It can be a challenge to find engaging texts for older students who read below grade level. A fourth grade student may be reading at a first grade level; however, she does not want to read something about a 7-year-old’s birthday party or a kindergartner losing his tooth.
Consider these strategies for connecting older students with high-interest, low readability text.
1. Collect old basals from a variety of grade levels in your district. If you photocopy the pages from the reading series, then the older readers will have no idea that the material was actually published in a lower grade-level text.
- Look for historical fiction passages or informational text that correspond with science and social studies concepts you are covering in your content-area curriculum. For example, a second grade basal might have stories pertaining to colonial America–which fits with fifth grade social studies curriculum.
- Many basals reprint an entire picture book, minus the majority of the illustrations in the original text. (With fewer illustrations, the text now looks more sophisticated and appropriate for an older student.) That said, look up Guided Reading, DRA, or Lexile level of a picture book at Book Wizard, to ensure you are matching the right text to the right reader.
2. Gather up the extra grade-level copies of classroom magazines (e.g., Time for Kids, Weekly Reader, Scholastic News, etc.). Store them in a location for all teachers to access. This allows upper-grade teachers to access these lower-grade-level publications for their own students. These magazines/newspapers are chocked full of current events, seasonal happenings, and kid-friendly topics. (If you don’t have a school/district subscription to a news magazine, access TFK articles from previous issues for free. Print the articles or have students read the digital version online.
3. Sign up for NEWSELA. This free membership offers a wide variety of short informational texts, including pop culture and content-area concepts. Each article is written for 5-6 different lexile levels. Simply select the level appropriate for your struggling reader and watch the sentence length change, the word count adjust, and the text features vary. Print the article or assign students to read it online.
4. Introduce older readers to an easy chapter book series that includes some picture support. The size, shape, and even length of these texts make struggling readers feel like they are tackling text similar to the novels their peers may be reading. (TIP: Some chapter book series tie nicely with content-area curriculum. For example, The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne connects with many social studies events and geographical locations. Rick Riordan has three chapter book series related to different types of mythology.)
5. Conduct an interest inventory. Find out your students’ favorite sports, cards, video games, etc. Look for articles and graphic novels on similar topics to hook them.
Utilizing high-interest text, low-readability text increases a struggler’s level of engagement while also providing an opportunity for him to practice essential reading strategies.