Important Considerations In Choosing Reading Materials

Important Considerations In Choosing Reading Materials

The most important considerations in choosing reading materials are: reading level, readability, content, cost, and number of pages per week. Read all material you assign your students, to judge relevance and identify potential problems of interpretation or elements of controversy. In grading essay tests, you must be familiar with the sources on which they are based, whether these sources contradict one another, and whether they contain errors of fact or interpretation. For the same reasons, it is important to read the course materials if you are a discussion leader, lab assistant, or grader, even though you have not had a hand in choosing the readings. If you must use a textbook someone else has selected, subject it to the analysis outlined below to determine its suitability.

Reading Level

On average, the undergraduates enter the University reading at approximately the eleventh-grade level, which means that they may not be able to handle the level and amount of reading material you assign. Publishers’ representatives can provide information on the reading level of texts they sell, and colleagues in your department can tell you which texts and materials they have used successfully.


If you are choosing a textbook, evaluate the author’s approach to the subject, layout of the chapters, and its pedagogical features. With regard to content, the book should be correct, precise, and accurate (the same criteria applies to all monographic materials). Chapters or units must be of manageable length for students to master in the time allowed, and should have pedagogical features which will help them read and understand the content: chapter outlines, summaries, thought questions, lists of important terms and definitions, colored or boldfaced type for significant content, and so forth.


Sometimes publishers sell student workbooks to accompany the textbook, and these can be useful if they contain exercises and assignments that correspond to your objectives for the course (don’t automatically assume the workbook is a good idea – examine it as critically as the textbook). You should also be cautious about using the teacher’s edition of the textbook or the teacher’s manual that may accompany the book. Beware, too, of the convenient lists of multiple-choice questions in the teacher’s manual – many of them violate the principles of good test construction (see the teaching techniques for guidelines on using multiple-choice tests).

Amount of Reading

The amount of reading you can require of your students depends upon several factors. Freshmen are not as capable of handling a heavy reading load as upperclassmen, and care should be taken to adjust the amount of reading, or the time allowed for completion, when the required material is extremely challenging (even for upperclassmen). Remember, too, that undergraduates usually take four or five courses per semester, and assigning a disproportionate amount of reading for one course may make it difficult for them to get all their coursework done. Once again, teachers in your department can provide advice in this regard. Ask several of them, however, because there may be disagreement about how much is reasonable.


If a textbook meets all your criteria but costs $100.00, consider the cost-benefit ratio for your students (similarly, a monograph and a half-dozen paperbacks may cost a considerable amount). Although there are some wealthy students, they are in the minority, and the average student is painfully aware of the cost of books. They are unlikely to get even a third of the price they paid when they sell the books back to Student Stores. One way to reduce costs for your students is to place materials on reserve at the Undergraduate Library.


Local copy centers will provide forms for requesting copyright clearance, which is legally necessary for copying journal articles, chapters from books, and various other printed sources. It is also a good idea to write an introduction for each article to provide some context for the readings. The best teachers also include sets of questions for students to answer as they read the articles.

Lab Manuals

If you teach a class in one of the natural sciences that requires a laboratory section, carefully examine the lab manual. Some manuals consist of little more than one or two pages for each exercise, with crude drawings of the apparatus, sold as a package through a local copy center. Others may be lengthy, expensively printed books, with pictures of materials and apparatus not available in your laboratory. Even when the manual is well-produced and appropriate for the experiments, it may not match information contained in the course textbook and you will need to make adjustments and corrections when you teach that material. If you are a lab TA in a large department, you may have to overcome problems and deficiencies in the lab manual by yourself. TAs who have taught the same labs in the past are an excellent source of information.


Megan Wilson is a teacher, life strategist, successful entrepreneur, inspirational keynote speaker and founder of Megan champions a radical rethink of our school systems; she calls on educators to teach both intuition and logic to cultivate creativity and create bold thinkers.



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