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Novel Thinking Lesson Guide: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Review by Camilla Anderson

Ryan P. Foley and Norman J. Larson
The Critical Thinking Company
PO Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955-1610

This lesson guide for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an 82-page student workbook targeted for grades 3 through 6. No separate teacher's manual is needed-the answers are in the back of the workbook.

I have used many products from The Critical Thinking Company, all of which have been excellent, so naturally I had high expectations for this workbook as my 9-year-old daughter set to work on it. Incidentally, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is her favorite book. I was not disappointed!

The workbook lessons are matched to every two chapters of the reading book. For example, for Lesson 1 in the workbook, the student reads chapters one and two of the book. Then, the student completes the lesson in the workbook about the chapters he just read.

Each lesson is five pages long, starting with a vocabulary and/or grammar exercise (synonyms, antonyms, parts of speech). The rest of the lesson is made up of other types of reading comprehension exercises, which include character descriptions and analysis, setting and details, cause and effect, comparing/contrasting, making predictions based on circumstances and characters, drawing conclusions, sequencing, plot structure, and descriptive and creative writing.

The exercises are very well written. The directions are clear. The questions were effective and challenging. However, there was some confusion in the vocabulary sections. Sometimes the exercise was to match definitions for two or more words that were very similar, and I had to consult the answers myself. For example, in Lesson One, the words "absurd," "extraordinary," and "fantastic" had to be matched to their corresponding definitions. The choices were: "unusual and remarkable," "strange and unusual," and "illogical." Even helping my daughter look at the context in which the word was used in the book, I still had to look at the answers. In another lesson we had to distinguish between "perplex" and "fluster," which could both mean "confused."

As for the rest of the questions, I found no faults except one: this book was written for a specific publication of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many of the questions refer to exact page numbers in the book. If your book is not the edition recommended for this workbook, the page numbers may not match up. Fortunately, our page numbers matched, even though it was not the edition of the book we were supposed to have. A 3rd or 4th grader may have trouble keeping track of the right place if the page numbers do not match. This technicality aside, the lessons were well written, thought provoking, and thoroughly educational. My daughter was able to understand the questions easily, but was also challenged by each one. Excellent!

The lessons are written to improve reading comprehension, and they did just that. In addition, this workbook was a perfect introduction for teaching how to do higher-level literary analysis, such as foreshadowing, character sketches, plot resolutions, comparing and contrasting, symbolism, irony, and more. For this reason, even though my daughter is done with the workbook, I plan to keep it on my teacher's shelf for all the fantastic ideas it gave me to help my children analyze and report on any book they read. This is not only a great workbook, but an excellent resource! I love versatile products that can work for multiple grade levels and be used over and over!

In case you're wondering, other Novel Thinking Lesson Guides are available, such as Charlotte's Web, Shiloh, and more. You can see them all on the Critical Thinking Website. This book retails for $13.99, an excellent value. I have always found all of the Critical Thinking products to be of excellent educational quality and very reasonably priced (we do Mind Benders every day as a family and have a blast!). I think every child should go through at least one Novel Thinking book before junior high or high school, as it will definitely prepare the child for higher-level literature comprehension and analysis, including writing skills. In addition, if your child simply needs a reading comprehension boost, look no further. This will do the job.

Product review by: Camilla Anderson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2008