Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Flip the Textbook

06 May 2014 12:44 PM | Philip Kreniske
By Kasey Powers

Have you ever found yourself asking “How do I teach the whole book in a single semester?” One answer is that you don’t have to. Cut some chapters and even reorder them to meet your course goals.


Most introductory psychology textbooks have around 12-15 chapters. This is a lot of material to cover in 15 weeks. With first day of class stuff and exams your teaching time is further restricted. Rather than move at an unreasonable pace to teach an entire book, take some time to think about the flow of your class and to cut a few chapters and reorder them.

Many texts start with chapters on the History of Psychology and Research Methods, often followed by Biological Psychology. These are three of the toughest chapters for students to master and not the most exciting content.

Ask yourself what are the most important chapters? Deciding which topics are most important is subjective and may come from a department policy or an individual instructor. There may be a few topics that must be covered and the rest can be filled in with your interests.

In our course we start at what is near the end of most books using the chapter on Social Psychology. This chapter is accessible for students and covers some of the most well known psychologists and paradigms (e.g., Milram, Zimbardo).The goal is to get students excited about Psychology. We follow this with Personality and Psychological Disorders. As instructors we can use this to teach students about different paths in psychology.

Starting with Social Psychology and examples of research allows me to refer back to these examples throughout the semester. Connecting Research Methods and Ethics to information students already have allows them to learn the material in a more meaningful way.

In our course we generally have three non-cumulative exams and aim to put one “difficult” chapter in each exam (Psychological Disorders, Research Methods, and Biological Psychology). By reordering the text and spreading these chapters across the semester it reduces cognitive load for students when studying for each exam.

Reordering the textbook in this way allows graduate student teachers to customize the course without having to create all new material.

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