Saturday, December 28, 2013

Close Reading Part 4: Text Complexity

                                          Picture Source: wwwatanabe

While going through the close reading process, I heard about the idea of text complexity. This seemed to be pretty straight forward to me: get the appropriate leveled readers/books/excerpts for your kids. However, I as went through all of the information, I was shocked by how much that actually entails.

Text needs to be complex enough to be worthy of a close read. I will not be able to pull out many different themes, text-dependent questions etc. from something like Hop on Pop. I need it to be complex. (I swear I almost just typed complexer. I need a nap.)

We were told in our state-wide training that the complexity of our texts does not prepare students for college. They gave us a statistic that stated "the average length of sentences in  K-8 textbooks has declined from 20 to 14 words" and even worse "what was once a 5th grade level textbook is now being used in 8th grade. What is being used in 12th grade was once used in 7th grade." Wow. Really? That seems to be a huge shift in the complexity of the texts we are using in our classrooms. Not only has the vocabulary and content complexity decreased, but also the number of words on a page. Furthermore, college level textbooks have either stayed the same or increased in difficulty. That means our kiddos graduating from high school are not prepared for the complexity they will meet in college.

I found this picture from Achieve the Core that explains it really well.
It shows how the gap gets bigger and bigger as the grades get higher. This picture alone helped me decide to stop rolling my eyes and take this seriously.

Now if you are like me (and most of you are probably better than me), you don't understand the Lexile numbering system. I have exclusively used the Fontas and Pinnell guided reading A-Z system. I have seen Lexile numbers but they didn't mean a lot to me.

This video helped explain to me what a Lexile number is and what it's purpose is.

So since I had to research Lexile numbers I thought I better look into text complexity a little bit more. Hopefully what I have learned will help you as well!

Text Complexity:
                                       Picture source:

I have seen this graphic above about a million times by now but it helps to show you the three biggies of text complexity.

1. Quantitative Measures of Complexity:
        This covers the statistical aspects of the text: sentence length, sentence complexity, number of high frequency words used compared to higher vocabulary words etc. Usually this stuff is all done with a computer which makes me feel better about life.

2. Qualitative Measures of Complexity:
        This covers things such as levels of meaning, author's purpose, text structures, text features, knowledge demands etc.

3. Read and Task Considerations:
      This covers things such as background knowledge, motivation, interests etc. This is left up to us teachers to discern for our students.

Those are the three considerations for determining text complexity but I needed something that helped me see how that all came together in the real world. has a cool free feature called Find A Book. When you type in that link you will see a screen that looks like the one below.
If you know the Lexile number of a book you want to use in your class, you can type that in, or if you are like me and didn't really pay attention to those numbers you can select a grade and how difficult you want the book to be.

I typed in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever because my 3rd graders LOVED those. They always seemed a bit harder to me complexity wise. The Lexile score for that book is 1060L (the L stands for Lexile). Seeing as a third graders range 450-790, this would be high for most of them. The subject matter, however, puts the age range at 8-10. It really depends on your reader. This also showed me that Lexile is only ONE piece we should consider when picking books for our students.

I discovered that you have to look at more than just the quantitative Lexile number. For example, if you enter in the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the Lexile number is 770L. That means that technically a 3rd or 4th grader could read the text and comprehend it. Now I don't know about you but I really don't want any 4th graders I know to read a book that has phrases like : "sharpen a stick at both ends" and "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart...". Okay, I'm freaking myself out, I better stop!

This is why the qualitative piece is so important! The themes in this book are very complex and somewhat disturbing so the age range is 12-19+. I still hope no one would read this with a 12 year old!

The structure and set-up of a book can really increase it's complexity. This is one area where I have a slight problem. I am too type A to have murky waters in picking books. However, I'm going to have to put on some waders and deal because considering all of these things are what's best for my students.

