Cooking Up a Leveled-Text Program

Dec 18, 2020

Why Leveled Texts?

What can benchmark a student’s reading level, focus all eyes during a guided reading session, and provide opportunities for instructional practice in everything from phonics to reading comprehension strategies? A leveled-text program can do all these things—while providing a variety of engaging reading materials matched to students’ abilities and interests. These programs offer a variety of texts—either passages or books ranging in length—for students reading at different levels within a grade. By giving students texts that match their abilities, teachers can ensure that grade-appropriate skills are mastered while encouraging and monitoring student progress.

These programs are attractive to publishers as well as to teachers. The publisher of a proprietary leveled-text program holds the copyright, so books and passages can be easily updated or revised. Texts can be created to match grade level–appropriate reading in the content areas and in varied genres. And opportunities for practice in reading comprehension skills and strategies, phonics and word study, vocabulary words, and more can be seamlessly integrated into the texts to ensure that all the students’ reading skills develop.

Child reading a book with a bookcase of books behind them
At Six Red Marbles, editors and designers have extensive experience in developing leveled-text programs from soup to dessert—that is, from concept to final files. Here’s what we do.

The Menu: Where It Starts

SRM’s creation of a leveled-text program starts when a publishing client brings a project to us for development. They tell us how many books or passages they need, the proportion of fiction to nonfiction, the proposed formats, the skills the text will be used to teach, how many photos or illustrations are required for each book, and which leveling metrics will be applied.

The Soup: Developing a Matrix

By definition, a leveled-text program applies metrics for leveling texts. This allows the teacher to match the text to the student’s ability and increase text difficulty at an appropriate rate for individual learners.

Two of the most frequently used metrics are Guided Reading levels and Lexile®. Guided Reading levels assign levels of text difficulty from A to Z based on factors such as text length and layout, word count and sentence structure, visual support from illustrations and photos, and content. Lexile® measures analyze text complexity by looking at text characteristics such as sentence length and word frequency. Some other leveling metrics include expectations for words read per minute; the ratio of unique words, or words that appear only once in a selection, to total words; and older, vocabulary-based methods such as Spache and Dale-Chall.

Topics for a leveled-text program are usually determined in advance of writing to ensure that they match the challenges and interests of students in a target range. For instance, within nonfiction, children in grades K–1 typically enjoy learning fun or lesser-known facts about familiar topics, especially those in nature. Older children read nonfiction to explore topics in science, history, technology, the arts, and more. With fiction, children in the primary grades are beginning to look outward: to think about the problems, challenges, and adventures of other children and fantasy characters. As students progress through the grades, more unfamiliar genres and settings can be introduced.

The Main Course: Writing the Text

The goal of the writer is to make the text as engaging as possible. The trick is to be flexible and creative within the guidelines, the assigned skills, and the matrix. Need to embed five words beginning with silent k into your text? I gave this challenge to a writer once, and he embedded six. Writers must also turn on a dime when they receive feedback from the publisher, especially since updated information about textbook adoption needs can change the direction of a program.

The Dessert: Contributing to Student Learning

The published text must be as appealing to a student as a trade children’s book or magazine article. To this end, it is typically peppered with lively illustrations for fiction or eye-catching photographs for nonfiction. However the teacher chooses to use the final text, it will build students’ reading skills while opening their understanding of the world around them.


Cindy Kane is a Curriculum Supervisor for Six Red Marbles in English language arts, where she has overseen projects ranging from phonics programs to leveled text readers to literature study guides. Writing as Cindy Trumbore, she is also the author of several children’s books.

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