Readability: What it Means in an Elementary Classroom

Part Two of a Two-Part Series
Part One from October: The Design of an Elementary Classroom Library and What It Means for Your Book 

No matter what you’re writing, from romance novels, thrillers, and mysteries, to recipes, resumes, and grocery shopping lists, you have to know your audience. We, fellow children’s authors and pre-published authors, have a very specific audience, arguably the most specific guidelines, and let’s face it – one of the toughest markets. If you’re just getting started writing for children or you’re still not sure about the genre of your WIP; I highly recommend this article from Writer’s Digest in regards to average word counts and appropriate topics for children’s literature depending on the genre. These “readability” factors are the ones that you, the author, have to get right before you even query your book.

Let’s fast forward to your book being published (Congratulations!) and talk about readability in regards to where your book finds real estate within an elementary (Kindergarten to Grade 5) classroom. There are several software “programs” that calculate text complexity, each using its own formula and metrics. As a writer, you may have heard of Flesch-Kincaid and The Lexile Framework. But in classrooms, educators rely on systems that are a bit more nuanced, user-friendly, and aligned with the curriculum and materials used in the district. Pictured below is just one of many correlation charts you can find online. In my district, we use a combination of DRA Levels and Fountas and Pinnell (F & P) Levels. (The October post includes photographs of books organized by F&P levels.) 

Short and sweet explanation of determining text readability for students. 

a text level correlation chart
To view details, right-click and open image in new tab

When you’re purchasing texts from a school publisher, for example Rigby, the books usually come labeled with a level–in this case the Rigby reading level. (Many different leveling systems exist–hence, the correlation chart.) But most children’s books from trade publishers are not assigned a reading level (and that’s how it should stay). As explained in the October post, leveled texts or “Just Right” books are only one small part of a classroom library.

However, if you need to find a book’s reading level there are some easy-to-use websites and applications (some free). A very popular website amongst teachers is Scholastic’s Book Wizard. Make yourself a cup of coffee and search titles to your heart’s content, if so inclined. In the meantime, here are some examples.

Early chapter books like Frog and Toad Are Friends –  a “Just Right” book for independent reading for a first/second grader.

Chapter books, like the original Magic Tree House series. Levels range from M – P. 

For picture books, reading levels are typically higher, but less of a concern as adults usually read them to or with children.

Search some of your favorite books, you might be surprised by their corresponding independent reading levels.

As interesting as this information might be (or not be) don’t let this readability hullabaloo bog you down. Just write for kids. And write from the heart. That’s the good stuff – immeasurable; yet your reader knows it’s there. 

Are you a teacher? How do you use readability levels in building your class library? How do you use them in your writing? Let us know in the comments.

5 comments

  1. There are some very good resources embedded in this article that I will draw upon for the future. Learned a bunch of new things. Thank you, Keri!

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  2. As a teacher, I used what was within our curriculum. I also used some of the Daily 5 practices. So I taught my students to read in 3 ways: read the words, read the pictures, and retell the story (if it’s been a read-aloud in class). They had time to practice this reading with books in their own book tub. Some of their choices and some of mine…It worked well. My kinders loved it.

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