Feel Like You Have Tried Every Trick in the BOOK to Get Students to Read? Try This One

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Many instructors of psychology are looking for methods of incorporating outside resources into their daily psychology classrooms.  Students of psychology may also be looking for books related to their areas of interest in the field and may be looking for recommended readings that add to what their textbook or class resources have provided.  This book blog seeks to address these concerns and bring current research and information from recently published books in the field of psychology into the classroom. As psychology educators, we are always looking for new and exciting ways to get our students excited about reading and help them to find more information about topics that have peaked their interest.  The blog Books for Psychology Class is designed for teachers and students who love reading books about the wide range of specialties within the field of psychology. The intention of the blog is to provide teachers and students with book summaries and classroom activities that are engaging and promote the love of learning.  Each post includes a book summary, an original classroom activity, a list of key psychological figures/concepts addressed in the book, and resources including videos, podcasts, articles, and additional activities related to the book. The activities can be used for a variety of different types of content areas. You can click directly on the picture of the book to read the description and access the activities or click on the blog tab for a full list of all of the book reviews.  If you are searching for something specific you can also click on the respective categories tab on the right side of the blog page.

We have featured some of our favorite books for psychology since the launch of the blog in January 2014.  To date, the blog has reviewed over 60 books and continues to add new reviews every few weeks. Below we have featured some of our favorite books featured on the site.

Positive Psychology



flourishIn Flourish, former American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman describes well-being and the five stages by which one can improve well-being in their own life. Seligman uses the acronym of PERMA to describe the five components of well-being which include positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. Seligman explains the programs and efforts that have been created thus far to improve well-being in schools, the military and with the general public.  The activity included with this book allows students to identify their signature strengths and to actively increase their personal well-being by utilizing their natural strengths in a variety of creative and personal ways.

By the book, here


The Happiness Advantage:  The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

happiness-advantageAccording to Shawn Achor, the traditional idea that if you work hard, you will be more successful, and have higher levels of happiness is contrary to the reality of how our brains work. Research on happiness has demonstrated that if you achieve success, your brain will simply move the goal post for “success” farther away.  As a result, true and lasting happiness can never be found at the end of achievement because the reverse is true.  If an individual is happy, he or she will be more likely to achieve. Happiness increases levels of success by making our brains more innovative, resilient, effective, and productive.  Happiness is the cause of success rather than the result.  Happiness and optimism generate a competitive edge that the author calls the Happiness Advantage, and the book outlines countless studies that demonstrate how happiness leads to success. Happy people experience a reduction in stress, better overall health, productivity, and an increase in positive social interactions.  The book outlines the enormous advantages associated with a positive mood but also how it can be achieved.  Achor makes a case for how we can program our brains to increase positivity in the present and consequently improve performance across in many areas including work, health, relationships, creativity, and energy levels.  The book focuses on seven specific principles that individuals can use to generate a happiness advantage and maximize their potential. The activity on the blog associated with this book is associated with another psychologist Dr. Richard Davidson who has written about how emotions and emotional style define personality and impact one’s overall happiness and relationships with others. The student then completes the summary page to determine which categories they have identified as strengths, which can be used as the basis of a discussion or writing prompt.

Buy the book, here.


Educational Psychology


Top 20 Principles from Psychology for Pre-K to 12 Teaching and Learning

top-20The Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE), a group of psychologists within the American Psychological Association (APA), recently published the Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning.  The Top 20 document was created by psychologists representing a broad range of specialties, including education, school, development, social, cognitive, psychometrics, media, counseling, and clinical. The principles are organized into five areas of psychological functioning:  cognition and learning, motivation, social and emotional dimensions, context and learning, and assessment. Each of the individual principles listed in the document includes an explanation of the concept, its relevance for instruction, specific tips for teachers, and a comprehensive list of related references.  Although the top 20 principles are designed to apply psychological science broadly to PreK–12 teaching, they can also be utilized to enhance the curriculum of any course and help students develop skills, which will help them learn more effectively in all of their classes. The associated activity provides an opportunity for teachers to introduce students to Carol Dweck’s mindset theory described in principle one:  students’ beliefs or perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning.  The activity involves a mindset self-test, Carol Dweck’s exceptional TED talk, and discussion questions that could be used in the classroom or as part of teacher education programs.

Download it, here.


