McGuffey Reader FAQ

Although we have tried to answer every possible question about the McGuffey Readers on the main page and in the individual book description pages, there are a few questions that have cropped up about the curriculum in general. The McGuffey Reader FAQ is here to answer questions we are most frequently asked. If you have a question, please feel free to leave it in the comments below, and we will answer it as quickly as possible.

How quickly should we move through each reader?

Keeping in mind Charlotte Mason’s admonition that short lessons are most effective, you will want to work through each lesson at the child’s pace. The books go from K-12 in difficulty in just six volumes, so it would not be unusual to have a student who zooms through a few lessons, then begins to bog down and go more slowly. It is more important to learn well than to stick with a predetermined schedule, so I encourage you to just work through them at a relaxed pace.

I do not encourage elementary age students to move into the fifth and sixth readers, as those are considerably more challenging (a few selections even veer into college level reading on the Flesch-Kinkaid scale), and designed to present a variety of rhetorical styles and ideas.

Even if a young child were able to decode the words on the page and have a vague sense of what the selection meant, they may not be developmentally ready to grapple with some of the ideas, and it’s almost certain they haven’t read enough other great books to catch allusions. It would be a pity for them to imagine they have read and understood something they are not truly ready for, because not only do they miss the joy of engaging with great writers and thinkers, but they may assume that having “covered” the material, they don’t need to re-read when it’s age-appropriate to do so.

What is the reading level of each reader?

On the page for each reader, you will find a detailed description of each reader, plus a downloadable table of contents and a sample lesson from each. Here are links to each book:

First ReaderSecond Reader • Third Reader

Fourth Reader • Fifth Reader • Sixth Reader

How can I teach spelling with the 1857 McGuffey Readers?

We posted a whole article on this here: How to teach spelling with the McGuffey Readers.

Should we answer McGuffey’s comprehension questions?

After some of the selections in the readers, there are questions for discussion or writing. In her review of these readers, Cathy Duffy differentiates between questions that fit well with Charlotte Mason’s methods, and those that are simple comprehension questions.

She writes, “For example, a story in the Third Eclectic Reader concludes with this exercise: “Relate this story. How can boys secure a good name? What advantage is there in having one?” (p. 138). The first instruction—to relate the story—is essentially asking the child for an oral narration. The following two questions require students to think beyond the content of the story for their answers. This guided discussion stretches beyond narration but still fits the spirit of Charlotte Mason’s ideas.”

How is the 1857 edition different from the first edition?

The short answer is that McGuffey improved them in response to letters he had received from teachers. He added more teacher notes, took out stories that weren’t working well, and added more stories of the kinds that did work well.

We posted a whole article on this here: McGuffey’s improvements to the 1857 edition.

Why aren’t there the same number of lessons in each reader?

The number varies from 57 lessons in the first reader to 357 lessons in the sixth reader. Because these readers were intended for use on the American frontier, they were designed to be flexible. Students were intended to begin at the beginning and proceed sequentially through all the readers. It was considered important to make steady progress, as students were not always able to attend school regularly, so students just moved from reader to reader as they were able.

Set of all six readers

First ReaderSecond Reader • Third Reader

Set of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd readers

Fourth Reader • Fifth Reader • Sixth Reader

Set of 4th, 5th, and 6th readers

Janice Campbell

Janice Campbell writes and speaks about homeschooling, using lifestyle of learning approach influenced by Charlotte Mason, classical learning, and the Thomas Jefferson method. Her books and resources, including Excellence in Literature, Transcripts Made Easy, and Get a Jump Start on College, reflect Janice’s focus on twaddle-free, active learning (she did have boys, after all!).

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