The active learning method shared here was created for reading and note-taking and contains helpful strategies for actively focusing while reading, thinking, listening, speaking, and writing.
Be Prepared to Learn
1. Well Rested
Teens need 8-10 hours sleep, adults 7-9. Getting less, even one night, lowers intelligence the next day. Inadequate sleep prevents you from performing your best on major events.Go to bed by 10 for morning tests. Get 8-10 hours three consecutive nights before major tests. You can’t compensate for missed sleep. Trouble falling asleep? Try the following:
- 1. An anxiety reduction technique or deep relaxing breaths. 2. “Pink noise” (nature sounds) or “white noise” from websites, apps, or devices. 3. Put devices on “night shift” (warm tone), not overly stimulating blue screens, at least three hours before sleep. 4. Avoid news, and anything (video games, movies) upsetting, violent, or depressing in the evening. 5. Avoid strenuous exercise, heavy meals, or caffeine 3–4 hours before bedtime.
“Brain food” meals and snacks make you smartest, most alert, and least distracted by hunger. Fast food, and most restaurant meals, and packaged, processed foods are anti-brain foods.Brain foods raise blood sugar to optimal levels and maintain it for hours. These include quality protein (egg whites, most fish, skinless white meat chicken, unsweetened Greek yogurt), whole grains (wheat berries, rye kernels, whole oats), and healthy fats (avocado, nuts, nut butters). Anti-brain foods include added sugars, saturated fats (including coconut and palm), and simple carbs (white flour, white rice, white potatoes) that rapidly convert to sugars. These make you sluggish. Most unhealthy foods contain “addictive” combinations of sugar, salt, and fat. Protein or energy shakes, or smoothies, are not meals. The more liquid and softer food is, the more you eat and the less focused you become. Caffeine, while temporarily improving focus, quickly wears off, causing a “crash”.
The major source of distractions, technology, is designed to control our attention, influence our behavior, and addict us.If you need a device to enable your learning, set your mobile devices to “Do Not Disturb” or notifications will distract you. If your work doesn’t require tech, keep all mobile devices on “Do Not Disturb” and outside the room—any mobile device in the room will distract you. Other distractors to deal with include noise, people, “boring” reading material, and “boring” speakers.
Before reading, learn the content, organization, and development of ideas in non-fiction to concentrate, comprehend, read, and remember effectively.Reading without pre-reading is like driving without any idea of your plan or destination.
5. Activate Background Knowledge
Before, during, or after pre-reading, activate background knowledge about the subject. Background knowledge is everything you know from print, broadcast, or electronic media, from studies, work, travel, personal life, and other experiences, and from other people.Many begin reading without pre-reading, which is like saying, “I don’t know anything about this, and I have to learn it all.” You almost always know something about subjects. Pre-reading locates the most important ~ 20% of the material. The other 80% (filler) makes it readable.
Turn (sub)titles into questions—“why,” “how,” “purpose,” “reasons,” “benefits,” “causes/effects,”— then read sections following subtitles to answer. Your answers can serve as notes.
7. Anticipate. Infer
Active readers anticipate (infer, guess) what comes next, like scientists, researchers, or detectives. The more you practice this, the better you become. This, like all active reading steps, means you are constantly thinking or dialoguing with the material.
Read to answer your questions and get what you need to remember. Stress key signal and transitional words, essential for understanding organization.
9. Take Notes
Read sections following subtitles to answer your question(s) in your notes.
With denser text, read one paragraph at a time— if it contains information you need to learn, sum it up in as few as 5 words—abbreviations are fine; use no sentences.
10. Self-Test—Recall and Recite
Recite out loud in your own words the main ideas and key support you are responsible for. Review notes as needed to achieve this.
Active learning consists of (being):
- 1. Well-rested 2. Well-nourished 3. Focused 4. Pre-reading (books, chapters, articles) for organization and main ideas 5. Activating background knowledge
6. Questioning (sub)titles 7. Anticipating what’s coming 8. Reading to answer your questions
9. Notetaking containing answers to your questions
10.Self-testing by recalling and reciting