Go Beyond the Textbook: Inspire Students to Learn About Psychology

18 Oct 2017 10:30 AM | Anonymous

By Peri Yuksel, Ph.D., New Jersey City University (Email: pYuksel@njcu.edu, Twitter: @drperi_)

 “Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” 

-Plato (student of Socrates)

By now it is no secret that very few students complete their required textbook readings before coming to class and a large number of students only start to read their textbook when preparing for an exam (Clump, Bauer, & Bradley, 2004; Phillips & Phillips, 2007). So why do we still believe that assigning required textbook readings is an effective means of making learning stick? Reading a textbook is viewed as essential to build a factual knowledge base, especially for introductory classes. Without such content knowledge, we assume it is not possible for students to develop critical thinking and writing skills. Students have the tendency to think that instructors will explain the whole textbook and tell them what will be on the test. Yet great teachers inspire and teach their discipline beyond the textbook, allowing students to reflect and connect their academic context to real-life settings.

Given the difficulties of motivating students to read the textbook, I suggest that you assign a textbook that is affordable to your students and complement assigned readings with homework, group presentations, and in-class activities that require students to utilize their textbook. For example, when teaching Developmental Psychology, I use an older version of Berk’s Development through the Lifespan textbook and organize activities and assessments around the text to improve students’ memory by spacing learning over time (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, & Willingham, 2013). When students spend more time with the course material, they attend more closely to their own learning and develop metacognition. Here are four simple techniques I have used to augment the textbook reading experience.

a)    Complement the Textbook with TED Talks

I ask my students to watch ten TED Talks that complement the assigned textbook readings and I prompt them to draw connections between the TED Talks and textbook content/course discussions (Yuksel, 2017). TED speakers portray an array of diverse backgrounds and offer multifaceted perspectives and cutting edge research findings on topics that are also covered by a course textbook. Each of these elements helps students to understand global issues and fosters their understanding of the subject they are studying. By going beyond the textbook, TED Talks can inspire students to think about their own passions and conceive of ways to develop their own paths.

b)    Demonstrate and Use the Textbook for In-Class Activities

Reading about research methodology and theory can be dry and daunting, especially for students who have not taken a psychology course before and who have never seen a research lab. Periodically, I ask my students to bring in their textbooks and use it to complete an activity package (Experiments with Infants and Toddlers) that I have designed. Students see the exact same textbook images demonstrating the research paradigm (e.g., violation-of-expectancy, deferred imitation) and are asked to fill in information about the research question, study design, age of children, overall findings, and developmental explanations. In class, students also watch short video-clips that illustrate the relevant experiments. These clips go beyond the textbook, create memorable visual images from real lab settings, and foster deeper learning and understanding of hypothesis testing (Berk, 2009).

c)     Encourage Group Presentation Targeting the Textbook

From a list of topics selected from the textbook, students pick one and give a short group presentation. In addition to creating a set of PowerPoint slides, students also submit a one-page summary paper discussing the relevance of the chosen topic to their current or future professional goals. By doing so they are signaling that this topic has self-reference and is worth remembering (Wade, Tavris, & Garry, 2014). The group presentations go beyond the textbook and allow students to collaborate on a focused project and apply ideas from the textbook to important societal problems. Students also gain insights into socio-political issues and learn techniques that help them make healthy and ethical choices.

d)    Let Students Create Their Own Mind Maps to Organize Textbook Content

Especially in the beginning of the semester when the first exam is approaching, students often remind me that we have not covered the entirety of each assigned textbook chapter. I give them a simple answer: it is not important that we cover everything but that you discovered something. I provide them with simple learning strategies and tools to organize information from the textbook, such as outlining the chapters with relevant vocabulary and creating mind maps, i.e., visual diagrams that manage, summarize, and highlight their notes.

There are many reasons why students do not read the textbook. If you explicitly integrate the textbook into your course activities and assessments and make reading relevant to psychological discoveries that go beyond the classroom setting, then students will be inspired to read and expand their views on the everyday science of psychology. They will come to understand that knowledge is power and contributes to creativity and imagination.


Berk, L. E. (2014). Development through the Lifespan. New York: Pearson.

Berk, R. A. (2009). Multimedia teaching with video clips: TV, movies, YouTube, and mtvU in the college classroom. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning5(1), 1-21.

Clump, M. A., Bauer, H., & Breadley, C. (2004). The extent to which psychology students read textbooks: A multiple class analysis of reading across the psychology curriculum. Journal of Instructional Psychology31(3), 227-232.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning and comprehension by using effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4–58.

Phillips, B. J., & Phillips, F. (2007). Sink or skim: Textbook reading behaviors of introductory accounting students. Issues in Accounting Education22(1), 21-44.

Wade, C., Tavris, C., & Garry, M. (2014). The Nine Secrets of Learning. Psychology (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, Inc.

Yuksel, P.  (2017). Ten TED Talk Thinking Tasks: Engaging College Students in Structured Self-Reflection to Foster Critical Thinking. In R. Obeid, A. Schwartz, C. Shane-Simpson, & P. J. Brooks, (Eds). (2017). How We Teach Now: The GSTA Guide to Student- Centered Teaching.  Retrieved from Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/.

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