Beyond the Book: 3 Ways to Supplement Textbooks

Textbooks often get a really bad reputation. When I first began my teaching career, I worked at a school that didn't have ANY textbooks that we followed with fidelity. The only textbook we had was for math, but we weren't required to use them. I spent the first several years of teaching recreating EVERY wheel that existed.

As much as I enjoyed creating the bulk of my lessons, there are definitely upsides to having a textbook to use as a guide. As much of a proponent as I am of supplementing and creating curriculums, it's important to remember that textbooks can also make our lives easier, help use target standards, provide assessments, and so much more. Truly, textbooks can be large assets in making our classrooms better places.

Remember: Textbooks can't do it all. Not one curriculum is perfect. There are often times when supplementing the textbook with other activities or instruction is necessary. Here are several reasons why you may want to supplement your textbook and how you can do so.

Three ways to supplement textbooks in upper elementary to provide engaging instruction and meet all students' needs.

#1 It may not be meeting all your students' needs.

Every teacher knows the battle. You have a room full of students and all of them have unique strengths and challenges. Many of our students also have challenges that require consistent accommodations to their work or instruction. You may also have students who are learning English in your classroom.

While textbook companies often try to include instructions for differentiation, they can’t predict the unique needs of your students. This is when supplementing becomes necessary. For example, you may need to bring in other manipulatives for math. In science, you may need to show a video on photosynthesis in order for students to fully grasp the topic. Don’t be afraid to venture away the textbook to give your students what they need.

#2 The textbook may not offer an engaging lesson.

Textbooks can be very “sit down and work” heavy. There is a time and a place for this type of work, but as teachers we also know that our students need movement and collaboration at times. If you notice that you are losing your students' attention when using the textbook, it may be time to supplement.

Supplementing to make the lessons engaging can be fairly easy. Try putting end-of-chapter questions in a Kahoot! for some added fun. Build in opportunities for students to share and collaborate as they work. For example, instead of working on math problems on a worksheet from the textbook, have students write on a whiteboard and then check their answer with a partner. You could even have your students complete an escape room over a topic you've just covered from the textbook.

#3 Your students need more time / practice.

Textbooks can be so stuffed with items that it is overwhelming. When I look at the pacing guide for my textbook, I wonder how I will even have time to breathe! There will likely be many times when the textbook would like you to move along to the next item, but your students are not ready yet. They may need more time or simply more practice.

Supplementing can help you get students ready to move onto the next skill. If you feel like you have utilized what your book has to offer, but the kids aren’t getting it – it’s time to supplement. You may look for an online program that has ready-to-go practice for students. Or you could create a Quizizz or Quizlet with practice questions. You may also want to play a review game. I always enjoy using Lead4Ward’s Instructional Strategies Playlist for any sort of review.

Engaging Resources Can Help Supplement Textbooks

Textbooks may have a bad reputation, but it’s often a great resource to have. However, textbooks can’t do it all. There are many times when supplementing the textbook will be necessary. The great thing is – you don’t have to come up with it all on your own. I have tons of high-quality, ready-made resources to help teachers supplement textbooks. Take a peek at my resources here.

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