CCRS & Text Complexity

CCRS and Instruction

What is informational text, when would I use it, and what kinds of informational and expository text are available?

Informational Text

Content-rich nonfiction is informational text that is factual information on a specific topic or event which is designed primarily to explain, argue, or describe rather than to entertain. Informational text is a broad category that includes sub-genres. As text, it is designed to convey factual information, rather than tell or advance a narrative, therefore—

  • It may employ techniques such as lists; comparing and contrasting; or demonstrating cause and effect; and may be accompanied by graphs, charts, or photographs giving factual information on a specific topic or event
  • The purpose of informational text is designed primarily to explain, argue, or describe rather than to entertain. It is also designed to acquire information, satisfy our curiosity, help us understand our world and new concepts more fully, to expand vocabulary, make connections to our lives and learning, help with writing nonfiction, and to have fun.

(See Informational Text Chart Graphic)

Using Complex Text

The use of complex text by students involves teachers adapting a variety of means and methods in lesson planning that would provide students with opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills along with activities that engage the"TWIRLS" skills. (Thinking, Writing, Investigating, Reading, Listening, and Speaking.) Those lessons that would lend itself to an inquiry model, or project-based, or real life scenario, are the type of lessons that teachers would design which would involve students having to use and apply various complex text. Not every lesson will lend itself to using complex text or an inquiry-based approach to a lesson, nor necessarily involve a project-based outcome. But, teachers must begin adapting their teaching practice to use these types of subject-matter presentation modes whenever possible and integrate the use of complex text in order to address College and Career Ready Standards.

For a host of professional development articles and materials on Inquiry Instruction please visit Kath Murdoch's site. Click Here. (Readings and Publications)

Also, for a multitude of resources on Student Engagement from Edutopia, Click Here.

For best practices in project-based learning (PBL) from Edutopia. Click Here.

(Two lesson samples which include video are detailed later in this newsletter. These videos will help teachers to see these teaching practices put in action.)

Informational Text Resources

Resources for accessing nonfiction text are available for teachers and students. One place that will contain a wealth of information is the Alabama Virtual Library (AVL) and the databases within it that provide information from such sources as: periodicals, scholarly journals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, manuals, plus many other reference works.

In addition, many schools may also have an electronic nonfiction ebook collection. Unlike fiction ebooks, most of these resources are multi-platform and simultaneous use—meaning they are accessible via any Internet connected device such as a computer, smart phone, or tablet, can be accessed by unlimited users at the same time, and at anytime, anywhere (home or school). Typically, these ebooks are purchased and owned by the library and are included and accessible via the library's online catalog. However, in addition to these electronic resources, there are also the nonfiction print collections housed in school libraries.

Due to lack of proper funding for many years, the print collections in most school libraries are probably out-of-date or have not been maintained, like the offering of newspapers or periodicals for instance. When funding was available it often went to fulfilling technology needs, so the status of your school library may or may not be able to meet all your needs. Rarely are funds adequate to fully maintain healthy library collections in all areas of the curriculum with both print and non-print resources, as well as technology resources, but you won't know what your school library has to offer until you explore the collection through the online catalog (OPAC). Check your library's website for access, or a link, to your school library's holdings, including any nonfiction ebooks.

Thankfully, with the Alabama Virtual Library’s resources, the availability of accurate, current, and authoritative information has been accessible through technologies. With the advent of electronic nonfiction books being cost-effective purchases, most school libraries are placing emphasis upon obtaining these resources rather than adding to the print collections. Ebooks available through the AVL, in most instances, are also available through your school library's OPAC and therefore, are searchable through the catalog. Check with your librarian to see if you need a user name and password to access your locally owed ebooks through a direct vendor's portal.

(See Nonfiction Print Resources...School Libraries Graphic)

Determing Complex Text

How is COMPLEX TEXT defined and how do I determine the difficulty level?

Complex Text

Simply stated, complex text is a measured degree of "expected" comprehension ranging from too easy to too difficult. For a first grader who is an independent reader, there will be text that will range from "easy" to "hard" for that particular reader to be able to read and comprehend, and the same is true for all readers. There is a three-fold component to be considered when determining the complexity of a particular text - a quantitative measure, plus a qualitative measure, plus the subjective measure of a reader's abilities comparative to the assessed difficulty level of the desired text and ensuing activity. In addition, there is also the consideration of grade-by grade specifications for increasing text complexity in successive years of schooling.

These measures are to be used together with grade-specific standards that require increasing sophistication in students’ reading comprehension ability. The Standards thus approach the intertwined issues of what and how students read individually and from increased rigor in year to year.


1) Qualitative measures – In the Standards, qualitative dimensions and qualitative factors refer to those aspects of text complexity best measured (or only measurable) by an attentive human reader, such as levels of meaning or purpose; structure; language conventionality and clarity; and knowledge demands.

2) Quantitative measures – The terms quantitative dimensions and quantitative factors in the Standards refer to those aspects of text complexity, such as word count, length or frequency in sentence length, and text cohesion that are difficult (if not impossible) for a human reader to evaluate efficiently, especially in long text, and are thus today typically measured by computer software, or analyzer tools.

