By Kavin Ming and Cheryl Mader

Teachers can find trade books for use with adolescent learners in a variety of content areas with a little bit of exploration on key web sites.

ela-cc1610_mingAs teachers of a Content Area Reading and Writing graduate course, we always look forward to teaching the topic of Learning with Trade Books. We like this lesson because we share ideas for how pre- and in-service teachers can integrate literature into the teaching of their various content areas. We especially enjoy bringing in trade books that span the multiple content areas represented in the course to give students an opportunity to explore the kinds of books available.

The responses we get from students are typically twofold. First, many students who plan to teach at the secondary level are surprised that so many trade books are available for use with adolescent learners; they usually note that their high school teachers rarely used trade books in any content-area instruction. Second, students are curious where they can find trade books in their own content areas.

Although our lesson featured extensive discussion and book sharing, we often felt it fell short because we didn’t have a list of resources to share with students. We targeted trade book sources for high school because many of our students planned to teach at that level. As a result, we compiled a list of web sites, as opposed to finite lists of books, according to content area. We focused on web sites for two reasons. First, we could connect students to a more extensive list of materials than would be possible with hardcopy documents. Second, we wanted students to realize that they can find a wide array of books through online exploration; by providing this list of a dozen web sites, we hoped it would whet their appetite to continue searching for more.

What are trade books?

But first, let’s define the term. defines trade books as “books designed for the general public and available through an ordinary book dealer.” In 2014, the United States trade book industry sold 2.42 billion books, generating a total revenue of $15.43 billion (Bluestone, 2015). The largest area of growth within the trade book industry was in the category of children’s and young adult books.

Trade books fall into several different genres, or categories, including biographies, contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, poetry, science fiction, and traditional literature. Each genre has its own distinct format and age range. Many of these genres and subgenres are specified in the Common Core State Standards as text types to which all K-12 students should be exposed.

Why do we need to incorporate trade books in our teaching?

According to the International Reading Association (2012), adolescent learners must be able to comprehend and construct information using print materials across disciplines. Yet a 2015 report by the National Association for Educational Progress paints a bleak picture. According to the report, only 37% of 12th-grade students scored at or above proficiency levels in reading, indicating that only a little over one-third of U.S. high school seniors are able to interact appropriately with challenging material.

Because reading pervades every content area, adolescent learners have specific areas of need that must be addressed if they are to achieve success in their high school classrooms.

  • Students must be motivated to read, write, and do literacy-related activities. They must understand that the desire to learn is an internal process crucial to their academic development (Campbell & Kmiecik, 2004).
  • Students must see the connections between their current literacies and academic literacies ¾ that is, that their skill sets are related to the tasks required of them in their academic content areas (Pitcher et al., 2010).
  • Students must be able to read and process the unique features of text across various disciplinary subject areas. In a single day, when students move from one subject to the next, the discipline-specific literacy needed in each area is extremely different (Fang, 2012).
  • Students must be able to understand vocabulary concepts that aid in comprehending content area material. The academic vocabulary of each content area differs greatly, and students must be able to process and internalize large amounts of distinct academic vocabulary to learn specific content (D’Archangelo, 2002).
  • Students need reading material at levels that are appropriate for them. High school students vary greatly in their literacy training before reaching the secondary level; as a result, their reading levels differ dramatically. For them to be truly engaged with content, they must have access to materials they’re able to read (Campbell & Kmiecik, 2004).

What’s the connection to the Common Core?

Achieve, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Student Achievement Partners have partnered to support educators with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. They have developed a set of instruments for evaluating alignment to the standards. In the area of text selection, Achieve (2014) states that

additional materials aim to increase regular independent reading of texts that appeal to students’ interests while developing both their knowledge base and joy in reading …. [I]n alignment with the standards and to acknowledge the range of students’ interests, these materials should include informational texts and literacy nonfiction as well as literature. (p. 344)

Under the umbrella of informational text and literary nonfiction, the Common Core State Standards outlines several genres, including poetry, narrative, science/technical, fiction, and nonfiction. Here are a few examples of texts that teachers could integrate into their teaching:

  • Poetry in physical education: American Sports Poems by R.R. Knudson and May Swenson
  • Historical nonfiction in social studies: Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
  • Biography in theater: drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow
  • Technical/nonfiction in science: Monkeys, Myths, and Molecules by Joe Schwarcz
  • Contemporary fiction in dance: The Crane’s Dance by Meg Howrey

And here’s the list!

Trade books are powerful tools that teachers can use to support the diverse reading backgrounds and needs of learners across the disciplines (Alexander, 2011). However, simply having an overabundance of books from which to choose doesn’t benefit content teachers unless they know where to find books appropriate to their specific content area and developmental levels of their students. This became clear to us in a survey we conducted in our Content Area Reading and Writing course. Although students indicated it was important to integrate trade books into their teaching, few had knowledge about how to locate such books.

We offer here a list of a dozen web sites that provide credible and worthwhile sources to use in incorporating trade books into instruction (see Figure 1). Ten content areas are targeted: art, mathematics, music, physical education, science, theater, dance, social studies/history, English language arts, and foreign languages. Providing content area teachers with such a list of web sites is one way to assist them in designing effective literacy instruction in the various content areas and supporting improvements in adolescent literacy.


Achieve. (2014). Toolkit for evaluating alignment of instructional and assessment materials to the Common Core State Standards.

Alexander, T.R. (2011). Strategies and picture books: Scaffolds to support learners in content-area reading. Insights on Learning Disabilities, 8 (2), 15-29.

Bluestone, M. (2015). U.S. publishing industry’s annual survey reveals $28 billion in revenue in 2014.

Campbell, M.B. & Kmiecik, M.M. (2004). The greatest literacy challenges facing contemporary high school teachers: Implications for secondary teacher preparation. Reading Horizons, 45 (1), 1-25.

D’Arcangelo, M. (2002). The challenge of content-area reading: A conversation with Donna Ogle. Educational Leadership, 60 (3), 12-15.

Fang, Z. (2012). The challenges of reading disciplinary texts. In T.L. Jetton & C. Shanahan, (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the academic disciplines: General principles and practical strategies (pp. 34-68). New York, NY: Guilford Publications.

International Reading Association. (2012). Adolescent literacy position statement.

National Association of Educational Progress. (2015). Mathematics and reading at grade 12.

National Governors Association, Center for Best Practices, and Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects, Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards, glossary of key terms. Washington, DC: Author.

Pitcher, S.M., Martinez, G., Dicembre, E.A., Fewster, D., & McCormick, M.K. (2010). The literacy needs of adolescents in their own words. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 53 (8), 636-645.

© 2016 Phi Delta Kappa International. All rights reserved.

KAVIN MING ( is associate professor and literacy coordinator at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C. CHERYL MADER ( is an associate professor of education at West Virginia University, Parkersburg.