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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  • 07 May 2014 11:39 AM | Tatiana Schnieder, Hunter College
    This semester i have been teaching a very difficult course in Sensation and Perception. Most of my students are about to graduate, but they have never been exposed to biological aspects of psychology. This made my job a bit more difficult, because my goal was to make the students curious and excited by the subject matter and use this as a basis for learning.
    Chapters in the book i used are very long, and i understand how it can be impossible for some to even finish reading them, not to mention digesting and committing to memory all of the factual and conceptual information. So, i deliberately omitted facts and details that carry no crucial significance, and concentrated on explaining the central concepts in every sensory system that we covered. I told students to use my slides, class notes, and online material to prepare for the exam, and, if they chose to do so, - the textbook. Since sensory systems share a lot of similarities, it wasnt difficult for me to connect what was explained in vision to olfaction, or audition and somatosensation. I emphasized understanding of the concepts, and provided key words for the exam answers. I covered 10 out of 12 chapters, and i think i achieved the goal: if someone asked my students to explain the problem of univariance or lateral inhibition, they will be able to do so, but if you asked them how a person who can only see two colors is called, - they wouldnt.
    Also, I have been teaching Psychology courses for the last 5 years, and having been trained in Biological Psychology, I find topics of research methods and Biological Psychology absolutely fascinating! I believe, that as long as the instructor is capable of transmitting this fascination, it doesnt really matter which chapters you start with, as long as you still see the curious attentive eyes looking back at you.
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    • 09 May 2014 12:59 PM | Hunter Kincaid
      Great points Tatiana, often our students understand the concepts when they have to write more about them or discuss them with faculty...but they have trouble remembering specific terms or names. Its part of why i dropped multiple choice exams, they aren't a fair assessment of what students really know.

      I totally agree that you can start with any psych topic for psych 100. Personally i always suggest starting with the field you know most about, or that you have the most real world examples to represent or activities to play with, so you have lots of examples to keep referring back to that interest students and ground them during the semester
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      • 15 May 2014 4:31 PM | Tatiana Schnieder, Hunter College
        Hello Hunter,
        yes, i agree about the multiple choice questions: i try to avoid them as well. This semester my students had to write short (10-15 sentence)answers to any 5 of the 9 questions i included in the exam. The main drawback with this approach is the amount of time it takes to read, analyze and comment on 100 smth answers.... However, i believe that without an effort on my part as well, little will happen. I am thinking about implementing other, non-traditional, approaches to testing in order to reduce test anxiety and boost learning. Looking for ideas!
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      • 21 Mar 2015 5:11 PM | Chamber Chief
        I totally agree that you can start with any psych topic for psych 100. Personally i always suggest starting with the field you know most about, or that you have the most real world examples to represent or activities to play with, so you have lots of examples to keep referring back to that interest students and ground them during the semester
        Link  •  Reply
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