paragraphs and bold word definitions have been added as notes.

Now just look at the Notes and Marks sidebar. Notice how it show the structure, but also how it is an excellent summary of the chapters contents. This can be excellent reading strategy to use while you are reading and also be a great study tool for reviewing the chapter. If you had been making these annotations using a Kindle device, then all of these would also be available in the My Clippings file, which could then be edited or used outside the Kindle application.


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