This Month in Literacy


The article as found below is reprinted with permission from the following online source:

Coiro, J. (2002, May). Leveling Books to Match Readers. [Reading and Literacy Resources Online]. Suite101.com. Available: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/1411/91865

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Leveling Books to Match Readers

Julie Coiro

Providing readers with books that offer just the right amount of support and challenge to allow them to successfully problem-solve on text is an important part of any positive reading experience for children of all ages. Thus, teachers are striving to select books for guided reading opportunities at school and parents are striving to guide chidren toward appropriate levels of books for shared and independent reading at home. However, matching the reading level of a child with the text found in a book can be a daunting task. In fact, there are whole books written on the subject. Some of the most popular current professional books on this topic include

Each of these books describes the process of matching children to text so that emergent and developing readers are successful when they approach a new book. What exactly does this "matching readers to text" mean? In simple terms, an adult helping a reader to select a book can help that child realize that there are three types of text that he/she may come up against: easy, challenging, and so difficult that it's frustrating. Each level of text can offer different things for different readers. For reading teachers, the selection process involves knowing a particular reader and the degree of accuracy for which that reader can read a certain book.

An easy text is a text read with a high degree of accuracy (95% plus). For emerging readers, an easy text provides a rich backdrop of meaning to assist self-correction when errors are made (e.g. illustrations related to the text, contextual clues, patterned text). Reading texts at this level allows a child to practice successfuly reading behaviors and act as an independent
reader at home or during silent reading opportunities at school. A challenging or instructional level text is one that is read with about 90-95% accuracy. This is the book that provides a few challenges scattered amidst mostly successful interactions with the text. This level provides the best opportunity for making growth in reading if supported with guidance from a teacher, parent, or insightful peer. A very difficult text is one that is read with less than 90% accuracy. The child reading this text seems lost, frustrated, and usually pretty disconnected from any meaning making experiences. These are the books that are usually are put down quickly or that children are expected to struggle through in a school reading experience.


Developmental Reading Levels

Now obviously, children come in many different ages and read at a wide range of ability levels. This is where the science of leveling books comes into play, as several publishing companies have begun to offer sets of books with similar text features designed to match different reading ability levels and reading behaviors. Experts have also begun to sort through regular children's trade books in an attempt to "level these books" for children as well. How does this leveling process work? First, it's important to realize that children at different developmental levels of reading approach a book in different ways, use different clues from text and/or illustrations to make meaning, and often read for different purposes. In the chapter Scaffolding with Text Levels in her book Guiding Literacy Learners, Susan Hill outlines the developmental levels of reading behaviors often observed as children move from emergent reading to early reading, and then from transitional to extending stages of reading. In this free online excerpt provided from Stenhouse Publishers, she explains these four levels and then pairs each developmental level with text difficulty levels which often differ in terms of the:

  • complexity of concepts in the texts;
  • complexity of syntax and vocabulary;
  • length of text;
  • amount of text on a page;
  • size and placement of text on a page;
  • the amount of contextual support in the illustrations

As you read through Susan Hill's excellent outline, you'll notice that a certain range of text levels fall into each developmental level of reading; in this case, for example, emergent text features can be found in books ranging from Level 1-5; early reading text features can be found in books ranging from Levels 6-11, and so on. This sounds easy enough right?


Leveling Texts to Match Readers

Well, the difficulty comes when teachers and parents begin purchasing leveled book sets published by one company and then find out that the leveling system is just a little different for book sets published by another company. For example, if you look at another great outline for those interested in actually Creating Original Texts to Match Student Reading Behaviors, you'll notice after each level, different leveling systems are listed in attempt to cross-match the various systems. So, now that you've figured out the basics of leveling books, you can now join the rest of the frustrated teaching community as they struggle to remember which level goes with which series!

Actually, Rigby provides a Leveling Guide in pdf form that can be accessed through their Quick Links menu that compares Fountas & Pinnell, DRA, and Rigby. Wright Group Levels are pretty consistent with Fountas and Pinnell's, except that after Level D, Wright Group is one letter higher than Fountas and Pinnell. I recently found another chart like this from LeveledBooks.com that matches Reading Recovery levels with grade levels, basal reading levels and developmental reading levels.

