English Language Arts

ELA: Why Lexile Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story

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Last week I provided teachers with updated Lexile Ranges from Appdenix A of the Common Core State Standards. Read on to see how teachers must also take in consideration more qualitative measures when determining which books to use in the classroom.

manpotteralexanderCan you identify the words in this word cloud taken from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea? What about those from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling? Or even from Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

On first glance, either can I! The reason? All three books scored between 940L-980L using the online Lexile Text Analyzer  tool. This would place all three books firmly in the 4th-5th grade reading range.  Even more surprising? The simple board book The Wee Little Woman  by Byron Barton  scores a 1300L using the same set of metrics due to the repeated use of the slightly archaic word “wee.”

In a nutshell, these examples remind us that other, more qualitative, measures must be taken into consideration when selecting high-quality literature for students. While Lexile scores are a quick and dirty measure of readability, teachers still need to carefully consider the text structure and language features of each text as well as visual supports such as illustrations, the levels of meaning and purpose of the selected text, and the prior knowledge students need to have to understand the text.

The non-profit Aspen Institute has created a user-friendly Text Complexity Analysis Worksheet for classroom teachers to use when evaluating the reading level of student materials. This is an excellent collaboration tool for both elementary and secondary teachers. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like me to show your grade level team or department how to use this worksheet.

Thanks to Lakeland School District teacher Katie Graupman for sharing this resource at a recent Region 1 CORE workshop! jennifer-signature


ELA: Updated Text Complexity Bands

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Determining text complexity just got a little bit easier. Scroll to the bottom to download an updated readability chart!
text complexity

During many of our informational text sessions, Post Falls teachers have focused on the three components of Text Complexity as they relate to the Idaho Core Standards. Text complexity is not determined by a one simple measure, but is determined by quantitative evaluations, qualitative evaluations, and by matching the reader and the task.

While qualitative measures look at things such as the meaning, structure, and language of the text, quantitative measures analyze text readability based on vocabulary as well as word and sentence length. A text may have a quantitative score of 620L, but may be too complex in terms of meaning and purpose to use in a second grade classroom.

Many Post Falls teachers have been using AIMSweb or Accelerated Reader correlation guides to convert student reading levels to Lexile scores. However, Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards has been updated with new quantitative text readability ranges for the most commonly used text-analyzer tools. This is an easy way to continue using student ATOS scores from AR or with Flesch-Kincaid scores from your word processing program.

I suggest printing the chart below and using as a reference when lesson planning or helping students select books.

Would you like guidance in leveling your current classroom library? I’m here to help!jennifer-signature

ELA: High-Interest Informational Text for Differentiated Instruction

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Love Scholastic’s StoryWorks or Scope magazine? Have you discovered Action yet?

actionScholastic’s Action was designed as a high-interest magazine intended to boost the reading and writing skills of at-risk middle and high school readers. Like StoryWorks and Scope, each issue is directly aligned to the Idaho Core ELA Standards and includes informational text, reader’s theater for building fluency, paired texts, and argumentative writing prompts. Many English Language Arts teachers at both River City and Post Falls Middle School currently use StoryWorks and Scope magazine. Scope magazine is an integral part of the Middle School Summer School program as well.

Teachers who subscribe to Action magazine receive additional lesson planning materials and online resources. However, many of the informational text passages are currently available online free of charge.

Like Newsela, each Action article is written at a low, a middle, and  a high reading level which allows teachers to easily differentiate instruction for all types of readers. Multiple levels of texts allows all students to be included in the instructional process and contribute to the in-class learning environment.  Currently, passages can be found anywhere from 420L to 1060L allowing teachers to meet the needs of all learners. Scholastic Action has made the lower and higher Lexile passages available for teachers to print. The middle Lexile passages are available for digital download and also include an audio option for those students needing additional support. Digital companion videos and links are also available.

Know another great source for secondary level text? Let me know!

ELA: Mentor Texts for Writing

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Let’s just put it out there- Writing is hard! How about using mentor texts with students to help develop fluent writing skills in the classroom?


In a nutshell, mentor texts are high-quality examples of writing that can be used in the classroom to help students develop their own writing skills and meet the more rigorous demands of the Idaho Core Writing Standards. Mentor texts allow students to model their own writing after the work of others through intentional exposure to targeted books, excerpts, and passages.  Mentor texts can by written by professional authors, teachers, and even other students. Typically, mentor texts fall into three categories: Ideas, Structure, and Craft.

