Tip 12: How to NOT Use a Text

What if, for whatever reason, there is no text for your course? Maybe they had to add another section or the bookstore messed up or the publisher went defunct. Or maybe you just didn’t like any of your options and wanted to try to go it alone. What can you do?

Use the Net
First, of course, is going to be finding help on the net. The internet is available to most students at home and all students at school. If you find useful online tools, the students won’t have to print them out and neither will you, which saves money and trees.

Assuming that your school offers access to the computer in each classroom for presentation purposes, you could even introduce things from the net there.

What kinds of things can you find?

Think about your favorite things from old textbooks, either from teaching or going to school. What were the great assignments? readings? activities? Look for those kinds of things.

A general intro to college
I use an introduction to college written by a biology professor at a residential university, Dr. Mom’s Guide to College. Some of what she says isn’t relevant to my students, but if they have more questions, they know the site is there.

Models for writing
There are good models for writing up there too. I found an excellent example of a cause/effect essay that I now use in my classroom.

Exercises and activities
Of course, being a Purdue alum, I love the OWL (online writing lab), which has great grammar exercises and activities and explanations on avoiding plagiarism.

Purdue is not the only useful source though. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign even has a resource page for other writing centers that teachers might want. Malaspina has a collection of Writing Across the Curriculum discussions that include examples of assignments in different disciplines.

Litertature backgroud info
Introductions to various texts and types of essays are also online. For instance, I was teaching Gulliver’s Travels and went looking for a history of satire, especially as it related to the work. I found a good definition, a very short history with an emphasis on the book, and a much more detailed history of satire from Encarta. All of these together helped me to prepare my introduction to satire in Gulliver.

Or sometimes I can find a helpful site with lots of information. Perspectives in American Literature by Professor Reuben has lots of research and reference information including biographies of authors, study questions, and bibliographies.

The sites your students will use
There are lots of summary sites, like SparkNotes, PinkMonkeyNotes, and BookRags. They allow the students to know things about texts without having read them.

I use them to make sure my essay questions aren’t on the site. Or to make sure that I ask something that isn’t on the site. (Bad grad school experience with a fellow student making A’s reading Cliff Notes while I was struggling.)

Sometimes, though, I will finish a work in class and have them take a quiz online. If we’re reading in class and they aren’t expecting a quiz, they won’t have found them. I got a quiz on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland off GradeSaver that is a good fact quiz. The students like it because it is multiple choice. I like it, too.

I often have students write about a work that we have read in class, because I use the in-class reading time to model reading for them. They then go home and write about it. Often times I don’t have a clear view of what they can answer. I love to read. I love to write. I can have too high of expectations sometimes. So I go see what other people have done. Sometimes I will use a few of their questions, too.

I found good Paradise Lost questions at Drake’s site and at Boyer’s.

Offer good information, with enrichment.

Just lecturing is not a good way to get your students engaged. However, lectures with enrichment can make quite a difference.

For example, in Early British Literature, we read quite a few works. After we’ve read the Old English translations and as we are moving on to the Middle English, I give a lecture on the rise and fall of women’s rights in England during those ages. (I use a lot of Christine Fell’s work for this.) We have some discussion of how the OE period showed women’s rights. Then, after the ME texts are read, I ask the students to write a paper comparing the two using at least two works per period. I gave a lecture; we had a discussion; they wrote a paper.

Or I discuss description. We go through some description exercises (such as this one), then read the Exeter Riddles (as discussed in Description Papers), and write our own riddles.

Provide note-taking handouts.

If I am going to often be talking about something each class, I work up a note-taking handout. It has a general outline format, which I follow in my lecture, and let the students fill in the blanks.

When you are doing this, make sure that the blanks they have to fill in are the important things. Don’t give them the most essential information pre-printed. Doing this helps them follow your lecture more easily and indicates which parts you think are most important.

Then test them over those!

Read the texts online

This is especially true in literature.

Online Books Page from University of Pennsylvania.

Project Gutenberg

Internet Public Library

But even if the work you want isn’t in these, it may still be on the net.

For dramas, I like to go find the works and watch them as plays. They weren’t written to be read, though we English teachers like to do that. They were written to be seen. Perhaps two presentations of the same play, both fairly close to the original writing, would be a way to look at “different readings” of the same text. You can find a lot of videos through the college and local libraries.

Other people’s experiences

Apparently math is a bigger discipline for textbook-free classes. As you can imagine English teachers are much more book oriented.

Five Positive Sutdent Outcomes from the Textbook-free Algebra Class

Free online textbooks, videos, tutorials, and lecture notes on mathematics

And, this one is fun, Textbook Free for All.

A new wiki-project has been started at the University of Georgia, which aims to pool knowledge in free online texts. …When Watson was asked to teach a course on a type of computer language called XML. He found no decent textbooks — and so asked his 2004 class to create one as part of their studies. Others encouraged him to expand the idea and now, he says, “It’s my weekend and evening job”. More than 100 people in 20 countries are now involved, including Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Columbia and Indonesia. Some teachers in developing countries have already suggested a particular need for textbooks in agriculture, public health and wireless technology. The project is still embryonic.

Maybe you can write an online textbook as part of this wiki-project. (Would that count as publishing?)

Don’t despair.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t have a textbook, don’t despair. Think of it as a grad-school level challenge and maybe, just maybe, you will come up with something better than a text.

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