Using Books Thematically

Nancy Padak
Kent State University

Books that address similar or related topics, concepts, or issues can be used instructionally in a variety of ways. In addition to providing several perspectives on areas of focus, using many books related to a concept or theme allows learners at many achievement levels to work together. Several ideas for using related books follow.

    bullet Use the K-W-L technique (pdf format) to begin a unit of study. Provide many books related to the unit, and ask learners (individually or in pairs) to search through the books to find answers to the questions the group has generated (i.e., the "W" column of the chart). This will also provide a natural opportunity to teach reference skills, as you might ask learners to indicate where they found answers to questions by citing the page number and the book's bibliographic information.

    bullet Select a single book related to the theme for all learners to read. Provide additional titles for individuals or small groups to read.

    bullet Provide a variety of books related to a broad topic, e.g., "Women in History." Ask learners to read one book related to the topic. Then invite discussion of ways to share information from the books. In the "Women in History" example, learners might develop a group time line, create character sketches, synthesize information about the issues and circumstances that made these women important figures, etc.

    bullet Select a variety of books that represent a particular genre (e.g., short stories, poetry, legends and tales). Ask students to read some texts. Then invite conversation about similarities, characteristics of the genre, etc. A chart or matrix might be a useful summarizing tool.

    bullet Select a broad concept, such as "Change." Then collect books about different aspects of the concept, such as environmental change, immigration, aging, discoveries and inventions, death. Learners can focus on one aspect of the concept (e.g., immigration) and then share ideas about change with others who have read about other aspects of the concept. Another option is for learners to read several books, each related to a different aspect of the concept (e.g., a book about aging, a book about environmental change).

    bullet Arrange books chronologically, and ask learners to read one title from "then" and another from "now." For example, the study of Appalachian culture might include "then" titles such as Fleishman's The Borning Room, Hendershot's In Coal Country and Up the Tracks to Grandma's, Rylant's When I was Young in the Mountains, and Thomas's Come Go With Me. "Now" titles might include Carson's Stories I Ain't Told No One Yet, Lyons's Choices and More Choices, and Rylant's An Angel for Solomon Singer and Missing May. Sharing, discussion, and writing can then focus on similarities and differences over time.

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