Mentor texts that focus on unique and new ideas may inspire students to create narratives of their own or explore unfamiliar themes or concepts. These are the type of mentor texts that most teachers are already familiar with and have used for years. I’ve seen several teachers use Judi Barrett’s classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to help young writers generate their own extraordinary ideas.

Mentor texts that focus on structure are great illustrations of the commonly found text structures in writing. Mentor texts can help model common text structures (Sequence, Descriptive, Compare & Contrast, Cause & Effect, Problem & Solution) so that students can utilize similar structures in their own writing. A common mentor text used at the primary level is Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book. Students can “borrow” the structure of this book to frame their own paragraphs or passages about things that are important.

Lastly, mentor texts that focus on craft can be used in the classroom to model the use of figurative language, dialogue, word choice, sentence length, and alliteration. Kevin Henkes‘ picture books are a great way to introduce younger students to many of these abstract ideas.

So where can you find mentor texts? There are probably perfect examples in your classroom already, but for some guidance check out the links below:

Please email me if you’d like to team on a Mentor Text writing lesson in your classroom or see close reading modeled at any level. jennifer-signature

ELA: Perseverance

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Earlier this week teachers at Ponderosa Elementary put on their dancing shoes! Skip to 1:09 to check out their awesome moves to Katy Perry’s “Roar!”


The video was produced by music teacher Sarah Windisch and will be shared with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students prior to next month’s S-BAC testing. Teachers Kelly Howard, Stacey Peppin, and Becky Rice recently came up with the idea after attending a workshop focused on helping kids develop GRIT and GRIP. The presenter gave teachers the lyrics to “Roar!” and suggested sharing them with students in a lesson about perseverance. The Ponderosa team took it a step further and made a video. Thanks for inviting me to be part of the fun!

ELA: Basal Alignment Project

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Over the past month, I have been asked several questions about the Basal Alignment Project. More specifically — “What is the Basal Alignment Project?” and “How can I access it?”

bapThe Basal Alignment Project  started as a way for teachers to share Common Core aligned resources with other teachers for use with common basal readers throughout the country. Teachers worked to create a bank of text-dependent questions as well as resources focused on specific comprehension strategies and Tier 2 vocabulary support. The result was the Basal Alignment Project.

The Basal Alignment Project does not address the spelling, phonics, or grammar portion of textbooks and is only available for grades 3-5. However, almost each lesson contains culminating tasks and classroom activities that align with the more rigorous standards. Paired with our District’s TIA StoryTown documents, the Basal Alignment Project is a great tool for teachers to use while planning instruction.

The Basal Alignment Project can be accessed two ways:

By visiting the AchievetheCore.Org website 

  1. Select grade 3, 4, or 5.
  2. Scroll down to find StoryTown.
  3. Select the appropriate story title.
  4. The Word document will open and save to your computer.

By creating or logging into your Edmodo account

  1.  Join the Basal Alignment Project group with the join code “F4Q6NM.”
  2. Click on the folder icon on the left side.
  3.  Choose the “HMH StoryTown” folder.
  4.  Click on appropriate story title.
  5. The Word document will open and save to your computer.



ELA: Overview of the Six Shifts in the Idaho Core Standards

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Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 8.45.23 AMReading teachers and paraprofessionals from all five elementary schools spent Monday morning in a workshop session at Post Falls High School. Paraprofessionals were introduced to the basic format of the Idaho Core Standards in ELA as well as the new Smarter Balanced Assessment before diving into the six instructional shifts in ELA associated with the Common Core Standards.

If you’d like a refresher (or introduction) to the ELA Idaho Core Standards feel free to click through the Prezi used during the workshop. The Prezi contains valuable videos, links, and resources for each shift. They are also downloadable below.

Teachers and paraprofessionals walked away from the training with new tools for close reading and writing text-dependent questions as well as strategies for supporting at-risk readers in vocabulary development and writing from texts. Teachers also revisited the foundational skills that need to be taught at each grade level for students to meet the rigorous demands of informational text. Be sure to ask them to share some of their new knowledge!

Foundational Skills

Text Complexity

Text-Dependent Questions

Academic Vocabulary

Writing from Sources

Check out the Prezi for videos and online links!jennifer-signature