Using Trade Books in the Classroom

Looking for a way to encourage your students’ interest in a topic?  Trade books can provide the needed spark.  Trade books, which are primarily designed to entertain and inform outside the classroom, can be used successfully in the classroom to heighten motivation in your students.  Trade books cover just about every topic under the sun, so you can probably find a book that will align with your curriculum objectives in such a way as to help your students see the applicability of the topic. Students may show a keener interest in the lively way a trade book presents material over the stilted writings in a textbook.  While textbooks cover a topic in a prescribed way, a trade book may introduce or expand upon a topic by including it in a fictional setting, or alternatively, a non-fiction account from real life.

Classroom activities can be built around the book’s topic, so in addition to the reading practice and vocabulary development, all types of offshoot activities can be developed.  Depending on the book, there may be several ways to explore the concepts presented in the story or account.  Possibilities for math, science, social studies, geography, history, economics, and more may exist using the book as a jumping off point.  Here are some ideas on how to use a trade book in the classroom.

Interest is fundamental.  Since the primary reason for introducing a trade book into the classroom is to create interest in a topic, look for books which tell a story which is engaging.  Humor helps since many children enjoy humor and they may read with more attention if it is presented in a funny way.  The book can still present serious topics and ideas.  Another tip is to select books which address the interests of your students’ age group.  Elementary students tend to like stories about animals, children their own age, and fairy tales.  Middle school students are often like adventures, science fiction, and mysteries.  High school students enjoy books written for grown-ups – biographies, general fiction, adventures, mysteries, historical novels, and science fiction.

Check for special features.  Books with special features add more educational value.  For instance, books with glossaries can aid vocabulary development.  Books with research notes, bibliographies listing more potential material for exploration, and website listings related to the topic can assist you in developing teaching materials or assist students in writing reports.  Recipes can make for fun learning experiences.  Maps provide visual orientation for written descriptions.  Drawings and photographs can provide precise information on the physical aspects of an object.  All of these features can be used to enhance your students’ understanding of the teaching objective.

 Reinforce literacy skills.  Almost any trade book can be used to support literacy skill development and reinforcement.  Besides providing reading practice, trade books can be used to support vocabulary development, story telling skills, writing skills, and even editing skills.  Some publishers provide reading grade-level score information for their books.  Many do not, as there is the perception that doing so many prevent some readers who would otherwise be interested, from reading the book.  Most schools grant credit to students who read books beyond assigned reading as a method of encouraging reading practice.  The Accelerated Reader Program is used by over 73,000 schools nationwide.  The database for this service includes more than 120,000 books, but is limited when you consider that according to Publishers Weekly around 30,000 new children’s books are published each year.  You may wish to allow a wider choice in books than those currently in the Accelerated Reader Program database.  Have students write a few paragraphs summarizing the story to prove they have read the book.  A child may be really interested in cars and willing to spend time reading about vintage models or auto repair but not be particularly interested in Tom Sawyer.

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

 Read, discuss, then act.  Start the new lesson by having students read the book you have selected.  This can be done as homework or an in-class activity depending on your objectives and available time.  Then begin a discussion of the book bringing out the aspect related to your teaching objective.  Follow the discussion by actively using the material related to your teaching objective.  For instance, if your objective is for students to understand a historical event, have your students:

a.  construct timelines,

b.  create dioramas,

c.  assemble 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.  create poster board displays,

g.  draw pictures depicting the event,

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

 Any or all of these activities will make the lesson more interesting to your students.

 You might also consider inviting the author to your classroom or the author may offer an e-mail exchange service where your students can interact with the author directly to ask questions about the book.  The author’s enthusiasm for the topic is often infectious and students can connect to the material through the author.

 Engage your students’ imagination and curiosity.  Use trade books to bring fresh excitement to your classroom.  You can develop teaching materials to fit your teaching objectives or you may be able to find teaching resources ready for use on the internet.  In either case, you can enliven a potentially dull topic and captivate your class by taking advantage of a trade book.