Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2015


Enormous illustrated encyclopedia offers kid-friendly history, science

Subjects & skills
  • Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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5 images

Pros: Great illustrations, surprisingly diverse subject matter, and expert-sourced content make entries appealing and authoritative.

Cons: Some articles dive much deeper than others; some users might be distracted by the insistent pop-up reminder about site cookies.

Bottom Line: A solid reference tool for science, technology, and social studies topics.

Q-files could be a great way for ELLs or struggling readers to take a second look at topics you're covering in class. It's a helpful tool for all students to explore STEM topics and social studies topics in greater detail, so encourage your students to dive deeply into sections that interest them and report back to their classmates. Have kids create their own illustrations to supplement the ones they see on the site, or ask them to create their own encyclopedia entries on topics you research or explore in class. Have kids use the Q-news entries as a starting point for further study on other news sites, and have them find their own current events topics and use the entries on Q-files to further explain the topics at play in those news stories.

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Q-files is a free online illustrated encyclopedia created by Orpheus Books Limited, a U.K.-based publisher. The content is geared toward students in Key Stage 2 (U.S. grades 3 through 6) and Key Stage 3 (U.S. grades 7 through 9), and topics include a range of social studies and science entries. Kids can roll over each topic heading to display a drop-down menu of available subtopics; click any entry, and that same menu then appears at left for easier use. Each entry includes images, links to other entries, and a short narrative description. A "Q-news" section includes entries about current events that link back to the encyclopedia entries, and short "Q-facts" boxes offer fun facts related to most entries. Kids (and their teachers) can also view site maps geared toward the two Key Stage divisions; these pages group the Q-files entries by the National Curriculum adopted by England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Articles are written by the site's consultants, all of whom are writers and professors and whose bios are available on the Consultants page. According to the site's "About" page, all articles are submitted to that team's "detailed scrutiny," and users of the site "can therefore be assured of the highest standards of accuracy and reliability." Users can also link to download paid "Q-books," nonfiction readers that delve deeper into the same topics. Any image or entry can be shared via social media, and a (rather insistent) pop-up on the site alerts users that the site uses cookies.

This kid-friendly site offers very cool information, even if its encyclopedia-like entries don't dive especially deep. Kids will find the serious topics they might expect from an encyclopedia (such as types of animals and ecosystems) plus more whimsical entries ("Castles & knights" and "Pirates & galleons"). The Prehistoric section has extensive dinosaur information, and the Technology and Science sections feature great diagrams and illustrations to show kids how things (such as electricity and plate tectonics) work. There's also an impressively diverse range of entries: Famous Women A–Z features scientists (such as Rosalind Franklin), writers (such as Maya Angelou), and leaders (such as Malala Yousafzai), among others, and articles on world regions and cultures highlight key contributions from people beyond Western Europe.

That being said, this is still an encyclopedia, so its entries aren't suitable as citation-worthy resources for a research paper. Also, watch out for how easy it is to download the Q-books: Every entry page features a similarly themed ebook, and it's alarmingly easy to click the book, select a purchasing format (Kindle, iTunes, or Google Play), and find yourself in the store. Overall, though, this is a great tool for reference and introductory material, and it could be a great supplement to offer students for quick reference, independent reading, or inspiration.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Cool info and illustrations will pique kids' interests; text-heavy site design might tax some less-strong readers.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids can explore a wide range of resources. Q-news current events entries offer good insights and real-world connections. The insights only go so far, though: This encyclopedia covers a wide range of subjects with limited depth.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Navigation can be tough. There's a ton of information here, and it's tough to wade through it in an organized way.

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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