Great Myths of Education and Learning

great-mythsHow many times have you heard something about using learning styles or being too left-brained? Sometimes components of researching findings become pervasive in the world of education even though they lack sound scientific research.  Great Myths of Education and Learning by Ithaca psychology professor Jeffrey D. Holmes examines sixteen popular myths related to teaching and learning.  This book uses sound research methods to provide a complete picture regarding each of the specific claims presented.  The 16 myths discussed in the book are:

  • Students are accurate judges of how much they know
  • Students learn better when teaching methods are matched with their learning styles
  • Lecturing is broadly inferior to other teaching methods
  • Using PowerPoint in the classroom improves student learning
  • Minimally guided instruction is superior to traditional direct instruction
  • Rewards always undermine students’ intrinsic motivation
  • Multitasking does not inhibit academic performance
  • People are either left-brained or right brained
  • There are many independent varieties of intelligence
  • Self-esteem improves academic performance
  • Repetition is a highly effective study strategy
  • Multiple-choice exams are inferior to other exam formats
  • Students should not change answers on multiple-choice exams
  • Coaching produces large gains in college admission test scores
  • Standardized tests do not predict academic performance
  • Standardized ability tasks are biased against some minority groups

The blog activity created by Jessica Flitter of West Bend High School shows how instructors can use the myths to engage students in a discussion about effective learning. The activity begins by having students take a short six-question reading quiz in which they will be challenged to retain, understand, apply, compare, contrast, and evaluate.  Each question applies to a different level on the Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This quick activity provides an excellent segue into effective studying and test strategies, specifically the testing effect.  The 16 myths discussed in this book could easily be used for teacher and administer training programs.

Buy the book, here.


How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character

one-world-schoolIn How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough challenges the idea that cognitive ability is the most important determinant of one’s future success.  He cites research conducted by Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania which proposes that optimism, character and “Grit” are far better predictors of success in the future than exam scores.  Tough questions the outlook for the future of many upper-middle-class children who have not experienced failure and cannot regroup in the face of setbacks because he claims they might not have learned `Grit.’ Tough suggests that experiencing failure and learning how to persevere in the face of setbacks is one of the greatest lessons children can learn.  Tough describes specific instances in which children can be guided through reflective practice to help them regroup and try again after they have failed at a certain task, goal or activity.  He describes a high school chess coach who breaks down each match with her players to determine where a mistake was made if they lost the match of what they did right if they won.  The “coachable” moments are in part what Tough suggests will allow these individuals to be more resilient in the future when situations do not turn out as expected.  In another case study, Tough describe the “One Goal” program at a disadvantaged school in Chicago.  The program focuses on the sole goal of having students admitted to college, despite facing many challenges.  With support and perseverance, many of the students in the program became the first person in their family to attend college.

The activity for the books is Angela Duckworth’s GRIT inventory, which assesses both passion and perseverance.  This inventory has been widely used and look for Duckworth’s recently published book on GRIT in an upcoming book blog post.

Buy the book, here.


The Talent Code:  Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

the-talent-codeDaniel Coyle attempts to uncover the secret to success in his book, The Talent Code.  He identifies and investigates various “talent hotbeds” (areas that produce talent at extraordinary rates).  Ultimately, Coyle visits nine different “talent hotbeds” to determine what makes these particular places create such high levels of talent. Through his travels, he finds that regardless of the activity or task, there are some consistencies with individuals at the top of their respective fields.  The first is deep practice. Targeted practice is important because this is the time during which an individual aims to improve areas in which they struggle, rather than practicing what we already know.  The second factor Coyle identifies as ignition. If one does not have the motivation to learn a new task or refine a task they already know, their likelihood of success is small.  The third factor is master coaching. Master coaches can identify the small factors that will make a difference in performance.  Master coaches are obviously experts in their field, but they are also able to focus on targeted goals, identify small modifications that will improve performance, and provide feedback that should help with the “deep practice” described above.

The activity for this book is on improving memory through the use of chunking, it is an example of how students might take the advice of targeted practice, it does not always take more time to improve on a given task.  Chunking will allow students to recall information far more quickly than many traditional methods of studying.

Buy the book, here.


