Think Outside the Textbook When Teaching Social Studies

June 19, 2019
Ryan Crawley

The school textbook business is mainly operated by three or four companies. It is a bit of a monopoly as schools usually choose the same textbook companies time after time. And don’t think this industry is small potatoes. The textbook industry is worth between 7 to 10 billion dollars.

Textbooks continue to rise in cost at an alarming rate. On average, a new textbook will cost the school about $250 per student with Pearson Education controlling most of the market. Textbook companies tend to squeeze out the competition and year after year they reap major profits. It seems they are the ones getting rich in education.

Don’t Bow Down to the Textbook

The problem is that too many educators use textbooks in the classroom as the end all be all for what students need to know. Textbooks are merely meant to be supplemental to whatever else you are using in the classroom. To depend on one thing so completely to tell you how to teach your students is a bit crazy. If you tend to currently teach straight out of the textbook for any subject, then you have fallen into the habit of lazy teaching. Don’t worry, it’s not too late for you!

Reading Levels Are Difficult and the Text Can Be Boring

It is easy to lose your audience when you are just using the textbook for much of your teaching. Not only are the reading levels usually a full grade level or two ahead of the grade they are meant for, making it difficult text to understand, but the text can be about as dry as can be. Trying to make the text exciting for the students can be extremely tough. Instead, it has the opposite effect and can be a snooze fest. Break the habit!

21st Century Learning Demands a Change

Social Studies is a subject that many students will find less than thrilling if taught straight from the textbook. Good thing for you that today, you don’t even have to really use the textbook at all to educate your students. There are a few tricks I have picked up over the years that tend to make the students sit up and take notice much better.

Create Your Own Material

Do you really need a 400-page textbook? In reality, you will be lucky to even get through half of it during the school year. The key is to cut out a lot of the fat and to stick with what they need to know.

I always have packets for my students (especially for Social Studies) so they rarely even bring their textbooks out of their desks. The packets consist partly of copied pages from the textbook that I deem worthy. But most of it is from sheets I created or from packets that I have found online. It is quick and easy to find valuable packets for each topic that you will cover in Social Studies. You may have to pay a dollar or two if you come across it online, but then you can use it year after year. It is well worth the investment to diversify the content students receive.

Writing Is a Must in Social Studies

Integrating all subject areas into Social Studies is not a difficult thing to do. It is time to add some writing assignments into your lessons instead of just having students read and answer topical questions. Assign books of fiction that go along with what the students are learning in Social Studies. Then have the students write papers either comparing and contrasting the different texts or even just summarizing the main points from the novel.

Use the Internet to Your Advantage

There are apps and websites that go hand in hand with what you are trying to teach your students in Social Studies. Many of these are totally free to use as well. If you aren’t already using them, then it is time that you did. Just doing an online search will yield you many great sites and apps to visit.

Think Outside the Box I’m not saying to totally abandon the Social Studies textbook altogether. You simply have to expand how you teach Social Studies. Simulations, debates, mock trials, gamification, there are awesome resources out there to dive right in! After all, who knows better than the teacher what the students should be learning? If we are merely to teach straight from the textbook, then there is no need to go through rigorous years of education courses. They could bring a robot in and do that job. It will take a bit more planning, but you will enjoy teaching Social Studies a heck of a lot more once you have more input on what you are teaching your students.


Ryan Crawley is an educator from Illinois with a Master’s in Reading and Literacy. Before he entered the wonderful world of education, Ryan was a journalist for about 10 years. He enjoys spending his free time with his two dogs, Flair and Smoosh.

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