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  • Alison Davis

Leveled Reading in an ESL Classroom


In ESL classrooms throughout the world, educators seek to get the right book into the hands of the reader at the right time and for the right purpose. This presents some challenges and many opportunities for reading instruction!

Books are leveled as “just-right” using a range of criteria and processes. Books for young readers will focus on familiar themes and subjects using prior knowledge and experience and gradually increase to include ideas that may be unfamiliar to their context. The length and layout of the text support early readers. The number of pages, word, and lines per page make early reading successful and increase in complexity. The vocabulary contained in the text will begin with high-frequency words, words with regular spelling patterns, repetition and content words supported strongly by illustrations to more complex literary and academic vocabulary to express layers of meaning. The language features of texts are leveled using multiple criteria linked to age and stage of development, research and readability. Beginning reading books begin with simple sentences with one idea and build to longer, more complex sentences. Easier books provide greater support for readers to gain meaning and solve words through illustrations that increase with complexity through the levels. Early books have simple plots and repetition. The structure and layout of texts increases with complexity across both stories and informational text.


The most important reason for using leveled text is to get the “just-right” text into the hands of the individual reader at the right time and for the right purpose. This means more than establishing a text-level number or Lexile. It means that the educator needs to know the child as a reader – their passions, background knowledge and successful reading behaviours. This will support decision making for matching the reader and the instruction with the book.


All schools have multiple books housed in distinct areas throughout the school. School libraries are a great resource for the reader and educator alike. Typically, libraries are filled with a growing range of general and specific fiction and informational texts across a diverse collection of print and eBooks. These are the resources teachers draw on for daily classroom instruction for whole-class modeled and shared reading.


Classroom libraries have multiple texts for engaging the reader in the different forms of reading in a learning day. Teachers will select a variety of books about the same subject, which level the content in a simpler or more complex way, according to what the student can do and what they need to learn next.


Organizing books into a system of leveled reading resources means that educators have those “just-right” books on hand - from the easy books that an emergent reader might read to the longer, more complex books for the independent reader. Depending on the leveling system used, books may be labeled numerically, alphabetically, by color or by grade level. For the more targeted instruction in guided and independent reading, educators draw more support from texts which have been leveled to match the specific learning needs of the reader known as “just-right” books.


When educators match readers to texts, teachers are hoping to create not only a good fit between text and reader but also good harmony with a positive attitude in the learning to read experience. An appropriate match will make the difference between a child becoming a confident, skilled reader with a love for words and ideas or a learner who is frustrated with their reading.

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