The One World School House:  Education Reimagined

one-worldSalman Khan, the author of The One World School House, is also the founder of the website KhanAcademy.org which provides free instructional videos used by millions of people worldwide, making the website the most used storehouse of instructional videos on the Internet.  The book describes how the author began his career in education, creating videos to help an out of town family member with 6th-grade math.  At the time, Salman Khan was an engineer and hedge fund manager with no training in education. The Khan Academy eventually grew to become a source of free education for students worldwide.  The ultimate goal of the Khan Academy today is to provide “A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”  His method is based on providing students with differentiated materials that allow for self-paced learning to help students gain mastery of concepts presented.  The Khan Academy includes self-paced software and video tutorials to track student progress and can be used by teachers in a classroom or independently by students.  Math tutorials ranging from basic addition to advanced calculus are available as well as lessons in health, economics, history, chemistry, biology, physics, computer programming, psychology, and more.

“I believed, and still believe, that teaching is a separate skill – in fact, an art that is creative, intuitive, and highly personal.  But it isn’t only an art.  It has, or should have, some of the rigor of science as well.” – Salman Khan

Buy the book, here.


Social Psychology


Situations Matter:  Understanding How Context Transforms Your World

situations-matterSituations Matter:  Understanding How Context Transforms Your World, by Sam Sommers of Tufts University is an excellent source of supplemental material to make a variety of topics especially relevant and engaging for students.  The book describes research and provides personal examples illustrating how one’s current environment strongly influences behaviors and mental processes.  Included in the text are a wide variety of brief, high-interest analyses of significant psychological studies including Asch’s conformity study, Milgram’s obedience study, and the Schachter-Singer research regarding the two-factor theory of emotion. The book stresses that although we like to think we objectively make decisions based on our individual personalities, we, in fact, are profoundly influenced by the situations in which we find ourselves. The goal of Situations Matter is to help individuals understand and predict the actions of others and evaluate how the power of the situation influences one’s behaviors.

The book blog activity is an alternative version of the Implicit Associations Test (IAT) test that allows instructors to demonstrate implicit prejudice and unconscious processing as a class demonstration. This activity provides an excellent illustration of how easily our brains categorize and the idea of implicit prejudice.  Additionally, by doing the exercise as an entire class, the anxiety that this test sometimes creates for students can be reduced.  This exercise is an alternate version of the Harvard Implicit Association Test or IAT which seeks to measure an implicit bias of associating males with the workplace and females with the home and family.  The activity is presented in a power point format and includes debriefing and discussion questions.

Buy the book, here.


Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me):  Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

mistakes-were-madeMistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) uses relatable examples to demonstrate how individuals rationalize their poor behavior.  As the title suggests, we are far more likely to identify negative behaviors in others than in ourselves.  The text provides many examples of attribution theory and cognitive dissonance. George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq after 9-11 was in part based on the belief that Sadam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.  Once much investment had been made without finding any weapons of mass destruction, he rationalized the invasion by explaining that we had gotten rid of “a very bad guy.”  Similar behavior can be seen when people do not report cash earnings on their income taxes, place personal items on a business account, rationalize their lack of exercise, or refuse to take personal responsibility for their mistakes.  We shape our memories in such a way that portrays us in the best light to protect our fragile self-esteem and alleviate our cognitive dissonance.

Often those who have placed a great deal of effort into events that do not work out such as supporting a political candidate who turns out to be a crook, find ways to explain why their support was important, or are reluctant to believe the truth about the candidate. They feel the need to justify their efforts.  Those who spent no time in support of the candidate may not have a problem believing the individual behaved criminally because they have less of an investment.  Similarly, fraternity members who have gone through a rough hazing period are likely to claim they are more devoted to the organization than those who did not have to go through such a ritual.  In part, those who went through the hazing want to believe that the suffering had been worth it.  These and other examples of effort justification occur for everyone at some point, and even awareness of the phenomena does not make one immune to its power.  The activity for this book asks students to apply various concepts in social psychology to practical situations.

Buy the book, here.



Motivation and Emotion


Powers of Two:  Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

powers-of-twoIn Powers of Two:  Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Paris, author Joshua Wolf Shenk rejects the idea of the lone genius, instead emphasizing the success of cooperative duos.  The book reads like an autobiography of famous historical and contemporary pairs from business, music, literature, sports, art, politics, science, and technology.  Detailed accounts of famous pairs are woven throughout the book and include John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mohandas Gandhi and Mahadev Desai, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.  Thorough research illustrates that many individuals historically perceived as lone geniuses frequently owed their success to close work with one other, individual. The provided activity will help students to realize that just like Batman and Robin, Romeo and Juliet, stars and stripes, milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly – some things just go together.  Some concepts in psychology are so connected that they can be difficult to distinguish as multiple-choice options or may lead to confusion on a written response.  The problem with these terms is that it is virtually impossible to define one without at least referencing the other.  The activity asks students to articulate how a series of term pairs related to research methods are both extremely related, yet distinct.