These are the steps I took:

1. Figure out the quantitative measures of the text by using something on the computer like

2. Look at the themes, structure, purpose etc. of the text.

3. Think about the reader and what knowledge they will bring to the table.

4. Fill out a text complexity rubric to determine best placement.

My state created a rubric for text complexity but there is also one on that is pretty helpful. Click on this link to get it: Text Complexity Rubric.

This is something that I will continue to look at and learn about as I go. It doesn't seem to be clear cut to me. However, what is clear cut is that not everything I was using in my room was complex enough! I will be better!

This video fits me perfectly after researching text complexity forever. Enjoy!

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Years Resolutions!

It's that time of year again! When I pledge to work out more and eat less and then struggle to do either for the next 12 months! However, this year, a group of fabulous ladies and myself have decided to make a few different types of resolutions! Hope you enjoy reading it!


I'm always looking for activities to do with my kids when we get back from Christmas break. I created this FREE New Years Resolutions and Goal set. Click on the link to download!

Don't forget to stop by Brandi's blog A Peach for the Teach to see more resolutions! You can also download the freebie from Google Docs here.
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Close Reading Part 3: Text-Dependent Questions

Alrighty, we have talked about using evidence based terms and reading with a pencil. Next up is text-dependent questions.

Text-dependent questions are great because they bring students directly back into the text (hence the name). I've noticed in my experience, that it is easier to talk about our experiences with a topic or subject in a text than it is to actually talk about the text. The problem with that is that only those who already have experience or background knowledge about that topic will be able to engage in the discussion. We want our kiddos to spend as much time as possible analyzing and synthesizing the text before them.

When I first heard about text-dependent questions I made a "text-to-self" connection (A+ student right here!) and assumed that they were all similar to the "right there" questions found in the QAR's we are all familiar with. (If you don't know what they are the Reading Rockets website has a pretty clear explanation.) (If you think I overuse parentheses please feel free to send me one of these photos to show your frustration.)

Text-dependent questions are so much more than a right there question. They can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be. There are three main types of text-dependent questions. They are:

1. questions that address themes and centrals ideas
2. questions that assess knowledge of vocabulary, meaning, and structure
3. questions that assess the understanding of the author's claims/arguments or connections with another text.

The fabulous people at my state office of education created a chart that shows the three different types of questions and how they fit into the reading anchor standards and the three repeated readings of a close read. For more information on that see my Close Reading Part 2: Reading With a Pencil post.

This is a free download that can be found here if you are interested.

So how do you create text-dependent questions? I have several ideas. ( has several documents that can help you write questions. They have a shorter version and a longer version.)

The first step is to make sure that you are asking a question that brings students back into the text. If you are reading James and the Giant Peach, asking your students if they have ever eaten a peach is not text dependent. Make sure the question is something that can only be answered by going back into the text.

Text-dependent questions begin by focusing on parts of a text like the words and details and then move on to the piece as a whole with things such as themes, inferences etc.  This short video shows Fisher and Frey's model of creating text-dependent questions.

Quick steps to writing text-dependent questions:
1. Identify the core understandings you want your students to understand about a text.
2. Start with level 1 (Key Ideas and Details in the Reading Anchor Standards) questions that talk about specific details and content. This is where I really think of right there questions.
3. Begin moving into level 2 (Craft and Structure) questions. Talk about the word choice, the set-up of the story: is it a poem, whose point-of-view is the text from, what are the arguments made in the text, how do the words that the author uses show their perspective etc.
4. Move on the level 3 (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas). What is the author trying to tell you? Is there enough evidence to support the author's claim? How does this compare to other texts/media on the same topic?

An easy place to start is with your basal or reading program if you have one. They already have many questions prepared for you. Some of them are text-dependent and some of them are not. Usually, most questions just need small tweaks. The main question to ask yourself is "Does this force my students back into the text to answer the question?". If the answer to that is yes then you are on the right track.

I just finished my Text-Dependent Question Stems product that can be found in its entirety by clicking on the link. I have created a FREEBIE for my awesome blog followers that you can download by clicking on the link below the picture. Now yes I know it gives you 14 examples and only 12 cards. I've been stuck in PDF purgatory all day and that's the best I could do after cussing in my head all morning!

