Content Literacy 101

Alternate Texts (from "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?")

"If we don't begin to find accessible text for all adolescent readers, they will continue to fail, only to become someone else's problem the following year. More students will be turned off by the content we love."     --Cris Tovani
Why use it?
If students don't read the textbook, it doesn't make sense to have them not read anything. When a course textbook is written at a level far beyond that of what certain readers can handle, they are not going to get anything out of the text. However, if you can find an alternate text to use that covers the same topics or themes, they will at least be able to connect with the class discussion. 

How do I do it?
"I know that this is easier said than done, but teachers have to begin somewhere to find materials for students to read in addition to textbooks."
"For example, the book Finn (2001) by Matthew Olshan can be read by less able readers in place of Huckleberry Finn. Finn is about a young girl who is being raised by her grandparents because her dad has died and her mom is abusive. The girl, Finn, fakes her death and sets off to free her grandparents' pregnant Mexican maid, who has immigrated to the United States illegally. She is trying to get to California to find the father of the baby before the baby is born, and some of the plot points and themes roughly parallel those in Huckleberry Finn."
"Finn doesn't have the same literary genius as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, but it does give students something that's a bit easier to read, as well as a way to explore similar themes." 

NOTE: For an excellent resource on finding alternate texts, check out From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics by Don Gallo and Sarah Herz. While it focuses more on the English classroom, it does provide resources for content area teachers.