In the meantime, there are several online resources that can help parents and teachers locate books that match the developmental reading level of their children. If you're looking for lists of books that have already been leveled, you can visit any of the following links to access lots of different book lists (obviously, none of them have a list of ALL the books available at
that level):

  • Rigby's Correlations and Leveling gives you an idea of the variety in leveling systems and provides quick access to a list of books published by Rigby that match each level.
  • Portland, Oregon Public Schools Leveled Book List is a searchable database of children's trade books compiled by teachers in Oregon. Books in this list are leveled by grade and Reading Recovery level; they are also listed in order by title or author as well.
  • Reading Recovery List of Leveled Books is another excellent listing of books leveled for K-3 Teachers. The books in this list are even linked directly to Amazon.com if you'd like to purchase them. Several books in this list are also paired up with links to online lesson plans related to the book's topic or title.
  • LeveledBooks.com is a unique search-engine driven database that provides quick access to trade book titles for emergent and beginning readers. It's easiest to just type in a Reading Recovery Level and click search. You can purchase books directly from Barnes & Noble with this database.
  • Beaverton School District Leveled Books database lets you search for books by title, publisher, author, keyword, reading strand, Guided Reading Level or Reading Recovery Level.
  • Sadlier Leveled Books for Use in Guided Reading Programs is available in .html and in downloadable .pdf file)
  • Wright Group's Create a Custom Booklist provides one more way to search for titles published by the Wright Group
  • If you're looking for FREE online leveled books, you can find them at Reading A-Z.com. Here, you can access 30 free leveled readers (as well as companion lesson plans, guided reading resources and other materials for students). If you subscribe for $49.95, you can access over 1,300 books, materials and featured new material available only to subscribers.


Beyond Leveling Books

If all this talk of levels is confusing you, you may want to take a break from the lists and read up on a little more about what to do once you get these leveled books. Cheryl Sigmon's article entitled What Will I Do With All Those Leveled Books? briefly discusses sharing leveled book sets with teachers and managing guided reading groups. You can also find some ideas for a quick sample letter to go home to parents as you send home leveled books for practice. A book extract from Karen Szymusiak and Franki Sibberson's Beyond Leveled Books provided by Stenhouse Publishers helps to better understand the behaviors of the transitional readers and how to progress "from levels to supports" in designing good instruction for readers in grades 2-5.


Other Leveling Systems

Several other more loosely structured leveling systems and resources are available, especially for parents who do not have access to most of the publishing companies leveled book series used in schools. A totally different leveling system is that used by the Accelerated Reader software program, a popular motivational reading tool in many schools. Titles in this program are leveled according to readability, interest and reading level (you can learn more from ATOS Readability Formula.) This software challenges students to read a book (typically a trade book found in most libraries) and then take a computerized multiple choice quiz (see samples). Results from the quic can motivate students to read more and inform teachers about that student's understanding of the book. Laura Candler, a teacher, has an online file cabinet of Accelerated Reader Resources like reading log forms, KWL charts, point recording form and even her own teacher-created Accelerated Reader quizzes! If you're wondering what books have quizzes available in this program, several schools have published their lists online:

If you're looking for even less structure or for more realistic options for parents as summer approaches, there are some great resources in this category as well.

  • Book Adventure.com is like Accelerated Reader but it's online and it's FREE! Created by the Sylvan Learning Foundation, it's described as "a reading motivation program for children in grades K-8. Children create their own book lists from over 6,000 recommended titles, take multiple choice quizzes on the books they've read offline, and earn points and prizes for their literary successes." There's even a Parent's Place and Teacher's Lounge to guide you in supporting your children during this adventure. Why not try it this summer?
  • KidsReads.com includes recommended reading lists, author and title features, invitations to write to a favorite author and much more.
  • Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site includes Graded Booklists that are excellent references to top-notch literature leveled on what Carol calls "intellectual levels" (so, they just might make a better read aloud than an independent reading book, again, a perfect way to spend a few long afternoons this summer).
  • And last, but not least, an interesting online tool you may want to explore is called the Level Estimator from Readometer.com (click on How a Read-O-Meter Works and then ReadWriteSite to find the Level Estimator on the left menu). In just a few minutes, your child can read through one of the sample texts as you note their progrss and then you enter the number of mistakes into the Level Estimator form and click "Estimate Level". The results can help you make more accurate book selections for your child. You can also try the Book Browser to access lists of books at specific reading/interest levels or link to Sight Words for an idea of at what level a child reads words in isolation.

Enjoy your summer and take some time to read to or with someone that you love.

Julie Coiro, Contributing Editor


You can visit the Reading and Literacy Resources Online website to access other reading articles written for Suite101.

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