June 1, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(Alex Chambers)

We have discussed the difference in our reading styles depending on if we are reading for pleasure or for academics. But, what if we were to read books in a content area that is not a textbook. I’m talking about trade books. These are books that discuss a specific discipline in math, science, or technology, but do not present the information in the typical encyclopedia style, like a textbook does. I have a book like this in a previous class here at Fisher, by Michio Kaku, called Physics of the Future. This book presents lots of technical information in a very readable format. It was a joy to read.

So, what is the point? We have talked in class about how there needs to be supplemental reading apart from the textbook. There was a whole chapter devoted to this notion in our readings. This is where we can get outside information. There is content specific information that students can draw on from previous experiences, they would be learning from the book, so it wouldn’t be wasting the teachers time, and most importantly, it would be readable and enjoyable. There are many resources that list trade books that would be appropriate for adults.

There are also resources for students. However, they only exist in a specific way: as summer reading lists or summer reading programs. The only way that I could find trade books being used by students in my research was during the summer. Some of the summer reading programs were put on by local public libraries. Now, I’m not saying that teachers don’t use trade books at all within their curriculum, but I feel like they should be used more often. Also, I’m not thinking of this as designing a unit or semester around one trade book, but snippets of information relevant to what is currently happening in your classroom could be used.

All of this aligns with the CCSS as we are trying to being in more critical reading in our math and science classrooms. Trade books, along with trade magazines (Popular Science, Wired, etc.) and newspapers can all enhance the instruction that is happening in your classroom. Pulling one new article a week off the internet to share with your class is not that time consuming on the preparation end, but can lead to a wonderful discussion in class that can liven any boring topic.

Trade books! One more way to incorporate CCSS in your classroom!



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  1. The idea of additional resources has been one of the main focuses of our literacy class, and therefore this idea drew me to this blog post. It is my understanding that Alex has focused on a topic that is relevant to our content areas, and can be useful to provide students with readable sources that will provide relevant information that will not be a waste of time. As teachers we need to be sure that the additional resources we provide our students are useful, that we are not just providing additional sources because it’s what we were taught in our classes. Due to the fact that additional resources require teachers to do additional research and therefore commit time to finding appropriate material. This means that most are reluctant to include these additional resources. In an article by Gina M. Almerico,(, we see this idea that teachers are reluctant to make the change in their classroom, but after taking a course in literacy in a content area, they see the advantages of adding new resources and strategies into their classroom.

    As to the other fact that Alex address, reading programs are offered to student, however because most students feel stressed about reading content specific materials, they don’t participate in the programs. If we are able to introduce the trade books into classrooms, allowing students to see that content area reading can be enjoyable, we might be able to prompt the summer reading programs. Julie McGaha and L. Brent Igo talk about providing motivation to students, ( and encouraging them to participate in a summer reading program. In this article they introduce a summer program that they offered, the program provided high interest free books to students. This program allowed them to see significant improvement in the reading skills of their students. We can see clearly that this idea of summer reading programs can be connected to the idea we spoke about in class about 85% of free time should be spending free reading, and these programs could make this possible.

    While this blog post didn’t have any specific questions to answer, one of the questions that I feel would be important for this idea would be that do we as teachers feel this idea of trade books and reading programs can increase students reading level? As for me I believe that we can encourage students to read by providing them with texts that are easier reads then a textbook, and that make connections to the lives that they are currently living.

  2. Alex’s blog post made me state: Of course you should use trade books in your instruction! Textbooks are horrible! And many others agree. Kimberly Lightle writes about using trade books in her middle school math class. She states that there was almost an immediate increase in her students’ engagement. She says that many of the trade books and non-textbook readings contain photos, diagrams, and illustrations that help improve comprehension. While she recognizes that teachers are under a great deal of stress relating to time constraints, she still insists that using resources other than the text allows students to more fully understand the material. She also points out that bringing in outside reading allows teachers to differentiate instruction. Just as we learned in class, the strategy called Jigsaw could be applied here. You could have one article that is more difficult for one group of students and have another that is less difficult for readers who are struggling. This allows everyone to be part of the conversation while still improving literacy all around.
    Yet we must not be naive. It’s not going to be easy to find relevant sources that are appropriate for our students. And bringing in other sources, besides the textbook, opens the door to bringing in outside real world problems into the classroom. Some of which, you may not be prepared to talk about: religion, politics, terrorism, etc. When using sources like newspapers or journals, more of the human element slips into your classroom. Teachers will have to find a way to address the concerns of the outside world while remaining within the rules of academia. This is not an easy task to accomplish. Alex suggests trade books are a good place to start and I agree. Trade books are bound to keep you closer to your content area and might be a great place to start. But don’t be afraid to push the envelope, to test the waters and even, gulp! Let your students bring in some material they have found. The authors of Using Technology of today in the classrooms of today argue that a great place to look is on the internet, on social media sites, and wherever else your students are already spending their time. There’s a lot of information our there, some of it not so great, they state, but once you have a strategy of determining the good from the not-so-good, the information is endless.
    My suggestion to all my fellow classmates is to start looking now for good, relevant outside sources. Stock up your library and continue your own research. This way, when we have a class full of students at least we will have a starting point to jump off of. Don’t be afraid of using the textbook as a door stopper…or maybe that’s going just a bit too far?

  3. I agree with Emily, trade books are way more fun and interesting than asking students to read a text book! The first thing that came to my mind with this post was the possibility of asking students to read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston either before or after a microbiology unit. That book would be a fantastic way to simulate discussion on the topic, and prepare students to learn about viruses and diseases; used at the end of the lesson you could ask students to write down all of the mistakes made by researchers in the book. This is much more stimulating than a textbook about viruses and I truly feel it would be something students remembered. Allison F. Crowson and Peggy F. Hopper discuss the potential problems and benefits of bringing trade books into a classroom.,%20Missy%20The%20Use%20of%20Trade%20Books%20in%20Science%20Classroom.pdf They warn that while trade books can be a great resource the teacher must consider the factual information in the book. I agree that is something that must be done when looking for a good trade book to use, but I would like to point out that many textbooks have incorrect information as well. Alex mentioned that there are many places teachers can go to find appropriate trade books. Crowson and Hopper suggest that special attention must always be paid to the creator of the list before you decide to use the trade books they list, as some websites are not as reputable as others. Crowson and Hopper also mention that the use of trade books in an inquiry-style classroom is beneficial. They allow students to question information and decide if there is enough data to support claims.
    In a Comparison of Elementary Students’ History Textbooks and Trade Books by Donald Richgels, Carl Tomlinson, and Michael Tunnell ( It is pointed out that standard textbooks are often “cleansed” of controversial material in order to sell more books. The result is that “they are devoid of voice, drama, and coherence.” They described textbooks as “baskets of facts” and stress the importance of narrative in reading. While I agree that narrative makes reading more enjoyable I do not think it is necessary. I believe quite a bit can be learned by evaluating a journal article, which is written in a manor to reduce narrative.
    I agree with Alex that trade books should be incorporated, and I like his idea around bringing snippets relevant to what is being done in class in, instead of reading the whole book. I also agree that there are many resources out there to aid in finding trade books that suit your needs, but you should be cautious of the source of these lists. Crowson and Hopper mentioned that trade books often have more mistakes than textbooks, yet Richgels, Tomlinson, and Tunnell point out that text books are “cleansed” of material in order to sell more books. Is one option worse than the other?

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