How to Place Your Children in the McGuffey Readers

As I have been doing a few videos on using the McGuffey’s for homeschooling the same question continues to be asked:

How do I know what level to put my child in?

I know this is a quandary, especially when considering that these wonderful books do not go by the grading system we use in modern times.

Good news–there is a way to tell, and it is a simple one that you can implement in just a few minutes.


Basically, you pick a portion of a reader that you think is the approximate fit for you child that is about 100 words long. Then you have your child attempt to read that passage aloud to you. As he/she reads, keep track of how many words are missed or misread. Then use one or both of these simple charts (whichever one is easiest for you to understand) to determine whether the passage is at independent, instructional, or frustration level.

Independent level is for those times when he/she will be reading for information or pleasure. Frustration level is something you want to avoid, but where most of us mistakenly think our children need to be. Instructional level would make Goldilocks very happy because it is “just right.”

The first chart on the page covers only the words read, but the second chart introduces another element; comprehension questions. This is where you pick 10 questions about what has been read and see how many your child can answer correctly and easily. This is important because reading is not just about accuracy, but about communication. Some children may have a technical understanding of reading without the maturity or familiarity with life to be able to comprehend what they have read. This means that more time needs to be spent at lower levels until there is growth in other areas.

McGuffey readers level placement chart

You can download a printable PDF of the charts here.

These ideas are not my own, but were gleaned and compiled from Ruth Beechick’s books, The Three R’s, and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully. I hope they help you as they have helped me!


32 thoughts on “How to Place Your Children in the McGuffey Readers”

  1. Hi Sherry! I really appreciate your posts and I was wondering if all your back posts are still available?
    Thank you..

    • Are you referring to the blog posts from Large Family Mothering? Unfortunately they are not available in an easy-to-access form and I am having to slowly put them up manually, since my former blog was hacked mercilessly not too long ago. Thank you for your interest!

      • Yes..that is to what I was referring. I’m glad they’ll be available:) thank you portraying Titus 2 and teaching the younger women. Your blog has been such a blessing to me. My husband and I are raising four little girls, and your wisdom is so valuable. I love how the Lord is so prevalent in your lessons and how you are so realistic! God bless you 🙂

        • Bless you! Thank you for the encouragement. It is so wonderful to hear that God is using my words to do His good work! It was also great to hear that what I suggest is realistic–I think we get set free when we are real with each other, don’t you?

          • Absolutely! The devil hides in darkness..but when he and his tactics are exposed, he won’t stay in the Light. We feel worse when we think we’re all alone in a situation; but honest fellowship really is so encouraging!!

  2. Sherry,
    I am just rediscovering your blog. I used to read and enjoy it all the time when it was LFM. Anyway, I’ve been inspired by your posts on the McGuffey readers. My nearly 15yo could use some instruction in good writing. Do you think using McGuffey would give her adequate instruction in this? I don’t think she is nearly as widely read as my older children and this is probably why her writing is not up to par. She will be working on that this year, but would like to supplement at this point.

    • Yes, I do believe the McG’s could help, especially if you use them in the ways I have suggested. I don’t know that this will be totally adequate if you are talking about delving deeply into composition itself. I have recently been working on a simple composition study for my girls based on Kathryn Stout’s Design a Study booklet, Comprehensive Composition that seems to be working well. If you like I can try and put sharing what I am doing as a blog post (including free printable) in the near future.

      • Sherry, with regards to the Comprehensive Composition, that would be fantastic!

        When you say, ‘especially if you use them in the ways I have suggested’ are you talking about the information on your videos (which I’ve watched), meaning some basic copywork and written narration?

        • Great! Then you will be prepared, or you could strike out on your own with it–I simply created an accountability sheet using the checklist at the back of the book and creating a rubric for each assignment as well.

  3. Any suggestions for placing a child into the McGuffey Spelling? We have used All About Spelling, and I am thinking of switching her to McGuffey. She is easily working thru Level 3.
    Thank you.

    • I have switched her reading to McGuffey, she has finished all four levels of AAR. I am using and will use the reading for my boys.

    • It’s great you are using the McG’s (as we affectionately call them 🙂 ). Not sure how to place in the spelling, but I do think it’s best to try it below their current reading level 🙂

  4. Hello Sherry,
    I have enjoyed reading your articles and was inspired to purchase the 3rd McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader for my 10 year old daughter and your own Lesson Book 4. She is an advanced reader and writing/typing 2 written narrations a week, besides daily copywork. She will enjoy adding in vocab. However, now I’m not sure how many stories per week she should read through and do written narrations and copy work /vocab from? Now that the book is in front of me, I can see that one a week will not get us through the book in a typical 36 week school year. How many stories would you typically do in one week?

    • I understand the confusion. Actually, these books were not meant to be consumed in a single year. Two years per book is a good pattern of use. Hope this helps!

  5. Good Morning,
    I just discovered your website/blog last night when searching how to use McGuffy’s readers for my 6 yr old. I am in love and can’t wait to start this with him. I also think this might be a good fit for my 10 yr old boy who is a great reader and speller but struggles with handwriting and writing his own sentences. He hates copy work because “it takes too long”. I wanted to ask what level McGuffy’s and Level Lesson book for him? Like I said he is a great reader (I don’t know what reading level, but finished all the Harry Potter books, Narnia books, and many others at about 8 yrs old). Any guidance would be helpful.

    • Sure 🙂 Sounds like your young son is exceptional indeed :). It sounds as though his reading ability is beyond the maturity of his fine motor skills, which are essential to handwriting. It may be wise to put off written work until his hands are more developed. Until then, just have him narrate what he is reading to you and give him some pre-handwriting exercises (drawing circles, etc.). I also have a free handwriting program based on the McGuffey’s script. As he feels more comfortable, you could use one of my Lesson Books, perhaps the second or third level, to have him do his copywork, etc. You could also try the Gentle Grammar series which I offer here for free download or you could purchase on Amazon as a physical copy (look on the SHOP page). Hope this helps!

      • Thank you so much for your response! I am incorporating the handwriting into my older sons LA work. I am using the level 2 pages from your lesson books, and I do have another question. What do I have him do for the sentences section? is this where he comes up with his own, or is there another intent? Does it have to relate to the copy work or dictation, or just any sentences he wants to write? Thank you so much for your time in answering questions!

        • You are welcome, yes, the sentence section is there for him to take his words and put them into original sentences.


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