Buy the book, here.


Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

driveDaniel H. Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, opens the book with information regarding the widely held beliefs of the two major “operating systems” of motivation: the first, called Motivation 1.0, is the biological operating system, suggesting that humans eat, drink, and reproduce in order to ensure survival. Hundreds of years later, a new operating system was developed to fit a more complex society, thus creating Motivation 2.0, based on the behaviorist approach to psychology; the idea that humans will repeat actions that are rewarded and discontinue actions that are punished. However, as society continues to grow more complex, Pink alerts us to the bugs of operating system 2.0, referencing a third operating system based on intrinsic motivation, accounting for concepts such as anything “open-source” to altruistic deeds. Pink provides a great deal of evidence for the third operating system along with discussions of psychological experiments and decades of scientific research, to analyzes the three elements of true motivation– autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Pink then uses these three elements to reveal the errors made by many in the process of attempting to motivate those around them, suggesting new approaches to improve productivity, creativity, and performance at work, school, and home.  The blog activity is designed to accompany author Daniel Pink’s 2009 TED talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation” which has over 16 million viewings to date.

Buy the book, here.




Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking

quietSusan Cain opens the book Quiet by stating that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all people are introverts who often must present as extroverts because of the value society places on this trait.  Cain briefly touches upon the origins of introversion and extroversion as originally presented by psychologist Carl Jung and describes how extroversion has long been associated with positive emotions much to the dismay of many introverts.  Cain then explains activities that introverts enjoy and the positive contributions they make to teams, families and the general population.  She explains that introverts are mild-mannered individuals who think before speaking, ask questions, and are good listeners.  Introverts are also more likely to be deliberate rather than impulsive in their actions.  Although they do not typically enjoy small talk, introverts enjoy deep, meaningful conversations.  Introverts may be more likely to enjoy reading books and working on crosswords puzzles than multitasking or engaging in the risk-taking behaviors often associated with extroversion.  Cain is also clear to point out that there is a difference between being shy and being introverted.  Many introverts are comfortable in social settings in which they have good friends, but they seek to avoid sensory overload and may avoid approaching new people.  Introverts prefer a smaller group of close and long-standing friendships to a night out interacting with many people they do not know well.  Cain provides many examples regarding how American culture rewards extroversion and places emphasis on a salesperson-like persona and “likeability.”  These traits are often associated with social and financial success.  As a case study, Cain examines the Harvard Business School model in which grades are determined by one’s contributions to group work (all work is completed as a part of a team) and the social activities in which students engage on campus.  Cain cites a source from Harvard admissions in the 1940s indicating that Harvard should accept, “healthy extroverts.”  The business world has also prioritized extroversion by emphasizing Tony Robbins like sessions (which Cain attended) and teaching individuals to be more social and gregarious.  Despite this emphasis on extroversion, Cain cites several highly successful CEO’s who have introverted personalities such as Bill Gates and Charles Schwab.  Introverts tend to care less about fame and status and enjoy conversations that are one on one.  The book goes on to provide tips for learning to live happily with those of a temperament different from one’s own.  The activity for this book is an inventory to determine if one is an introvert or an extrovert.

Buy the book, here.


The Marshmallow Test:  Mastering Self-Control

marshmallowPsychologist Walter Mischel lays out details of his famous Marshmallow Test in three sections, the first, recounts the original study and questions whether self-control is prewired, the second examines how self-control can relate to other life experiences, and the third discusses the application of self-control in daily life with a focus on education. Mischel examines the impact of self-control on behavior from pre-school through retirement.  Mischel discusses the many benefits that withholding gratification may have on long term happiness even if it might mean forgoing a bit of pleasure in the moment.  Mischel applies his research to practical situations in which individuals can make better decisions for themselves by keeping in mind the long-term benefits that may come from exhibiting self-control.  This may involve forgoing a snack to be healthier, in the long run, not speaking in anger at one`s spouse or saving more money for retirement now.  Mischel spends considerable time in the book discussing the impact that teaching self-control can have on the educational system and beyond.  The activity for this book is what some people believe may be the modern day test of self-control, not looking at one’s cell phone.  The demonstration asks students to multi-task, listening to a reading from a book and texting on their cell phone at the same time.  They are later asked a series of questions about the reading, which they cannot answer correctly.  Holding off gratification of texting in class can pay high dividends in what students learn.

