Tips & Tricks

How to Learn Ideas from Textbooks

  • All textbooks are organized by systems of ideas within them. Diagram the systems to help you begin to learn them. Notice yourself naming, identifying, connecting, distinguishing, and explaining things using ideas.
  • Where we have knowledge, we have an organized technical vocabulary. Create a glossary of the most important ideas you learn in each subject you study.
  • Your knowledge can be no stronger than the knowledge you have of ideas in a subject. Test yourself by trying to explain key ideas in non technical language.
  • All ideas must be understood in relation to contrasting ideas. Try naming and explaining the ideas opposite to key ideas you learn.
  • All idea clusters must be understood as part of further such clusters. Take any important idea you learn and name the ideas that cluster around it.
  • There are many domains of ideas: ethical, religious, cultural social, political, scientific, mathematical, etc. Name and explain a key idea in each domain.
  • At the beginning of each semester, try making a list of at least 25 ideas you want to learn in each subject. To do this you might read an introductory chapter from the textbook or an article on each subject from an encyclopedia. Then explain the list of ideas to a friend (state, elaborate, exemplify, and illustrate each).
  • As the course proceeds, add new ideas to the list and underline those ideas you are confident you can explain. Regularly translate chapter and section titles from the textbook into ideas. In addition, look for key ideas in every lecture you hear. Relate basic ideas to the basic theory the subject uses to solve problems. Master fundamental ideas and theories well. Do not move on until you do.

Essential Idea: One important way to think about what you are learning is by high-lighting, diagramming, and explaining the ideas at the heart of each subject you study.