There are two kinds of readers: those who read merely for surface content, and those able to think critically about the ideas embedded in the text. While the first kind might manage to scrape through school with passing grades (barely), the second will be able to function well both in school and life, and to adapt to a variety of situations. The first step toward achieving the kind of in-depth reading that fosters critical thinking is to learn basic comprehension skills.
Evan-Moor is particularly adept at imparting the foundational skills needed to master a specific discipline, and their resources for reading comprehension are no exception. Designed to help students understand what they read and be able to think carefully about it, these books are intuitive and simple to use for both kids and teachers. Each worktext can be used as a consumable book, or the pages can be reproduced for multiple students.
The most basic series is Daily Reading Comprehension for grades 1-6. Each book includes 150 fiction- and nonfiction-oriented lessons to be used on a daily basis throughout a 30-week period. Lessons are one page, and reflect the appropriate age-level both in terms of the passage to be read and the questions to be answered. At the beginning of each week, there's a teacher page identifying learning objectives for each lesson.
Every lesson includes 3-4 multiple choice questions, as well as a question or activity designed to foster closer analysis or a vocabulary-building skill. Answers to all exercises can be found in the back of the book; other than that there's not much teacher support, but each lesson is self-explanatory and you shouldn't need anything else. These shouldn't be your primary reading program, but they do make excellent daily warm-ups.
In a similar vein, Read & Understand with Leveled Texts covers grades K-6, providing kids with basic reading material to help them achieve automaticity, while also making them think criticially through post-reading exercises. Teachers put together small "books" from materials in the reproducible texts, guide students through reading aloud individually and in groups, and assign exercises that include vocabulary-building, comprehension, and sequencing.
By "leveled texts," the publishers mean texts that are suited for a particular skill-level according to grade. Each book has 21-25 of these texts, which get substantially longer and more difficult as the grades get higher. Exercises for younger students include hands-on elements, while older students focus on summarizing, grammar, and other usage-enhancing aspects. These are great as supplements, or to be used as remedial work for struggling or disabled students.
Four High-Frequency Words books for grades K-3 help kids achieve a level of automaticity in reading by introducing 100 high-frequency words per text through fifteen stories. Students read the stories and complete a variety of exercises, fun activities, and games to play. Answers to all exercises are included in the back of each book, and there is limited teacher support in the beginning of every text, but like all Evan-Moor products these are easy-to-use and intuitive in format.
There is one Leveled Readers' Theater book for each of grades 1-6. Every book includes 11 plays, all with a variety of skill-level parts for students of differing abilities to master. Each play includes teacher notes for instruction, reproducible fold-up scripts to distribute to each child, a vocabulary dictionary, and exercise pages to help kids understand the principles of plot and structure, comprehension, and sequencing. In the books for grades 4-6, students also rewrite the ending of each play.
Readers' theater is a form of theater in which actors simply read, rather than memorize, their lines. In this case, students perform the brief plays over and over until they can read each line with ease, while also mastering inflection, character development, facial and vocal expression, and other communication skills. As the series progresses, plays become more elaborate and more challenging, so you don't need to worry about students stagnating after a certain point.
For more of a challenge, Clues to Comprehension offers lessons that force kids out of their box and make them think critically about stories and pictures. Each book (there are three books covering two grades apiece from 1-6 grade) contains 40 four-page lessons; each lesson begins with a teacher page of strategies and support, followed by the picture story, and ending with two full pages of exercises. 40 downloadable interactive charts are also available upon purchase of the texts. Answers appear in the back.
Finally, How to Report on Books provides the basics needed for students to complete fairly involved book reports. There are three books, one each for grades 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6, with 17-18 book report projects apiece. Each project allows you to choose your own books (they must fall into a certain genre), though lists of suggestions including both classics and newer books are included before each new project.
One unique angle of the How to Report on Books series is that there are also group book report projects to be completed by multiple kids studying and working together. Students identify plot and characters, learn the basics of literature education, and provide limited analysis of the stories they read; there are also hands-on elements for each project. A fair amount of teacher support allows instructors or parents to supervise the students' efforts.
While none of these series are sufficient (or designed) as a complete reading or comprehension course, each of them introduces an important aspect of reading comprehension and its attendant skills. Evan-Moor products are designed to ensure your kids are meeting national education standards, while keeping them sharp and practiced in areas that often get overlooked. As supplements, these texts are easy and fun to use, to-the-point, and thorough, making them excellent choices for helping your elementary-age students cement the skills they need for future reading success.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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