While Bear and J-jo read copious numbers of books on a daily basis, and while we discuss vocabulary and comprehension and even some literary analysis during read-alouds, I feel that Bear reads through her books much too quickly.  Upon asking her questions, I can see she has the plot down and even remembers minute details to some extent; yet, I still wanted to find a way to slow her down some.  I knew I wanted a literature guide, but wasn’t sure from which company.  I was wary of buying something to find that I didn’t care for it, so I waited.  Then came the opportunity to review a Progeny Press study guide for literature, specifically the digital download interactive PDF guide for The Door in the Wall.  This upper elementary e-guide retails for $16.99 and is intended for grades 3-5.

Progeny Press Review
How we used it:

Progeny Press Study Guides for Literature are available for lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school. They can be bought as printed workbooks, or as a CD or e-guide that can be printed at home.  We received an e-guide (workbook and answer key files) for The Door in the Wall.  I downloaded the guide, printed the whole thing out and used the Proclick to bind it.  However, the e-guide can be used interactively – that is, you can type in your answers right on the PDF.  This would work well for middle school or high school students, but Bear doesn’t know how to type yet, so it we couldn’t use it interactively.  The guides are meant to take about 8 to 12 weeks to complete if you work on one section a week.  The Door in the Wall Study Guide has 5 sections, plus a conclusion section, so might take less time.  

The novels don’t come with the guides. I got the book The Door in the Wall from the library.  Most of the Progeny Press study guides are for award winning books that can easily be found in libraries.  Bear had already read this story of perseverance set during the Black Plague in England during the Middle Ages, but we hadn’t discussed it.  She reread the book, two chapters at a time and in between readings, she worked on the Progeny Guide Door in the Wall Study Guide.  The Notes to the Instructor recommended reading the whole book first, but I knew that for my 6 year old, we would need to chunk the reading, because the whole point was to slow her down while reading.

The guide for The Door in the Wall starts with a note to instructor, a synopsis, an about the author and illustrator, and background information about the Black Death and canonical hours (because there are references to canonical hours -like matins – in the book).  There are also ideas for pre-reading activities.  We had already studied the Middle Ages, so I chose to skip those, but there were researching the conflicts and history of the Middle Ages.

Since the chapters in The Door in the Wall don’t have numbers, the study guide uses the first few words of the chapter to reference them.  Vocabulary and questions for two chapters are grouped together; hence why I had Bear read two chapters at a time.  At the end of the Study Guide, there is a conclusion and a section of additional resources, like other books by the author or that are of related interest.  The conclusion were some deeper analysis questions that would make good essay topics.  The answer key was located in a separate file, which I just referred to on the computer to save on ink and paper.

I really like the variety of vocabulary exercises. I think Bear also appreciated not having to do the same thing each time.

 Bear usually spent one day on vocabulary and one day on the questions.  I decided we would do the questions as discussions, rather than have her write, because I knew that by discussing, I would get more depth from her; she is still just 6 after all. For the last section, I had her write out her answers because we had a busy week and I didn’t have time for discussion.  I preferred us discussing – it was like having a guide for a mother-daughter book club.

Pros to the e-guide

Reproducible so that I can print it out again when J-jo is ready for it.
Comprehension questions cause one to think more deeply about the themes of the story.
Christian lens and Bible verses related to the story.
The list of additional resources.
The vocabulary exercises.
Interactive so I can potentially save on printing the guide if my student can type.

Cons to the e-guide

Aside that I would rather pay $10 for this than $16.99, I really don’t have any cons.  Progeny Press really met my criteria for what I wanted in a study guide – deep questions that lead to thinking and making connections and deductions based on information from the text, good vocabulary exercises that help the student use context to understand vocabulary, and Bible verses applied and connected to the story.  However, at $16.99 each, I probably would limit us to one or two a year and possibly just wait until middle school to do any more.

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