Analyzing Text Complexity of Non-fiction Sources

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SWBAT read and comprehend nonfiction, specifically biographies, through determining criteria for text complexity.

Big Idea

It's so hard to read! But why?

Reading Time

10 minutes

Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time.  This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.

Guided Instruction of Criteria

10 minutes

With the Common Core demanding students to read complex texts, it's important for students to begin thinking about what makes a text complex. By empowering students with these tools, they can begin understanding complex texts when they read them. Since the overall goal of the Common Core is for students be college and career ready, this lesson allows them to learn how to work with complex texts that they will encounter in the future. They will eventually read complex texts that are slightly above their level so doing this work now prepares them for that.

I begin by pulling up the Determining Text Complexity Smart Notebook file (here is the PDF version if needed: Determining Text Complexity PDF). We go through the first few slides as a class. The first slide prompts students with the question: How can we determine the complexity and appropriateness of a non-fiction text?. The question just serves as a way for students to see what the class will focus on. It's a way for students to focus their thinking for today's lesson. The next slide asks students what makes a text hard to read. I ask this question to the class and jot notes down on the Smartboard based on their responses. It helps to have a general consensus before we move forward. If students are struggling coming up with a list, I prompt them with a few ideas, which are listed on the third slide. I know that many students always so vocabulary is difficult so I can mention that one if they can't think of an idea. I can then take it further by asking them if it's new vocabulary or content specific vocabulary.

The next slide is the important part of the lesson. I have listed 13 different criteria that can be used to determine a difficult text. Since reading, and by extension reading ability, can be personal, I have students list all 13 of the criteria in order based on their own abilities. I tell students to order the criteria based on what would make a text difficult for them. I read and explain each one out loud so students understand what each one means.

Students then highlight their top five, which will be the ones they will be working with for the next section of the lesson.

Individual Practice To Determine Complexity

23 minutes

The next step is for students to use this idea in context. Since they will need to read one biography in full for their research project, I want students to make an informed decision and this work will help them do that. Students begin analyzing the difficulty of different biographies. I asked students to bring in a few different biographies so they can have a few different sources to choose from. The culture of my classroom is one of choice, specifically informed and educated choice. Since that culture has allowed students to choose the topic they want to research and therefore motivated them a bit more, the right book is so important to keep that motivation going. A book that is too hard can destroy the motivation and a book that is too easy does not challenge them, which can also cause them to lose motivation.

I show my example of my notes based on the biography that I read. These notes came from the biography on L. Frank Baum titled The Real Wizard Of Oz. Students can see my notes as a model as I have the notes on the smartboard. Here is Determining Text Complexity PDF  and here is Determining Text Complexity Smart Notebook file. My notes are on slide five. Slide four lists the steps the students will follow for the rest of class.

Students then take their top five criteria from the previous section and take notes based on the biographies. They jot down notes about their biographies either in their notebooks or on the computers. These notes has students think about each of the criteria as it applies to their notebook.

Here is an example of Text Complexity Student Notes from a biography based on Harvey Milk. This video of Student Example Text Complexity Work explains the example.

As students are working, I circulate around the classroom to offer support as needed. One support that I offer is helping students to determine how many pages they need to read in order to jot down notes. Some criteria can be answered by skimming through a section and other criteria needs to have a decent amount of text reviewed.