How to Use Your Textbook as a Resource

We hear it all the time: “Use your textbook as a resource.” But what does it really mean? After studying your standards, analyze your book to find strengths, weaknesses, and omissions.

Ms. Sneed Uses the Textbook as a Resource

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, entered the teachers’ lounge. Then she sat down across from her teammate. While she unpacked her lunch, Ms. Sneed started talking shop. “Let’s plan our place value unit. As we discussed last year, we definitely want to use the textbook as a resource.”

Mr. Frank nodded. “Agreed. We can use parts of it, but the math book doesn’t address the standards like we want. Let’s meet tomorrow morning to get started.”

First, Deconstruct the Standards

When Mr. Frank entered the classroom the next morning, Ms. Sneed was seated at the side table. “We’ve already deconstructed our math standards.” She pointed at the screen on her open laptop. “First, let’s take a look at CCSS 4.NBT.A.2:

Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on the meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.

“Ah,” Mr. Frank responded, looking on. “After pulling this apart, I see that we have five objectives. Kids need to read numerals; write using numerals, words, and expanded form; and compare. To scaffold instruction, we can begin with the basics of place value. Then we can move to more and more complex concepts.”

Wondering how to use your textbook as a resource? Begin by deconstructing your standards.
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Second, Figure Out How to Use Your Textbook as a Resource

“Since we already gave the place value pretest,” Ms. Sneed said, “we have a starting point. From the scores, I don’t think they have a good concept of Base 10 numerals.”

“Same,” Mr. Frank responded.

Ms. Sneed pulled the teacher’s edition of her math textbook out of her bag and opened it to the chapter on place value. “Now, we’ll go through the text and analyze it. This won’t take long.”

Strong Activities and Text – Use the Book

“The first section of the chapter addresses the value of digits in each place,” said Mr. Frank. “Actually, that covers the previous standard. But kids also learn to write whole numbers with numerals. In my opinion, the explanation, activities, and problem sets address the second objective just fine.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. Then she checked off the second objective and turned the page.

Strong Text, Weak Activities – Use the Textbook as a Resource

“In the second section, kids order and compare numbers. The problem sets are okay. However, the book offers no activities to help kids conceptualize it.”

“Hmm,” said Ms. Sneed. She turned to her laptop and clicked around a bit. “How about this comparing numbers game? Kids roll dice and arrange the numbers. Then they compare and order.”


Use the textbook as a resource when it offers weak or no activities.

Strong Activities, Weak Text – Use Your Textbook as a Resource

Once again, Ms. Sneed turned the page. “Expanded form,” she said. “Yes, the explanation and instructional opportunities are good. But wait a minute. Where are the opportunities for independent practice? We definitely need some extra expanded form worksheets for this objective.”

She clicked away on her laptop until she found some. “And hey, these are even differentiated,” she told her teaching partner.

When activities are strong but problem sets are weak, it's time to use the textbook as a resource - and grab some extra worksheets.

Weak Activities, Weak Text – Ditch the Textbook

As Ms. Sneed turned to the next page, she found a chapter review. “Hmm, just as I suspected. Some of our objectives are missing!”

“Yep, reading numerals and writing numbers in words.”

Again, Ms. Sneed returned to her computer. Soon, she found what she wanted. “This set of multi-digit number activities teaches kids to read numerals out loud, as well as write them in words.”

Mr. Frank smiled and gave a thumbs-up to his teaching partner. “Now to rewrite the assessment,” he added.

If the textbook neglects a topic, ditch it and use alternative resources.

Enjoy Teaching

As she pulled out her plan book, Ms. Sneed sighed deeply. “I can’t believe that we relied on our textbook so heavily up to this point,” she said. “Due to our blind trust, our instruction suffered.”

“Right. Using the textbook as a resource makes sense. First, deconstruct the standards. Second, see what works. Third, grab additional resources.”

“And fourth,” Ms. Sneed added, “we’ll make sure that our sequence and activities scaffold kids to mastery.”

She picked up her pencil, ready to write the plans in her book. “But wait, what about some interdisciplinary applications?”

Ms. Sneed jumped up and hurried over to her desk. When she returned, she laid an open social studies book in front of Mr. Frank. “Look at this page. It lists the population for our state by decade. Let’s have our kids read these numbers aloud, write them in words and expanded form.”

“Wow,” her teaching partner said, “I feel so much more confident about addressing this topic. And that makes me enjoy teaching even more.”

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