Education Book Reviews

The books on this page are specifically geared toward educational philosophy and best practices in teaching. My suggestions are all related to English/language arts, but I hope to add books related to other content areas as well.

If you’d like to add a book or comment on a book, please do so using the reply button. If your’e adding a book, remember to give the full title, author, publication date if possible.

I hope this page will become a great place for teaching resources.




  1. *Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What you Can do about it by Kelly Gallagher

    There’s a lot of good information and ideas in this book, but its focus is definitely aimed at districts that have essentially pitched their reading curriculum in favor of a test prep curriculum. Our district does not fall into that category, so I felt that much of his advice didn’t pertain to teachers who are luckily still teaching a lot of literature and other types of reading material. That said, he does offer some excellent ideas, even for teachers who are not battling test worshipping administrators. He suggests bringing more non-fiction, current events articles into the classroom as a part of reading skills and beefing up student knowledge of the outside world (surely all of our kids could use more of this) and he discusses ways to teach literature without digging in so deep and so often that kids end up hating the book. Still, in his attempt to show us what’s important and how to keep it manageable, I find that he proposes more than what’s realistic which frustrated me. He seems to gloss over a lot of hurdles and make the solutions look easier than they really are. At the end of the book he offers a book list for reluctant readers as well as some short writing activities to use as a way of holding students accountable for outside (free choice) reading. Overall, his message is this: students need to read more. And who can argue with that?


    • I’m thinking this might be a cautionary tale. The value of reading – whether it be enrichment or cold cash – is an important consideration. I think this book will provide us with an interesting discussion. I found your review very thought-provoking. In a way, I’m glad we don’t entirely agree on the book’s merit. See – our discussion has already begun.


  2. Teaching the Neglected “R” : Rethinking writing instruction in the classroom by Thomas Newkirk and Richard Kent

    Wow. This book is a real gem. It’s a compilation of articles by teachers and professors–kind of a quick look at the best of the best. I grabbed tons of ideas, even little half hour exercises, that I was not previously using, and I got lots of theoretical information as well. These chapters were my favorites: Donald Murray’s “Writing before Writing” and Barry Lane’s “Twenty-first Century Revision” which had lots of practical ideas. I love Tom Romano’s chapter on multi-genre because it takes all the best stuff from his book and recaps it in one chapter. Similarly, Monica Wood’s chapter called “Learning from Goldilocks” is a succinct piece on narrative writing–it pears down so much information into a single article, so if you don’t want to haul out 10 books on fiction writing, this one chapter gives a great overview and lots of practical application. David Boardman, Lisa Miller, and Sara Kajder get into writing in the digital age (digital storytelling, blogs, podcasting, etc), and while you’d need lots more information to actually use these genres in the classroom, they make impressive arguments for why we should read further and do more. And finally, Richard Kent. Ah, Richard Kent who makes us all feel like we’re not doing nearly enough. After reading his chapter, I felt a bit deflated. But I quickly moved on to others who seem a bit more realistic (but, yes, he does have great ideas).

    This book is great for one stop shopping. You’ll get an intro into so many important topics and then you can always read further in other sources. A definite must have book for all writing teachers.


  3. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter (2nd Ed.).

    This is a fantastic book for teaching narrative writing. Its layout makes it so handy to use with students. Chapters are short and each chapter presents a lesson–a teaching tool–and then offers exercises to try. You can easily skip around and use only those chapters that you have time for or that apply best to your own goals for students. If our narrative writing unit were a semester instead of 8 weeks, I would have used much more of this, but I was squeezed for time, so I chose some of the dialogue chapters, the section on story openings, and the sectioin on character development in which students have to number their paper 1 – 34 and then answer 34 questions about their main character. Needless to say, most could hardly answer 5 of them off the top of their head. This exercise enlightened them and overwhelmed them as they discovered they really didn’t know their main character well at all, and yet they had that character doing things in a story, things that may or may not have made sense. Bottom line: you have to know a character before you can write about him in such a way that will convince your readers he is real. I highly recommend this book to writers and writing teachers.


