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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. Trade books, which are primarily designed to entertain and inform outside the classroom, can be successfully used in the classroom to increase motivation in your students. Trade books cover almost every topic under the sun, so you can probably find a book that will match your curriculum objectives in such a way as to help your students understand the applicability of the topic. Students may show a greater interest in the lively way a trade book presents material than the writings laid out in a textbook. While textbooks cover a topic in a defined way, a trade book may introduce or expand on 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 theme of the book, so in addition to reading practice and vocabulary development, all kinds of branch activities can take place. Depending on the book, there may be several ways to explore the concepts presented in the story or story. Opportunities for math, science, social studies, geography, history, economics, and more can 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 main reason for bringing a trade book into the classroom is to create interest in a topic, look for books that tell an engaging story. Humor helps as many children enjoy humor and may read more attentively if it is presented in a funny way. The book can still present serious themes and ideas. Another tip is to choose books that address the interests of your students’ age group. Elementary school students tend to like stories about animals, children their own age, and fairy tales. High school students often like adventure, science fiction, and mysteries. Middle school students like books written for adults – biographies, general fiction, adventure, mystery, historical novels, and science fiction.
Check for special features. Books with special features add more educational value. For example, books with dictionaries can help develop vocabulary. Books with research notes, bibliographies that list more potential material for exploration, and lists of websites related to the topic can help you develop teaching materials or help students write reports. Recipes can make for fun learning experiences. Maps provide visual guidance for written descriptions. Drawings and photographs can provide accurate information on the physical aspects of an object. All these features can be used to improve your students’ understanding of the teaching objective.
Reinforce literacy skills. Almost any trade book can be used to support the development and reinforcement of literacy skills. In addition to providing reading practice, trade books can be used to support vocabulary development, storytelling skills, writing skills, and even editing skills. Some publishers provide reading level score information for their books. Many do not, as there is a perception that doing so much prevents some readers who would otherwise be interested from reading the book. Most schools give credit to students who read books beyond the assigned reading as a method to encourage reading practice. The Accelerated Reading Program is used by over 73,000 schools nationwide. The database for this service includes more than 120,000 books, but it is limited when you consider that according to Publishers Weekly about 30,000 new children’s books are published each year. You may want to allow a wider choice in books than those currently in the Accelerated Reader Program database. Ask students to 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 old models or car repair, but not be particularly interested in Tom Sawyer.
Search for resources. Search the Internet for learning resources designed for the book you have chosen. Some publishers provide lesson plans, worksheets, discussion questions, and other learning materials to supplement their books. Visit the publisher’s website or the author’s website to see what may be available. You can also do this in reverse to find a book to use. Search the Internet using keywords such as “teaching materials,” “teaching tools,” “lesson plans,” “lesson plan,” “teaching ideas,” “teaching resources,” or “teaching activities.” You can also search for specific curriculum topics and find a publisher who has developed materials for a related book.
Read, discuss, then act. Begin the new lesson by having the students read the book you have chosen. This can be done as homework or a class activity depending on the objectives and time available. Then start a discussion of the book by highlighting the aspect related to your teaching objective. Follow the discussion by actively using material related to your teaching objective. For example, if your objective is for students to understand a historical event, have your students:
a. build timelines,
b. create dioramas,
c. assemble costumes,
d. replay the event,
e. participate in a game show where students are divided into teams and answer questions about the event,
p. create poster board displays,
g. draw pictures that describe the event,
h. or write their own story including the historical event.
Any or all of these activities will make the lesson more interesting for your students.
You might also consider inviting the author to your class, or the author might offer an e-mail exchange service where your students can interact directly with the author to ask questions about the book. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject is often infectious, and students can relate to the material through the author.
Engage your students’ imaginations and curiosity. Use trade books to bring new excitement to your classroom. You can develop teaching materials to suit your teaching objectives or you may be able to find ready-to-use teaching resources online. Either way, you can liven up a potentially dull topic and wow your class by benefiting from a trade book.
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