Using Trade Books in the Classroom!

“How do you fit time into your school day to read trade books when you teach in a test-preparation environment?”



by Kimberley Griffiths Little with her amazing sister Kirsten Werk, a teacher in the Bay Area of California.

Let’s face it; teachers are feeling pressure to bring up test scores more than ever before. In some districts, the curriculum you have to teach is scripted every moment of your day. How do you possibly fit in trade books? Here are a few very easy ideas:

1.  SSR/DEAR Time: Students should have time to choose what they want to read-even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day. Here are some ideas to help teach reading strategies while they’re reading.

a. Have your students fill out a chart for every book they read giving the title, genre, problem, solution, and theme. For non-fiction books, they can write down the main idea and a few of their favorite details. This is an easy way to practice the very same concepts students need to identify on standardized tests.

b. Students are always more excited about a trade book when the teacher recommends it. Highlight a Book of the Week and take 10 minutes to introduce a new book.

c. Can’t find 10 minutes? Use the last 10 minutes of class while you pass out homework. Students can be quietly reading during this time. Or tighten up your transition times using a timer to gain an extra 10 minutes a day.

2.      Read aloud every day to your students. Here are ways to make it more productive:

a.  Never read aloud without asking something from your students in return. Children can listen for a purpose and respond in a “Reading Response” journal. Have the students write about the main idea, three things they learned about a character or the setting or problem, make an inference, compare and contrast, or write about the author’s purpose. Mix it up! Have them draw pictures in their Journals instead of writing.

b.  Read from a variety of genres. Track the books you read aloud (and the books they read on their own) on a classroom chart that shows the title of each book, the genre, the characters, problem, solution, and setting, theme, author’s purpose and/or point of view. Each of these is a skill needed on standardized tests.

c.  Look at your grade level standards for the reading strategies that students will be tested on. Then pick books that have one of those reading strategies strongly identified in the book. Make their response be one where they practice your pre-determined reading strategy. Here are some examples:


USING INFERENCES: Read The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Palocco. On a “Character Study Chart” have the headings: Character’s Name, What he/she says, What he/she does, What I can Tell. Identify a character, such as the grandmother. From a page in the story, write down in the boxes on the chart what the grandmother says and does, and then ask the students how they think the grandmother feels or what she thinks.
AUTHOR’S VIEWPOINT: In the book Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, the author has a clear viewpoint about whether living forever is a good thing or not. Similar to the “Character Study Chart”, have the students identify the author’s point of view and back it up with examples from the book. Then have them share/write their own opinion and back it up with evidence/examples.
COMPARE/CONTRAST: In My Teacher for President, by Kay Winters, have the students make a Venn diagram of the similarities and differences between teachers’ and presidents’ jobs. Depending on the age, you could even go beyond the book and ask the students to compare and contrast students and citizens in the same way.
MAIN IDEA and SUPPORTING DETAILS: Any non-fiction book will have a clear main idea and supporting details. Pick books that go with your Social Studies or Science curriculum. Have students draw a simple four-legged table with the Main Idea written on top of the table. Then on each of the four legs underneath, the students list a supporting detail from the book with either words or pictures or both.

Using trade books is easy when you know what you need to teach. Start with a read aloud of your favorite book tomorrow!

Kirsten Werk has taught for more than twenty years in both Washington and California, second-language learners, students in poverty, as well as students in affluent, private schools. Her current third grade class is at a Title I school and includes 60% ELD students, 95% free and reduced lunch, and over 90% minority students. Since Kirsten has been there, her school has raised their API score nearly 300 points. In 2005, the Touchmath Company awarded her a $1,000 grant for helping low-achieving students raise their math proficiency. In 2007, she was awarded Teacher of the Year.

Kirsten Werk also creates Teacher and Book Club Guides for Authors: Teacher Guide for The Healing Spell and Mother/Daughter Book Club Guide.

So do we look like sisters?


Kimberley Griffiths Little just finished her 9th book event for The Healing Spell (Scholastic Press). Her next Middle-Grade novel is scheduled for release October, 2011, also with Scholastic. Currently, she’s crashing with a stack of books, a box of chocolates, the remote–AND listening to the totally cool music written for her book trailer, which Scholastic negotiated for FREE DOWNLOAD from Nua Music (bottom of the page).

5 Responses to Using Trade Books in the Classroom!

  1. I’m glad that my girls have reading time each day during school, and I always encourage them to read at home, too. Great tips for teachers who don’t feel they have enough time for the children to read during class!

  2. Karen B. Schwartz

    My son’s teacher does a lot of these things. Still, he just wants to read and not write about it at all. On the bright side, trade books in the classroom have exposed him to books he normally wouldn’t check out of the library on his own.

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! If only teachers would realize that students need to know that they are readers, too. Even in my small arena of homework support and tutoring, I have spent my own money to set up a library and I am reading as fast as I can. When a student comes to the “library,” they will look at me and ask if I have read the book that they have picked up. I am always honest. Chances are if I say that I haven’t had time to read that one, they are more likely to put it back and get something I have read. I realize teachers can’t read everything, but they can be creative and work together, read different books, and take 30 minutes one afternoon and share.

  4. Fascinating and informative. Thanks so much! I’m not a teacher, but this post did shed light on the kind of work I see my daughter doing in her second grade class. I’m happy to see that in her classroom, they are doing many of the things outlined above – the teacher readaloud time is the most popular activity in her class!

  5. I wish every teacher was like this! You two make quite the impressive pair of sisters :)