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Using trade books in social studies

Teachers often use trade books as part of their social studies lessons. There are many wonderful books, both fiction and non-fiction, that can add to a lesson. Incorporating them can help strengthen connections between social studies and literacy. However, it is important to evaluate the resource carefully to make sure that it supports the Big Ideas for your lesson and doesn't add misconceptions. If the book is not a great match for the lesson, save it for a read-to at another time of the day and make connections back to social studies. Here are some questions to help evaluate a trade book:

  • How does this book support the Big Ideas that I want my students to learn in this unit?
  • What does it include that is not pertinent to my lesson? (You might consider just using part of the book).
  • Are the pictures realistic or fanciful? Will they add or distract from the learning? (You might want to just read without sharing pictures).
  • Is the text level right for my students? Does the vocabulary match what I am using in my lesson? (You might want to copy the pictures and modify the words or create your own dialogue to go with the pictures).
  • Does the book promote misconceptions that I want to avoid? Does it contain stereotypes that could be harmful? (e.g., all males in leadership roles, pity for people in countries with less resources, names or actions that support ethnic stereotypes).
  • Will the book or resource be available to students after my lesson? Before the lesson?
  • Does anything in the book require extra teaching?
  • Are there any connections to past learning or future lessons?
Each year the National Council for Social Studies carefully reviews trade book publications and publishes their recommendations in a very useful document callled Notable Trade Books for Young People.