History & Culture

Using trade books in the classroom

Looking for a way to spark your students’ interest in a topic? Trading books can provide the necessary spark. Primarily designed to entertain and inform outside of the classroom, textbooks can be used successfully in the classroom to increase the motivation of your students. Trade books cover just about every topic under the sun, so you can probably find a book that fits your curriculum goals in a way that helps your students see the topic’s applicability. Students may be more interested in the lively way a textbook presents material about the grandiose writings in a textbook. While textbooks cover a topic in a prescribed way, a subject textbook can introduce or expand on a topic by including it in a fictional setting, or alternatively, a real-life non-fiction account.

Classroom activities can be built around the subject of the book, so in addition to reading practice and vocabulary development, all kinds of side activities can be developed. Depending on the book, there may be different ways to explore the concepts presented in the story or account. Opportunities for math, science, social studies, geography, history, economics and more can exist with the book as a starting point. Here are some ideas for using a trading book in the classroom.

Interest is fundamental. Since the primary reason for introducing a textbook to the classroom is to spark interest in a topic, look for books that tell a compelling story. Humor helps because many children like humor and may read them more attentively if it is presented in a funny way. The book can still present serious topics and ideas. Another tip is to select books that cater to the interests of your students’ age group. Primary school students usually like stories about animals, children their own age and fairy tales. High school students are often like adventures, science fiction and mysteries. High school students enjoy books written for adults – biographies, general fiction, adventures, mysteries, historical novels, and science fiction.

Check for special features. Books with special features add more educational value. For example, glossary books can help with vocabulary development. Books with research notes, bibliographies with more potential for exploration material, and website listings related to the topic can help you develop teaching materials or help students write reports. Recipes can provide fun learning experiences. Maps provide visual orientation for written descriptions. Drawings and photographs can provide accurate information about the physical aspects of an object. All of these features can be used to increase your students’ understanding of the learning objective.

Strengthen literacy. Almost any trade book can be used to support the development and strengthening of literacy skills. In addition to providing reading exercises, trading books can be used to support vocabulary development, storytelling, writing skills, and even editing skills. Some publishers provide reading score information for their books. Many do not, because it is felt that so many prevent some readers who would otherwise be interested from reading the book. Most schools give credit to students who read books beyond assigned reading as a method of encouraging reading practice. The Accelerated Reader program is used by more than 73,000 schools nationwide. The database for this service includes more than 120,000 books, but it is limited when you consider that about 30,000 new children’s books are published each year, according to Publishers Weekly. You may want to allow a wider choice of books than those currently in the Accelerated Reader Program database. Have students write a few paragraphs summarizing the story to prove that they have read the book. A child may be really interested in cars and willing to spend time reading about vintage models or car repair, but not really interested in Tom Sawyer.

Search for resources. Search the web for learning resources designed for the book you selected. Some publishers provide lesson plans, worksheets, discussion questions, and other teaching materials to supplement their books. Visit the publisher’s website or the author’s website to see what may be offered. You can also do this in reverse to find a book you want to use. Search the web using keywords such as “learning materials,” “learning resources,” “lesson plans,” “lesson plan,” “learning ideas,” “learning resources,” or “learning activities.” You can also search for specific lesson plan topics and find a publisher who has developed material for a related book.

Read, discuss and then act. Begin the new lesson by having students read the book you have chosen. This can be done as homework or a classroom activity, depending on your goals and time available. Then begin a discussion of the book and bring up the aspect related to your learning objective. Follow the discussion by actively using the material related to your learning objective. For example, if your goal is for students to understand a historical event, have your students:

a. create timelines,

b. making dioramas,

c. putting together costumes,

d. reenact the event,

e. participate in a mock game show where the students are divided into teams and answer questions related to the event,

f. making poster board displays,

g. make drawings of the event,

h. or write their own story incorporating the historical event.

One or more of these activities will make the lesson more interesting for your students.

You may also want to consider inviting the author to your class or the author may provide an email exchange service where your students can communicate directly with the author to ask questions about the book. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject is often infectious, and students can connect with the material through the author.

Engage the imagination and curiosity of your students. Use trading books to bring new excitement to your classroom. You can develop teaching materials that fit your learning goals or you can find ready-to-use learning resources on the Internet. In either case, you can liven up a potentially boring topic and engage your class by using a textbook.

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