Writing to Learn: Strategies for Comprehending Content Area Texts

Misty LaCour, Ed.D.

Kaplan University Professor, School of Graduate Education – Teacher Education

Have you ever read a chapter in a content area textbook and wondered what in the world you just read?

Sometimes we all have difficulty in reading specialized textbooks for content areas. No matter how great of a reader you are, these texts can be challenging because they often use specialized vocabulary and  may be difficult to comprehend.

Writing can be a process of organizing and gathering our thoughts while reading these difficult texts. Writing can also assist us in gleaning the important information from texts and lend us a helping hand in comprehending difficult content textbooks. This type of writing does not follow a specific process or traditional writing rules. Instead, writing to learn is just that – writing to help yourself learn concepts.

Below are specific techniques you can use to obtain ideas from reading and help promote your critical and creative thinking:

Microthemes – While reading text, pause to think about the key ideas you’ve just read. Take note of these key ideas in your own words. A great way to collect your microthemes is to take your notes on index cards. After reading a chapter or chapters, you will have a set of notecards with the microthemes from the reading that you can use to review the text and prepare for class lectures or exams (Knipper & Duggan, 2006).

Text boxes – Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. While reading, make notes of important facts and ideas in the first column. After reading, write your reflections and any questions you have after reading the text in the second column (Knipper & Duggan, 2006).

Sentence synthesis – Most textbooks provide a list of keywords for each chapter of the text. After reading the chapter, challenge yourself to use the keywords to write a sentence or sentences summarizing the main points of the chapter (Knipper & Duggan, 2006).

Use these strategies while reading content area texts to help you better comprehend the information and better prepare for class assignments, lectures, and exams.

Check out more ideas for writing to learn in “Writing to Learn Across the Curriculum:  Tools for Comprehension in Content Area Classes”.


Knipper, K.J. & Duggan, T. J. (2006). Writing to learn across the curriculum: Tools for comprehension in content area classes. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 462-470.  Retrieved from http://fu-ctge-5548.wikispaces.com/file/view/Knipper+and+Duggan.pdf

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