  4. In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, Ed. by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumer Jones (1999)

    This is a great source for writing models. It’s a book of short pieces (some are excerpts from longer works) that focus on the personal. Their aim was to put together a book of personal writing from a variety of authors showcasing a variety of forms. So the pieces range from memoir to essay to scene to episodic narrative. If you’re teaching narrative writing, these make excellent models to read aloud or to excerpt for students. Each one offers powerful elements of narrative writing that students can easily grasp. This is not a how-to book or even a book with writing suggestions; it’s more of an anthology, but a unique one for sure.


  5. True Stories: Guides for Writing from your Life by Rebecca Rule and Susan Wheeler (2000).

    This is an excellent source for personal narrative or really all narrative writing. The authors include chapters on use of dialogue, character development, plot development, use of detail, creation of tone and mood, and much more. They also include excellent exercises to develop these skills and they include some really good models. We use this book quite a bit in the narrative unit of our College Writing class. It’s an excellent book that’s well written and easy to use, either in parts or as a whole book.


  6. They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (2007)

    This is an excellent, easy to use, book about writing arguments. It includes a number of templates that help students phrase their opinion and to acknowledge the opposing side. The templates might seem a little hokey at first, but honestly, they are so helpful for students. The chapter on using outside sources (inserting quotes) is excellent, probably the best I’ve seen. It can be used for any kind of outside source, including quotes for a literary analysis papers. It oulines making a “quote sandwich” (introduction and context of quote, actual quote, student’s follow-up of quote) and how to avoid “hit and run” quotes (the one’s that are dropped in a paper and left there with no explanation of their significance). This is a small, but powerful book.


  7. Writers Inc by Patrick Sebranek, Dave Kemper, and Verne Meyer (2006)

    I’ve been using and asking my students to buy Writers Inc for the past 15 years. I still think it’s the best student writing handbook out there, and the 2006 edition is the best yet. Many of my students have taken theirs to college, so it ended up being $20 well spent. Some of the model essays are less than stellar, but the information in the book is excellent.


  8. Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers by Tom Romano (2000)

    This is an excellent introduction to multigenre papers, and Romano is kind of the multigenre guru, so it’s a great source. This book is relatively short, it offers 4-5 excellent and varied examples of multi genre papers, it offers lots of genre ideas and strategies for practicing them, and it offers an overview of the multigenre philosophy. I’d say this is a must for anyone asking students to creat multigenre projects, but it’s a good book about writing even if you’re not using it specifically for multigenre.


  9. Poetry 180 ed. by Billy Collins (2003); 180 More ed by Billy Collins (2005)

    If you’re teaching poetry, then students need to be reading poetry, and if you’re asking them to read poetry, I’d encourage them to read from these books of contemporary pieces because they offer poetry that’s part of the everyday world, not poetry that makes them say, huh? For many students, the poems in these books (which can be accessed online) offer real aha! moments. Suddenly poetry doesn’t seem so scary. These poems offer excellent models for students.


  10. Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves (1983)

    Along with Lucy Caulkins’ book, In the Middle, this text was one of my first real exposures to writing workshop. I read it just out of college, but it’s pretty timeless. Graves’ approach has always been a bit looser than what I’m comfirtable with, but he’s certainly a guru in the field, and I continue to reread his work.


  11. Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8 by Stephanie Harvey (1998)

    While this text is geared for grades 3 – 8, I found the information applicable to high school as well–not so much the projects and practical strategies, but the overall philosophy which is that kids need to read more non-fiction and they need better choices in order to write good non-fiction. Most of the reading students will encounter after high school is non-fiction (newspapers, manuals, trade magazines, memos, etc.) and most of what they read grades K-12 is fiction. We are not adequately preparing them for a non-fiction world. As far as writing, it’s no secret that student’s tend to write more powerful fiction or personal narrative than they do essay or research. According to Harvey, that’s because we continue to assign them topics they simply do not care about. Or we allow them to choose, but we don’t adequately help them to seek out those topics they will become invested in, and as a result, they choose quickly just to get going on a project so they can soon finish it. If we want them to write powerful essays and research papers, we need to spend a lot more time helping them find the things they care about and helping them to research what they care about before they start writing.


