Odyssey (Robert Fagles)
Translated by Robert Fagles, 560 pgs, pb.
These are excellent literature study guides which cultivate appreciation in literature, improve reading comprehension, and encourage development of insight. The guides are meant to be used by the teacher, although they contain student reproducibles. In the regular guides, chapter by chapter analysis includes student directives, chapter vocabulary and a chapter summary. Student directives are questions about the chapter that can either be used as discussion questions or as a guide for the student to use in developing his own summary. Vocabulary sections contain both word and description. The summary is intended for use by the teacher and gives pertinent details about each chapter. Many chapters are followed by a reproducible skills page which cover literary concepts such as character development, setting, elements of a narrative, plot development, etc. For example, in the guide to My Side of the Mountain, the flashback device is used in chapter one. So, following that chapter's analysis is a skill page on Flashback Development in which students learn about how the flashback is used effectively in the chapter. Other skill pages focus on other non-literary (but essential) skills such as outlining, sequencing, categorizing, comparison and contrast, etc. Another unique and appreciated feature is the incorporation of Writer's Forum pages. These are sprinkled throughout the guide and provide writing opportunities based on the novel. Some guides contain more of them than others: My Side of the Mountain includes three such pages which explore conflict, reality (vs. artistic "license") and a page which contains eight different writing suggestions to use for a culminating presentation. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has five such pages on a variety of topics including poetry, discrimination, and round vs. flat characters. Some of the guides also include a final, culminating project. Besides all of this, tests are included at the end of reading "blocks" (My Side has them every five chapters, Roll of Thunder has them every three). These include multiple choice, vocabulary and essay questions. Each book also contains a reproducible page to use for student summaries and chapter vocabulary plus answers for all skill pages and tests (including model essay answers). Challenging Level guides are formatted somewhat differently, with much more emphasis on reading strategies and analysis. Chapter by chapter discussion still centers on questions, vocabulary, and summary, but there are many more Strategy (the counterpart to the middle school level skill pages) and Writer's Forum pages. These are just excellent, exploring and examining many literary constructs and techniques. For example, in The Giver, while studying chapters 1 through 5, Strategies include: Beginning a Book, Setting and Mood, Irony, Plot - The Design of a Story, and Foreshadowing and Flashback. During this same span, three Writer's Forums are included: "Shades of Meaning," "Anecdote," and "A List of Rules." As with the lower level guides, testing occurs regularly at the end of specified chapter "blocks." Tests no longer include multiple choice answers, but concentrate on vocabulary and contain more essay (both short and long answer) topics. Again, answer pages in the back of the guide contain suggested responses for all student exercises and tests. While chapter summaries are usually sufficient for answering chapter questions in the regular level, the challenging level guides (thankfully) include answers to these questions also. These guides are well conceived and highly recommended.
Please note that a brief synopsis of many of the books included here are provided in our Library Builders section. Study guides for the same book are often available from several publishers, so we found it more efficient to give a description of the book only once.