We frequently get requests for reading comprehension materials. While many people are satisfied with the idea of literature guides, others prefer an actual course or books which offer short passages with matched comprehension questions. For these, we've traditionally recommended the McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading, the Reading Detective series from Critical Thinking Press, or (if we have them) used copies of A Beka's Read & Think books (for grades 3-6). But since A Beka won't sell their materials to bookstores, we've found another option: the Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter series has proved the best choice we've found so far, though we continue to look.
How Do These Work?
There are fourteen books in all, covering grades 2-10 (or as needed). The first four books are called Early Reading Comprehension and are intended for grades 2-4; then come the six Reading Comprehension books for grades 4-8; and finally, the four-book series More Reading Comprehension for grades 7-10. Remember, these are recommended grades: the object is to get kids retaining and understanding what they read, and you can start them wherever they need, whether at and "older" or "younger" level.
Students simply read a manageable selection, then answer comprehension questions about what they've read. Each book (in all three series) is dividided into a number of categories, including combined subjcts; social studies; science; philosophy, logic and math; literature and language; and the arts. If you're wondering why the stress on "varied subject matter," rest assured that your kids will really learn elements of these different topics, though by no means enough to use this as an overall course for any of them (this isn't even enough by itself to cover language arts).
Each of the Early Reading Comprehension and Reading Comprehension books is sparsely illustrated in black and white; none of the More Reading Comprehension books include illustrations. While stories are politically correct in the sense that sensitive topics are avoided, there shouldn't be anything too offensive in here for anyone. There is no crude humor, no inappropriate content, no profanity, etc. Even the science-related selections avoid divisive themes like origins and evolution (though a few references stray in that direction).
Questions include multiple choice, true/false, vocabulary builders, and written answers. In Early Reading Comprehension, students are asked to put sentences in order, thus strengthening their composition and critical thinking skills. Mostly, questions are of the "what did this passage say?" variety, though frequently the written answer questions require students to analyze the passage, explore their own thoughts, or elaborate on a theme begun in the passage. Both passages and questions are challenging, preparing students for the harder work of literary analysis later on.
Each of the three series increase in difficulty; even the books within each series become more advanced as kids work through them. These are consumable worktexts, though the written answer questions are to be completed on a separate piece of paper. Students are to complete every lesson on their own (lessons are two pages in Early Reading Comprehension, and three pages in Reading Comprehension and More Reading Comprehension). Answer keys are available for each text.
Our Honest Opinion:
Being literature junkies around here, we prefer the more organic reading comprehension method of classic literature guides like those available from Veritas Press, Progeny Press, and Memoria Press. However, we also understand that approach isn't for everybody, and for those who'd prefer a more straightforward (dare we say, clinical?) approach, these books are an excellent choice. REMEMBER: the content in each of the three series is grade-appropriate, and you don't need to start your 7th grader in Early Reading Comprehension unless he's actually that far behind. This is a good group of books, easy to use for both students and teachers, and overall quite effective.
Program Overview (PDF format)
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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