  12. I Am A Pencil by Sam Swope (2005)

    This is a great book for all teachers, but especially for elementary teachers. It’s a memoir about teaching writing to 3rd through 5th graders. The author is not a classroom teacher, but rather a professional writer who gave a workshop at the school and then stayed for 3 more years as a writing coach, helper, and friend. The book offers lots of great ideas on prompts, conferencing, and managing pieces of writing, but what I really liked was its realistic approach. There are many ups and downs, successes and failures in teaching writing and he discloses all of them. This is a very inspirational book.


  13. Image Grammar : Using Grammatical Structures to Teach Writing by Harry Noden (1999)

    I love the way this book integrates teaching grammar with the teaching of writing. It’s definitely not a grammar book, at least not in the Warriner’s sense, but it’s such a powerful way to use grammar as a way to teach the craft of writing. For example, beginning sentences with participles is a way to vary sentence structure and a way to bring action-description to the beginning of a sentence, but it’s also a way to teach students what a participle is (without making it a ‘grammar’ lesson). Incorporating Noden’s “5 brushstrokes” adds so much variety to their writing and teaches them quite a bit of grammar at the same time. And they really like it.


  14. ***6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide by Ruth Culham (2003)

    Of the many 6 traits books out there, I like this one the best because it’s so reader friendly–from the visual layout to the practical classroom strategies for teaching and practicing the 6 traits of writing. Almost all the information in the book can be applied to grades 3 – 12. If you’re not familiar with the 6 traits approach, it’s important to know that this is not a writing program but rather a writing philosophy. It’s a way of evaluating writing by looking at 6 main components that are part of all writing: ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, and conventions. Such an approach does not teach “forms” of writing. It teaches us that regardless of form or structure, effective writing contains the same basic components. I think that using this vocabulary (the 6 traits) across grade levels and content areas helps students to identify where their writing is strong and where it needs to improve. As students progress through grade levels, the vocabulary of the traits does not change, but the level at which we expect them to demonstrate the traits in their writing does change.


  15. ** Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1994)

    She subtitles this book “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and I love that description because though it is really a book about writing, almost everything she says can be metaphorically applied to life. Lamott offers practical strategies for getting started on a piece of writing as well as ideas about basics like plot, characters, and dialogue. She is such a gifted writer that you hardly feel like you’re reading a book about writing; rather, it feels more like a novel. My favorite chapters are “Sh***y First Drafts” and “School Lunches”. Those two chapters alone should make the book enticing to any aspiring writer.


  16. *** Strategies that Work, 2nd Edition :Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis (2007)

    The bottom line about this book is that it made me realize that reading strategies must be taught K-12. There is this myth that students learn to read in elementary school and then the rest of their education they read to learn. But they must continue to learn reading strategies throughout all grades, and teachers, even high school teachers, must continue to teach reading. I always considered myself an “English” teacher, not a reading teacher. But the more I read, the more I realize that teaching reading is far more complex than I had once thought. It goes far beyond decoding words on a page.


  17. *** Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice by Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Linda Rief, ed. (2007)

    The editors explain their book in this way: imagine being invited to a dinner party where you would be able to visit with people you most admire, participating in talk that was excited, passionate, and persuasive about a topic you most enjoy. And that’s essentially what the book is, a compilation of contributions from writers, researchers, and teachers of literacy. It’s a handbook of ideas written for teachers, administrators, school board members, policy makers, and parents. It’s also filled with resources for additional reading and for practical strategies to use in the classroom. This book encourages us to rethink the way we approach literacy and the teaching of reading and writing at all levels.


  18. *** In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit (1995)

    This is basically our text for an 8 week poetry unit in our College Writing Class. Kowit offers advice, models, processes, idea development, revising ideas, editing tips, and much more. A fabulous book.


  19. *** Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in our Schools by Carl Nagin and the National Writing Project (2003)

    A must have for anyone trying to work on writing curriculum and/or writing programs in a school. This is a no nonsense, no “quick fix” approach the way we look at the teaching of writing. This book is for administrators, school board members, teachers, teacher training programs, department chairs, and parents. A short summary: there is no magic approach or one size fits all program for creating better writers. Good teachers train other teachers and eventually all teachers bring effective instruction into the classroom.


  20. *** On Writing Well by William Zinsser (2005, 1976)

    Definitely a writing bible. I use it often for myself and my students. He offers so much “common sense” writing advice, and writes his advice in such a way that it’s enjoyable (and often funny) to read. A must have for any writer or writing teacher.


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