Using textbooks effectively

Using textbooks effectively: A textbook or coursebook is a normal part of the teaching and learning process and is used as a standard source of information on a particular subject. It is simply a book about a particular subject that is used in the study of that subject especially in schools and colleges. Sometimes a textbook is called ‘a teacher in print’ or ‘an assistant master in print’. Here are some popular definitions of a textbook:

Encyclopedia of Educational Research (Third Edition):
In the modern sense and as “commonly understood; the textbook is a learning instrument usually employed in schools and colleges to support a programme of instruction. In ordinary usage the textbook is printed, it is non-consumable, it is hard bound, it serves as an avowed instructional purpose, and it is placed in the hands of learner.”
Webster’s Dictionary: Using-textbooks-effectively

“A textbook is any manual of instruction, a book containing a presentation of the principles of the subject used as a basis of instruction.”
Francis Bacon (1561-1625):
“A textbook is a book designed for classroom use, carefully prepared by experts in the field and equipped with the usual teaching devices.”
Marsh (1992):
“A tool used by teachers to motivate students and to give them maximum understanding about a topic or a problem.”
Tanner & Tanner (1975):
“Textbooks are useful guides for teachers and stable orientation for the students.”
Johnsen (1993):
“A textbook is a book whose purpose is for ‘instructional use’. It is a useful guide for a teacher and stable orientation for students.”
A textbook is a collection of the knowledge, concepts, and principles of a selected topic or course. It’s usually written by one or more teachers, college professors, or education experts who are authorities in a specific field. Most textbooks are accompanied by teacher guides, which provide you with supplemental teaching materials, ideas, and activities to use throughout the academic year.




Using textbooks effectively

A textbook is usually written on the basis of a prescribed syllabus and follows the national curriculum framework and its assessment grid. Every school or teacher wants to use a standard textbook or coursebook series for their classroom use. Using textbooks effectively in a classroom is a key part for successful classroom instruction. Let’s consider the facts shown in this chart.


What images come to your mind when you think of a textbook as a hammer and a teacher as a carpenter? Here are some:

  • The purpose of a carpenter (big idea) is to make a fine piece of furniture. The purpose of a teacher (big idea) is to help students with meaningful learning and understanding of ‘text’.
  • A hammer is not enough to make a fine piece of furniture. The carpenter also needs some other tools. Likewise, a textbook is not enough for a teacher. He also needs some other tools (supplementary reading, reference materials, interactive activities, activities of direct experience, etc).
  • A hammer works well only in the hand of a good carpenter. Why not the hammer is of excellent quality, it does not make a fine piece of furniture if the carpenter is not experienced enough. Likewise, a textbook is only as good as the teacher who uses it.  Why not the textbook is of excellent quality, it does not promote meaningful learning if the teacher is not equally good.Using-textbooks-effectively-1

Important tips:

  • A textbook should be used as one of the resources, but not as the only or final resource.
  • While students can learn in different ways in different environments, learning is not limited to textbooks or in the classroom but can take place through all sorts of learning materials and learning experiences.
  • Teachers should not let the students have the impression that their task is to learn what a textbook contains and no more.
  • Teachers should focus on the ‘big ideas’ of each chapter in a textbook; rather than limiting the students to its content or minor things. Good textbooks often explain those ‘big Ideas’ in context and teacher should not get lost in the minutiae.
  • Teachers should not over-rely on textbooks and ignore other aids or other materials for the classroom. The best way to overcome the drawbacks of a textbook is providing students with sufficient supplementary materials, encyclopedias, websites, dictionaries, problem-solving activities, higher-level thinking questions, and extending activities (project work).
  • Teachers should prepare well and make a complete planning (weekly, monthly, term-wise, yearly) for using textbooks and other reference materials in their classrooms.
  • Textbooks may not reflect the interests and needs of students and hence may require adaptation. Thus, teachers should modify, change, eliminate, or add to the material in the textbook to make the content their classroom friendly.




Using textbooks effectively by D N Mukhiya
“I write textbooks and have written more than hundred school textbooks. I have quite a few friends who are in the same profession and I often talk to them about the use of textbooks in a classroom. I also have the privilege of working with teachers in different schools and often interact with them during my training sessions. We love talking about the effective use of textbooks in a classroom. I am also a teacher and teach in some schools on a part-time basis. This job provides me an opportunity to analyze my own textbooks and several other textbooks available in market.  These are some of the factors on which this article has been based. And, of course, there is a great deal of research work and great websites that talk about using textbooks effectively in a classroom. These resources and materials have been a great help for materializing this article.” – D N Mukhiya
Chambliss, J.M. & Calfee, C.R. (1998). Textbooks for learning: Nurturing children’s minds. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Dewey, R. A. (1995). Finding the right introductory psychology textbook. APS Observer, March, 1995, 32-33, 35.
Fredericks,  Anthony D. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Success as a Teacher, 2005.
Gower, Roger, and Steve Walters. Teaching Practice Handbook. London: Heinemann Educational, 1983. Print.
Greenall, Simon, and Michael Swan. Effective Reading: Reading Skills for Advanced Students. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.
Hadfield, Jill, and Charles Hadfield. Introduction to Teaching English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Hedge, Tricia. Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
McWhorter, Kathleen T. Academic Reading. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2001.