Text Dependent Questions FREE Preview

Well that was more long winded than I intended but I hope it was helpful! How have you used text-dependent questions in your classroom?

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Close Reading Part 2: Three Readings and Reading with a Pencil

Okay I know I'm supposed to do it, but what is it?

                                 Photo credit: Belle's Bookshelf

Alrighty, I'm going to try and explain the steps in a close read. It will be thrilling, exciting and daring I promise! :)

The first thing I need to point out is that close reading is NOT in the common core standards. It is a practice through which the standards are met. It's a process of "thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep understanding of the text's form, craft, meanings etc." ( 2013)

Now all of that technical jargon sounds all well and good but what does that mean for the real teacher in the classroom right now? I can tell you that my last class had five special education students and nine different languages. How could I get them to do a "thoughtful, critical analysis of a text" when I couldn't even get them to write simple sentences? I had to start small. I had to scaffold. I had to keep trying.

The goal is to get students reading complex text on their own. Until our kiddos can get there, we need to scaffold them. We as teachers already do this all the time. We do things such as guided reading, literature circles, shared readings, interactive read alouds and more. I wanted to make a printable that I could give all of my students to help scaffold as we began the close reading process. I wanted us to have universal symbols that we could use when talking or writing about close reading.

I made something simple that we could all refer to. I posted one on my whiteboard by my guided reading area and then shrunk them down and copies 4 to a page so each kid could have one in their reading notebook. (This is a free download if you are interested. Link: Close Reading Toolbox or this link for Google docs).


Using this poster really helped my kiddos to "read with a pencil". It helped to bring them back into the text. I gave my kids the small size sticky notes so they could make their marks on those and didn't have to write in the actual book. It worked wonderfully.

Besides reading with a pencil, close reading also includes:
- using SHORT passages or excerpts (this could be a couple paragraphs to several pages to a chapter in a longer book depending on grade level).
-limited pre-reading activities
- rereading deliberately
-discussing the text with others
-responding to text dependent questions

Okay now you are probably thinking that sounds nice but how do I do all of that? Well let me begin by telling you that there are no specific steps to conducting a close read. That's part of the beauty of it. Once you try it out a few times you can do it in the order/way that works best for your style. This is NOT a scripted program that you have to follow to perfection. It is a series of guidelines to help you bring your students back into the text.

My state decided to set up organizational structure that had our students read each text 3 times. They were brilliant in doing this because it follows the organizational setup of the anchor standards for reading: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. This does not mean read the entire book three times! Let me explain:

1st Read: Key Ideas and Details:
- After setting a purpose for reading, have students read the text as independently as possible. (For me that meant some of my SpEd's and ELL's had to read with a partner or para. This could also be done as a read aloud or think aloud if the text is very complex.)
- Do not build up background knowledge, instead focus more on the key ideas and details of the text. (Think Right There type questions).

2nd Read: Craft and Structure:
-Choose a piece of the text- paragraph, pages, chapter- that is complex enough to do a close read on.
-Have students reread that section only.
-After rereading that sections, students discuss the text focusing on the author's craft, structure, and organization. These can include vocabulary, word choice, text structures, text features and answering text-dependent questions (more on that next time!) etc.

3rd Read: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
-Students go even deeper into the piece. They synthesize and analyze the information in the text. They compare this text to other texts or forms of media (see anchor standards for reading). They also begin to record their ideas on graphic organizers, journals, sticky notes etc.

What's nice about this setup is that I can do a close reading on a variety of leveled books. My students that are on an L can do a close read on Horrible Harry or Junie B. Jones books. My next group that's on an Q can do a close read on Dear Mr. Henshaw. I can take each group through this process using appropriate books for each student.

This is a good place to stop for now. I know this is a general overview but close reading is a BIG hunk of nebulous materials, ideas, procedures etc. I promise I will keep writing more on it as I go and answer any questions that you have.

Have you had any trainings on close reading? What is the most important thing you learned?
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

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