You’ve combed through your library. You’ve done your research. Finally, you have texts that will help push forward your unit concepts and be of high-interest to your students.
Determining how to break open the wonderful world contained in a book can be a daunting task. Your book is full of many great lessons, literary features and ideas that you want to expose to your students. This easy-to-follow guide will give you several ways to break down a text so you can deliver the most meaningful instruction possible to your students.
There are three main ways of looking at text complexity. The quantitative, qualitative and reader and task considerations all determine how useful and appropriate a book or text is for your unit objectives. This post will focus on qualitative measures, as these seemingly ambiguous factors are often the most useful in determining what aspects of the text to teach and how.
There are four aspects that make up the qualitative measures of text complexity. Meaning and Purpose, Structure, Language and Knowledge Demands all must be considered when determining what parts of the text to teach to students and how to break down your lessons to ensure a full understanding of the book or text at hand.
The first thing to consider when determining how to access and teach a book is the layers of meaning present in a fiction text, or the author’s purpose in a non-fiction text. Determining if the author’s message is straightforward or obscured is the first consideration, as otherwise students wouldn’t access the essence of the text. If meaning or purpose might hold students back, consider delivering a few lessons around breaking down hints at the author’s meaning throughout the text so students can fully access the rich ideas found within the text.
Structure refers to the author’s craft moves of layout, timeline and information. If a story follows a straightforward, chronological order there wouldn’t be a need to have a teaching point or lesson around the structure. However, if a story jumps forward and backward in time, this structure would typically need to be previewed for readers. Similarly, if a non-fiction text has simple headings and subheadings that are easy to follow, your readers can likely access the text. However, if the non-fiction text has many footnotes or diagrams that contain information not found in the main text, you would likely direct your readers attention to these differences in structure.
Determining vocabulary words and accessibility can sometimes feel overwhelming. How to choose from all the awesome, rigorous words in your properly-leveled text? Pay attention here to language that impedes meaning as well as Tier 2 vocabulary words. If a reader can figure out a complex word based on context clues, allow the reader to do this. If there is a complex word that isn’t easily defined by context clues, but also isn’t a useful word for students to know, consider defining it in the moment. The remaining meaty words are the words to choose from for vocabulary activities and lessons.
- Knowledge Demands
Knowledge demands refer to the prior knowledge a reader would need to access the text. Sometimes, the inclination is to give background information on all aspects of the text. However, you must ask yourself: can my students glean this information without my telling them or setting them up? If the book provides enough details about the culture or topic that it’s about, or the information isn’t essential to the central idea of the text, there isn’t a need to conduct lessons around that topic. However, if there are cultural elements in a fiction text or content specific concepts in a non-fiction text that the text does not explain, consider devising a lesson or two around the knowledge demands of the text.
In the era of the Common Core, we are choosing rigorous, meaty texts for our students to dive into. This breakdown of text complexity will help ensure that our students are getting the most out of each text they encounter, and that we are teaching with purpose and meaning in mind. The below question bank is taken from our curriculum guide, Be Core Ready by Pam Allyn. It details questions you can ask yourself to determine the measures of text complexity.
Contact: Talia.LitLife@gmail.com – I will always get back to you!
– – Talia Kovacs
Levels of Meaning / Author’s Purpose
- What are the levels of meaning in this story?
- What themes or lessons exist in this story?
- Are the levels of meaning simple, or do they require some deeper analysis to access?
- What is the purpose of this piece?
- Is the purpose obvious to the reader or is it hard to figure out why it was written?
- Who is the intended audience for this piece?
- What is the structure of the story?
- Is the story told in a simple, chronological format?
- Does this story use a more complex structure such as non sequential storytelling or take liberties with manipulating time?
- Is the information presented simply, without regard to specific formats unique to certain disciplines?
- Is the information presented according to the complex structures of specific disciplines?
- Is the structure common to the subgenre of informational text it represents?
- Are multiple structures included?
- Are the graphics easy to access or do they require more complex knowledge?
Language Conventions and Clarity
- Is the language in the piece casual and easy to understand?
- Is the language in the piece more academic or professional in nature?
- Is the vocabulary in the piece complex or simple?
- Is the language in the piece more literal, or are there heavy doses of figurative language?
- Is the language in the piece modern or archaic?
- What tasks are required for interacting with and fully comprehending the text? Are they straightforward or do they require more analytical thinking?
- Does the text assume a high level of cultural knowledge?
- Does the text assume a high level of literary knowledge?
- Does the text assume a high level of content knowledge?
- Is the text rooted in common, everyday experience or does it rely on fantasy or imagination?