Writing your own textbook isn’t as scary as you think . . .

Well, it’s a little scary . . . but the rewards outweigh the scariness, I promise!

ImageOur social studies department has been working for the past year to come up with a new curriculum that replaces textbooks from a publishing company. There has been a lot of discussion at PLC meetings and a lot of attending professional development workshops.

I first heard the term eBooks from Glenn Wiebe when he met with elementary and middle school social studies teachers to discuss the new state standards and strategies we can use in our classroom to go along with them. But it wasn’t until I attended the workshop “Creating Content with Apple’s “iBook Author” with Kendall Warkentine (Derby USD) at the KCSS No Citizen Left Behind conference last fall in Topeka that I really started processing the idea of creating my own content.

I decided to start with something that I knew fairly well: Ancient Greece. Then I took all my materials that I typically use when working through this unit with my 6th graders and sorted through information that I wanted to include in my “textbook”. The format I used was iBooks Author – you must have OS Mountain Lion to install the iBooks Author software.

To create my “textbook” I just thought about what I would say to my students during a lesson over the different subtopics with Ancient Greece, and typed them up as text. I even included the little jokes I make and sayings I used to help them remember vocabulary. What’s great about iBooks Author is you can also include videos and pictures in your book.

A great place to find content that does not violate copyright laws is http://search.creativecommons.org/. The videos were not as easy. My all time favorite videos to show my students are the Horrible Histories series by BBC. If you aren’t sure whether a video or picture is copyright-friendly, just ask the publisher! Usually they are sympathetic to educators, and I did not make any money of my book so that helped as well. I’ve done this several times with the writers at Go Social Studies Go and they are always very quick in responding to my request. You can also include different widgets like photo galleries, Keynote presentations, 3D models, and review questions!

In the end, my iBooks ended up being about five chapters long. When I do this again, I will not create one large book for my whole unit – this took entirely too long to download onto 29 iPads at school. I will probably break down each chapter separate iBooks to make it easier to access.

Responses I got from students when I posed the question “If you could describe the iBook you read about Ancient Greece in one word, what would it be?”Image

  • “Awesome”
  • “Cool”
  • “Different”
  • “Fun”

I think the students liked being able to read and engage in the content at their own pace. We would do formative assessments as the students worked through each chapter and I was amazed that the students actually retained the information they read without taking any form of notes!!

It was so nice to step away from the far-too-traditional lecture style of presenting social studies content and let the students discover it on their own. Also, it was personalized to my own style of teaching. The kids knew when they read certain things that “that’s something Ms. Klassen would say,” rather than reading something that was edited by a teacher across the country that had no clue my students were even reading their work!

If you are looking to freshen up your curriculum and have access to technology with your students I would highly suggest you consider writing your own textbook. It is so rewarding and will benefit your students in the long run!


This is an example of a post-reading exercise I used called “wall-talk”. I wrote questions about the reading and posted them around the room and students went around answering questions and discussing what they read by “talking to the wall” or writing their discussions on the poster.


About meganklassen

I teach 6th grade Pre-AP social studies and 8th grade American History at McPherson Middle School and am on the board for KCSS.

4 thoughts on “Writing your own textbook isn’t as scary as you think . . .

  1. Megan,
    I love the idea…
    I currently use an online history book which used to be on the US State Department’s website. It was written for incoming diplomats and so is accessable for an 8th grade reader. I teach them to annotate in the same way they will have to annotate for the research they’ll be doing later in the year.
    One of my visions is to give them the text and have them develop their own media-rich webpage using the text as a starting off point. They can add correctly sourced images, documents and original work (video, prezi, …). The challenge is teach me and them how to create a web page. Your suggestion for iBooks Author may solve that. Thanks.

    1. Dave,

      iBooks Author works great but don’t let it be a hurdle. The idea of creating your own textbook can come together using a variety of tools. Good luck as you jump in!


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