Course of Study with the McGuffey's Eclectic Readers
By Hazel Clauter and Janice Byrne

The McGuffey's Eclectic Readers were first used in 1836 and are still considered as one of America's most famous pedagogical tools. The revised edition with the 1879 copyright date, available in facsimile at Pioneer Sholes School, may not have been done under the original author, W.H. McGuffey, but it was developed out of the same concept as the earlier editions.

In every level from Primer to Sixth Reader, pupils are bombarded with a steady stream of moral lessons including kindness to animals, adherence to Christian principles, allegiance to country, good manners, and consideration of others. The virtues presented to American youth were the prime values in which Americans professed to believe.

One reason for the popularity of the McGuffey's Readers was that reader level and age (or grade level) were not synonymous. This was especially true in the nineteenth century as students took time off for farm chores. For example, the Third Reader has a story title "Beware of the First Drink," suggesting that a fifteen or sixteen year old student might get no further that the Third Reader. Another reason for the books' popularity was the logical progression from simple to more difficult material. From the Primer upward new words were presented so that the child gained an ever widening vocabulary. With pictures abounding, the books were visually interesting.

The title word Eclectic means that the stories and rhymes were culled from a wide range of literature. Thus the selections included poetry and prose selections about history, philosophy, and science. Spelling and penmanship exercises were included as were phonics charts and tables showing the use of punctuation marks. Books were routinely read aloud, so there was concern for enunciation, syllabification, and the use of diacritical marks to achieve them were emphasized. Today's students often comment that they are surprised by the wide variety to be found in these texts of yesteryear.

Both the McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and The McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book are available in facsimile at better bookstores, through catalogue order houses, and on-line. Pioneer Sholes School has ample sets of both texts for visiting classes to use.

(Jackie Norland and Joanne Thompson contributed the selections from McGuffey's for these lesson plans.)

Reading Sample Lesson Plans
McGuffey's Eclectic Educational Series

Goal:  to have the students experience reading instruction as it was done circa 1990.


McGuffey's Eclectic Educational Series, Revised Edition. New York:  American Book Company 1907-1921. [Facsimile series]

Recitations and Evaluations:  Meet with each group or assign adult volunteers to meet with some of the groups. Hear the oral recitation from each group. At the end of the reading period, have "older students" check the seatwork.

Illinois Learning Standards 1.B.1d,1.B.2c, 1.B.2d


A Choral Exercise

Goal:  To have students experience reading aloud in unison for pleasure.

Procedure:  Using the same reading groups as in the above reading exercise, have students prepare "Song of the Bee" from The Second Reader, pages 49-51; and "The Blacksmith" from The Third Reader, pages 38-39. Have "older students" help each group with pronunciation and practice.

Recitation and Evaluation: Call in turn each group to the front of the room for the reading in unison. Applaud.

Note: This is especially fun if the adult volunteers are assigned a poem from The Fifth Reader or The Sixth Reader.

(Hazel Clauter developed this lesson.)

Illinois Reading Standards 4.A.1a, 4.A.2a, 4.B

A Blab School Exercise

Goal:  to recognize different purposes for reading, experience a different mode of reading, and to develop coping strategies when interference takes place.

Recitation and Evaluation:
(Ann Werhane contributed to this lesson.)

Illinois Reading Standards 1.A.21 and 1.B.1 a, b, c

Continue to information on a multiple level classroom.
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