Learn the Ropes

Learn the Ropes

There is a three-part model for measuring text complexity based on:

  1. Quantitative measure
  2. Qualitative measure
  3. Reader and task considerations
  • Read more: Appendix A - Supporting Research and Glossary

Why is text complexity important?

How do I measure the complexity of a text?

What is the connection to standards?

How do I think about text complexity if I teach K-2?

  • There is no complexity requirement for what students read to themselves in K and first grade.
  • In second grade, the complexity band begins and students need to be reading texts in the lower part of the grades two-three band, as determined by quantitative and qualitative methods. Keep in mind this does not mean all texts students read should be in this band. Less complex texts and a variety of texts students can read independently should be part of the mix.
  • Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders should include read aloud texts-lots of them.  These texts should be at least 2 years above the grade level of the students (e.g., read aloud texts to students in the first grade should be of third grade complexity).
  • For a collection of read aloud lessons, please visit the Read Aloud Project

Answers to common questions and concerns about using complex texts with students:

I avoid the use of complex text with my students because I worry they are too hard for my students to understand.

It is important to offer all students the opportunity to productively struggle with complex texts. Otherwise, they won't be prepared for the rigors of postsecondary training and careers. Let students know they will have the opportunity to read a tough passage that is meant to challenge them as readers. Most students love that you trust they have "the stuff" to handle the challenge. Tell them too, that you will work as a class on the text together.
I've taken to reading aloud complex text to my students. I wonder if that is enough. Simply reading complex text to students does not provide them with the opportunity to see what they can understand on their own and practice the skills you have taught them. Read aloud to students after they have had the opportunity to try reading the passage individually or with partners. Let students know that because the text is complex, they shouldn't worry if they don't get it all in their first read. When you do read aloud, be sure to ask students to follow along in the text. Doing so helps struggling readers become more fluent.
I'm tempted to (and often do) just tell my students what they need to know about the complex text they are reading. Students should have the opportunity figure out what the text says. Otherwise you risk taking the joy and adventure out of reading. Ask students to share with one another what they took from the text. Use text dependent questions to inspire deeper thinking as students move through the text. This creates a wonderful opportunity to understand where students have confusions or misunderstandings
I simply assign complex texts and expect that my students can or should understand it on their own. Is that what I should be doing?   To become college and career ready, students need to learn how to engage with grade level appropriate complex texts on a regular basis.  Simply assigning complex texts to students and expecting that they can or should understand it on their own is not enough. Take note of what is complex within a text so you can concentrate on working with students on those parts of the text. Doing so will grow the tools students will have in their toolbox of skills to comprehend complex texts.
I'm concerned that I'm assigning too much complex text. Every text that students read doesn't have to be complex. In fact, it shouldn't be. Restricting all text to complex text and all reading to close reading will make it impossible to grow the knowledge and vocabulary essential to reading proficiency. Students need to read texts at a variety of complexity levels, including less complex texts and texts students can read independently.


Other helpful advice on how to structure lessons that utilize complex texts.

  • Pre-teach needed vocabulary. Some words cannot be determined from context. If these words are essential to grasping the text, providing their meaning is important.
  • Answer text dependent questions (TDQs) one at a time. Good TDQs are designed to build upon each other. If students go astray on earlier questions, this increases the likelihood of their missing later ones.  Instead of assigning a series of TDQs to students and then going over them, let students answer one question at a time and review it together before moving on to another to build on the learning.
  • Start with literal questions. A literal understanding of a text is often necessary before students are able to understand the text at deeper levels. Moreover, literal questions addressed to complex texts are not necessarily easy.  Start with literal questions to ensure students have a foundation on which to make logical inferences.
  • Include questions about syntax. Many students have trouble with complex syntax. Be sure to craft questions that require students to unpack the syntax in order to dissect the meaning.
  • Avoid asking students to address every question in writing. Asking students-especially young students who write very slowly -to address every question in writing can make for exceedingly long lessons. Instead, selectively target which questions to answer in writing and what types of answers to ask for (e.g., quick writes or asking students to put a paragraph in their own words).
  • End the lesson asking students to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding. Answering the TDQs during a lesson is a necessary component of demonstrating mastery of the material, but it is not sufficient. Students should be asked to synthesize the evidence they have gathered when answering the TDQs as part of their culminating assignment. 

How do I help all students read and understand complex text?

I am ready to practice analyzing text complexity!
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