If you are an elementary or middle school teacher who has ever perused my article of the week lists (disclaimer: Kelly Gallagher is the man who invented Articles of the Week), you've probably wanted to hurt me. This is because my articles are often a stretch even for my ninth graders (after all, the vocabulary difficulty of newspapers has remained stable over the last 50 years, whereas the reading demands placed on K-12 students in the same time period has decreased — see Common Core Appendix A, p.2). So what is a well-meaning K-8 teacher to do?
Below, I want to emphasize the awesomeness of two complex text resources for K-8 teachers. I've written about them before, but based on my recent interactions with a group of 5-8 grade literacy teachers, I feel the need to shout these two resources out again.
NewsELA: a futuristic, shape-shifting, cross-curricular gold mine
Let's get the two bad things about NewsELA out of the way:
- They require you to make an account (which isn't totally bad, but it is kind of annoying)
- The site is so awesome that I'm afraid they might lock it all up someday unless you pay
Those two bad things are a stretch. The first one is Nit-picky with a capital N, and the second one is highly unlikely as NewsELA seems to be pursuing a tiered business model in which access to the articles will be free, while more advanced “pro” features (e.g., assigning articles to students digitally; allowing students to annotate digitally; tracking student progress) will be reserved for those with scrilla.
Here's why NewsELA is awesome. Once you sign up, you have access to articles that are:
- diverse (NewsELA uses these categories to organize its articles: War & Peace, Science, Kids, Money, Law, Health, and Arts)
- adjustable (this is where it gets nuts)
So for every single one of NewsELA's articles, there's this option box on the side (see below) that lets you choose the Lexile level of the text.
Now, keep in mind that Lexile is only a quantitative complexity measure, and, therefore, it should never be our only guide in determining whether we're giving kids appropriately complex texts (here's a heavily biased, significantly misleading, yet kind of entertaining New Republic article that rips into text complexity determinations that only consider quantitative factors). But assuming that you can easily grasp a concept that the New Republic author couldn't, it is awesome that NewsELA gives us control over the quantifiable complexity of a given article.
Using that tool (and effective hooking), NewsELA can provide more grade-appropriate complex texts than you could ever possibly use, K-8 teachers 🙂
ReadWorks: a mega-repository of K-12 texts with an equally big caveat
Like NewsELA, ReadWorks requires an account sign-up, but, again like NewsELA, it's all free, baby.
Here's what a sample page of the ReadWorks archive looks like (screenshot below):
As you can see, each text is categorized by grade level, Lexile level, category (they call it domain), and, controversially, a skill/strategy categorization. You'll also notice that each article includes questions for students to answer.
Here's where my big caveat with ReadWorks.org comes in: I'm afraid this site will be used by teachers to print off reams of worksheet-esque articles, poems, and stories to chuck at kids and keep them busy. Like I've said before, we need kids to read if they're actually going to get better at reading (just as badminton coaches need their badminton players to #hittheshuttlecock) — but at the same time, we must protect literacy from turning into a worksheet-driven, instruction-optional thing. We teachers need to choose texts that fit our students, our classes, and the discussions and debates our students are currently having or that we want them to begin having. In other words, please, for the love of all that is sweet, don't use ReadWorks.org as a worksheet generator.
With that being said, ReadWorks.org is a great resource for K-8 teachers looking for places to find appropriately complex texts for their kids.
What do you think, K-8 teachers?
Am I on point with these resources? What other resources are you using successfully in your search for complex texts that match your grade level? Holler at me below.