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Teaching Strategies to Deal with a Poorly Designed Textbook

Janelle Cox

Many teachers have little say about what textbooks they are able to use in their classroom. Of course, any teacher would love to have a well-designed textbook full of useful content and vibrant imagery, but unfortunately that is not always the case. So what teaching strategies do you use when you have no choice but to use the textbook that is provided? You get creative, and you use it as a guide or framework to help you teach the topic. You adapt your teaching strategies to compensate for the poor design or for the lack of information. Here are a few more helpful teaching strategies to help you handle that poorly designed, awful textbook.

Teaching Strategies: Use the Textbook for Only a Few Sources of Information

The textbook doesn’t have to be your only source of information. You can use as a supplement and provide students with other means of information like handouts, videos, charts, and websites. Scour through the book for the “Best” sources of information, and only use it for that. If you find that the textbook has a lot of great imagery, then use its graphic content. If it has a few great stories, then use it for anecdotal examples.

Have Students Do a Walk-Through of the Textbook

In the beginning of the school year, do a walk-through with your students. Point out the best aspects of the book and show them how you plan to use it. If you specifically like the way the book pulls assignment questions, then show them that you will be using it for that. If you love the chapter summaries section, then point them in the direction of that. Show your students where to focus their attention when they are using the book, and tell them what you like out of it, not what you dislike.

Use the Textbook to Create Your Lessons

Think of the textbook as a resource to help you design and create your lessons and activities. You can use the books’ chapter titles, key words, charts, and images to help you create your own unique lessons. A lot of the time, textbooks have some really great end-of-chapter questions that you can use to create your own assessment. They also have key vocabulary terms that students must know, so you can take these words and create games or activities with them. Use the book to your advantage and you may just be surprised how create your lessons can get.

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Look for Additional Online Resources

Oftentimes, if you are having trouble with the textbook, then that means other teachers are having the same problem. Look online at teacher blogs and ask around if anyone is also having an issue with the book. Sometime, teachers who are in the same boat as you or have had an issue in the past have come up with alternative ways to teach the information. You can also look to see if the publisher has a website. If they do, they may also have online resources to complement the information in the book. Then you can use these extension activities to help you teach the content included therein.

Develop Students’ Ability to Analyze and Critique the Book

Develop students’ ability to analyze, and compare and contrast, by inviting students to critique the textbook. But before you can do this, students must have read additional texts that offered them multiple perspectives about the topic. If students find any inaccuracies in the book, make sure that they support their claims with solid evidence from other texts or sources.

Use the Textbook for Review

If the textbook is poorly designed and not up to your standards, then you can use it for review. Use the textbook tests as a review sheet or for a homework assignment. A lot of the time, the questions in a textbook are quite simple, so you can have students take these questions and revamp them into more difficult questions. Another idea is to have students create a whole new set of review questions using the information provided in the text.

Use the Textbook Only as a Resource

The textbook does not have to be your only source of information on that particular topic. Use the book as one of many sources for students to gain information. Before the school year starts, search through the book and plan out what you want your students to know and understand about the topic. Use it a starting point for students to dig deeper into the topic.

Poorly designed textbooks or ones that are out of date can be utilized as long as you think of them as just one of the many resources you are using to have students gain knowledge about a topic. With a little forethought and creativity, these “Awful” textbooks can actually provide a useful guide for learning. 

Have you ever had to use a poorly designed textbook? How did you use teaching strategies to make it work? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.