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NCTE Guideline

Guidelines for Judging and Selecting Elementary Language Arts Textbooks

From the Committee on Elementary Language Arts Textbooks, National Council of Teachers of English, 1990

The English language arts textbook is a familiar volume in the desks of many students across the country. Some educators look to the text as the basic tool for language arts instruction, the organizer for most of the language arts curriculum. Others deplore the presence of a text series in the classroom, charging that it prescribes the language curriculum, seriously narrowing students' possibilities for language learning.

To help educators sort through the conflicting points of view on the potential of textbooks, and to help them validate their judgments about the teaching materials they choose to use, the NCTE Committee on Elementary Language Arts Textbooks offers eight guidelines that summarize current theory and research on language learning. These guidelines provide substantive criteria upon which text materials can be judged.

  1. Language arts textbooks should center on children's own language.

    Student language, ideas, and purposes are primary in language arts instruction. Textbook lesson ideas should help teachers keep the focus of instruction on students' real purposes for communication. Information that the textbook may present about the language itself or about individual skills related to listening, speaking, reading, or writing should clearly demonstrate its significance for students' interest in language and their knowledge of its importance and use. Textbooks, therefore, should supplement and enrich students' active use of language in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
  2. Language arts textbooks should emphasize activities that focus on social uses of language.

    Lessons suggested by textbooks need to present communication as both a method of learning and as a valued outcome. They should encourage students to be genuine, responsive audiences for the speaking and writing of peers and adults; they should help students value their own speaking and writing efforts and help them learn to make their communication clear and appropriate.
  3. Language arts textbooks should reflect the integrated nature of listening, speaking, writing, and reading. Language is oral and written, receptive and expressive. Its skills are interrelated and interdependent, not collections of discrete skills or separate bits of information. Language use is powerful when reading, writing, speaking, and listening are used together. Textbooks should help teachers and students achieve greater integration of language in the classroom by focusing clearly on a limited number of major goals, by providing provocative literature and language activities, and by emphasizing how students of varying interests and abilities can use reading, writing, speaking, and listening together toward the accomplishment of goals.
  4. Language arts textbooks should recognize broad patterns of developmental language growth.

    Language development seldom follows a definite scope and sequence. At best, there appear to be broad developmental patterns in language growth. The goals of language arts instruction, therefore, are more similar across grade levels than they are different, and textbooks should emphasize this continuity. Students cannot be expected to master the major goals of language growth at a particular grade level but should learn to use their knowledge, skills, strategies, and awareness with increasingly complex samples of language and in more sophisticated contexts.
  5. Language arts textbooks should help teachers assess students' use of language.

    Assessment of language needs and growth is very complex. Textbooks should guide teachers in developing assessment procedures for all the major goals of the language arts curriculum and should also provide help in interpreting observations of students' daily use of language for a variety of purposes. Textbooks should help students make judgments about their own growth in all language areas and help them determine their needs for instruction.
  6. Language arts textbooks should stimulate children's and teachers' thinking.

    Textbooks need to promote inquiry about language: its purposes, its origins, its growth and change. They can help students and teachers to develop a variety of systematic ways to think about experiences and to develop strategies for extending and deepening reflection. Rather than replacing teachers' thinking and planning, textbooks should help the teacher to think about the abilities, needs, and interests of students, their language development and learning.
  7. Language arts textbooks should be equity balanced.

    Language is one of the most obvious indicators of cultural differences. Language arts textbooks should help students become aware of the cultural aspects of their own language and help them achieve a sensitivity toward and understanding of the cultural aspects of the language of others. Issues such as dialect and body language need to be examined in the context of communications. Emphasis should be placed on valuing the cultural contributions of all groups in a pluralistic society, and the literature in the text should be selected from a wide range of world cultures.
  8. Language arts textbooks should reflect the centrality of listening, speaking, writing, and reading for learning in all subject areas. Learning in all subjects depends upon language. Language arts textbooks should help students and teachers see English language arts instruction not only as a special area of study but as foundational for all learning. Examples and suggested activities in the textbook need to be selected from a variety of subject areas. Language skills and attitudes are central to living outside the schoolhouse as well as in it, so textbooks should help students appreciate the significance of language competencies for family life, occupations, citizenship, and leisure time.

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

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