Buy the book, here.


Developmental Psychology

The Defining Decade:  Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now

the-defining-decadeThe Defining Decade:  Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them is an insightful and research-based examination of how the decisions one makes during their twenties have an enormous impact on happiness and success later in life.  The author, Meg Jay, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with a private practice and a University of Virginia professor. The book is a mix of development, personality, and neuroscience research related to early adulthood that addresses how the important choices individuals make regarding careers and friendships during their twenties can have long-term ramifications.   Although the book is written for individuals in their twenties, it can certainly be helpful for high school or college students.  According to Dr. Jay, “Claiming your twenties is one of the simplest yet most transformative things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world.”  The Defining Decade provides evidence from numerous research studies to provide insights which will help individuals in their twenties make the best possible decisions for future happiness and success in many aspects of their lives.  In addition to the author’s TED talk, the blog provides an activity related to the Big 5 personality theory that can be used in a variety of classroom situations.

Buy the book, here.

Health Psychology


Eat, Move, Sleep:  How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes

eat-sleep-moveEat, Move, Sleep is a book for anyone who would like to live a healthier life.  Each chapter is organized into simple sections with a single recommendation for improving one’s diet (eat), activity (move) and rest (sleep) to conclude each chapter. Regardless of one’s current level of activity and sleep or eating habits, at least some of Rath’s ideas are easily implemented.  There are simple recommendations for each category such as eating more green vegetables like broccoli or lettuce, sleeping without lights or other electronic devices in the bed or getting a pedometer or a Fitbit to keep track of activity and try to increase the amount of activity each day.  Rath describes his reasons for living a healthy lifestyle; he is prone to small cancerous tumors, which clean living can reduce.  He leads by example and even wrote the book while slowly walking on a treadmill.  He explains that his desire to live healthier is also about being around for his wife and children for many more years. Rath clearly states that he is not a doctor or an expert on nutrition but has gathered research over the past twenty years on how to live a healthier life; it is this research on which the book is based. Rath emphasizes the preventable aspects of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, which kill 9 of 10 people.  Implementing even some of the recommendations in the book can make these diseases less likely occur.  A mistake individuals often make is working on only one of these three modalities (Eat, Sleep or Move) in isolation.  Rath poses that it is healthier and easier to work on all three at the same time.  The activity for this book asks students to keep a journal for a week and try to change a single habit in how they eat, sleep and move.  The changes may be simple like eating a salad each day, sleep on a normal schedule and walking up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.  These changes can be seen as simple ways to live a better life, and he hopes that people will be less likely to take a learned helplessness approach and say they cannot do anything about their health.

Buy the book, here.



Currently, the blog contains reviews of over sixty books and numerous activities related to teaching and learning.  Please check back with us every few weeks for new book reviews and activities. Our goal is to build a reservoir of information for instructors and students of Psychology and other disciplines.  If you have read a book that you believe would be helpful towards this goal and you would like to contribute to this blog, please e-mail us at laurabrandt85@gmail.com or nfenton@d125.org if you have any .

About the Author

Laura Brandt teaches AP and IB Psychology at the College du Leman in Geneva Switzerland. Laura has taught psychology for the past 22 years and has facilitated many conferences for instructors of Psychology. In addition, she has served as a reviewer for book chapters, course reviews and test banks. Laura has served as a reader, table leader and question leader for the AP psychology reading and has served as an examiner for the IB psychology exams. Laura has served on the TOPSS executive board, which represents high school psychology instructors within the American Psychological Association as member coordinator and chair. Laura along with Nancy Fenton are the co-creators of the I-Score 5 review app for the AP Psychology exam and the blog Books for Psychology Class (http://booksforpsychologyclass.weebly.com) a blog which reviews psychology related books and provides class activities for teachers and students. Laura earned her Master’s degree in U.S. History at Northern Illinois University and her Master’s in Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago and her administrative certificate form Concordia University.
Nancy Fenton has been teaching AP psychology and psychology since 2004 and currently teaches at Adali E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in psychology. She has been an AP reader since 2008 and is the co-author of the review book “AP Psychology All Access.” Nancy along with Laura Brandt are the co-creators of the blog Books for Psychology Class (http://booksforpsychologyclass.weebly.com) a blog which reviews psychology related books and provides class activities for teachers and students. In 2013, Fenton was awarded the TOPSS Excellence in Teaching Award and is currently serving as the TOPSS liaison to the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.