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