3) Reader and Task Considerations – While the prior two elements of the model focus on the inherent complexity of text, variables specific to particular readers such as motivation, knowledge, experience and interests can impact the difficulty level and can impact the particular tasks involved - such as the purpose and complexity of the assigned task.

The Lexile Score

Many of the AVL databases use the Lexile standard of measurement and are found beside the article so the difficulty level of the passage can be viewed before it is selected. Perhaps the most common method for determining text complexity is the Lexile measure, but it’s interesting to note how it compares to other methods. (See the Common Scale Band Graphic)

For example the Renaissance Learning® company uses the ATOS system which provides a grade level range that is used for determining the student’s ZPD range (zone of proximal development). The ZPD gives the reader the range of reading material (for AR) that should be his/her choices for recreational reading. AR (Accelerated Reader) is most often associated with recreational reading for a designated period of up to at least 60 minutes daily, although it can be for both fiction and/or nonfiction titles. The ZPD is the range determined by the result of their STAR Reading computerized test score which is then suppose to be used as an individualized reading goal for that student.

Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and in the workplace and it is important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breath of ideas developed through complex and content rich text.

Lexile Tools - Helpful Links

For more information on Lexile bands and the grade by grade level "stretch" to accommodate the Common Core please access this link. Click Here

Find-A-Book - Lexile Framework tool for locating the Lexile measure of a book. Click Here

Lexile Analyzer - Requires free registration to use. Click Here

Text Complexity and Instruction

TEACHING EXAMPLE: 10th Social Studies

Lesson Objective - Connect the Declaration of Independence with the American Identity.

Student Engagement Activities -
Before: Students listen as teacher reads "break-up" letter and then students write journal entry and share with partner about what he/she already knows about the Declaration of Independence. (100% of students)
During: Students listen to mini lecture while looking at timeline; Teacher models how to read document and annotate it in margins; Students read and annotate text (100% of students)
After: Students write journal entry on "How did today's examination of the Declaration of Independence establish thoughts of what it means to be an American?" (100% of students)

Assess/Evaluate -
Before: Teacher listens as students share journal entries and make anecdotal notes as needed
During: Teacher listens as students engage in conversations as they read, check annotations, and make clarifications and anecdotal notes where needed
After: Teacher collects journal entries to check for understanding

View the video for the example lesson by clicking on the link below. (May require free registration on "The Teaching Channel" site to view the video.)

Snapshots of Instruction Using Informational Text - What you see...What you hear students doing!

(Adapted from "K-12 Teachers: Building Comprehension in the Common Core")

When visiting middle schools/high schools and grades 6–12 subject-area classes:

You would see . . .

· Teachers explicitly teaching and using generic comprehension strategies. For example, teachers showing students how to interact with texts by monitoring their comprehension, posing questions, drawing on background knowledge, making and confirming predictions, summarizing, and making connections.

· Students using generic comprehension strategies when reading. You would see comprehension think sheets or prompt sheets, note-taking organizers, question charts, etc.

· Teachers modeling and explicitly teaching discipline-specific comprehension strategies. For example, in sciences, students must fully understand experiments or processes. Close connections exist among prose, graphs, charts, formulas, etc. Students are taught to read back and forth from the text to tables, graphs, etc. Corroboration and transformation are major reading strategies.

· Explicit subject-specific vocabulary instruction.

· Multiple texts used during a lesson.

· Teachers using ―precision partnering (e.g., student partner discussions with a designated first speaker, use of sentence starters, accountable listening, and teacher monitoring).

· Task-based accountability built into every lesson task or activity—there is clear accountability with every student doing every task (e.g., students all required to say, write, and/or do something as an evidence check of engagement).

· Teachers using engagement to structure discussions (e.g., responding of all students, everyone does everything—no bystanders) versus structuring discussions using traditional hand-raising (i.e., teacher poses a question, and students raise their hands to respond).

· Collaboration! Teachers planning and preparing texts and materials with other teachers. Teachers need to collaborate and organize reading comprehension instruction in all subject areas.

· Study groups, learning communities, and professional development opportunities for teachers to work together to plan and improve reading comprehension for adolescent learners.

· An emphasis on students’ basic and intermediate literacy skills in the early and middle grades so that literacy in the upper grades can focus on understanding content (i.e., disciplinary literacy).

· An emphasis on subject-area reading strategies for students struggling with reading.

When visiting middle schools/high schools and grades 6–12 subject-area classes:

You would hear . . .

· Teachers and students using language, academic and content vocabulary, questions, and content-specific talk!

· Teachers and students using content-specific vocabulary during text-based discussions.

· Teachers and students using academic language and use of target vocabulary in a structured context (e.g., using words in sentences).

· Academic, content-specific discussions.

· Teachers modeling discipline-specific comprehension by thinking out loud.

· Teacher and student discussions about how pictures within text differ in their role. For example, some pictures may highlight describing/defining nouns, verbs/processes, relationships, etc. Also, differences exist between technical drawings and other drawings/photos.

· High-quality discussions with questions such as

  • ―What is the author trying to say here?
  • ―Does this information agree with the other information?
  • ―What did “John” do to “Alex" in this story?

· Teachers modeling reasoning by thinking out loud.

· Students expressing opinions with explained positions and reasoning.

· Teachers acknowledging clear student reasoning.

· Teachers/students summarizing a discussion when it closes.

Some additional considerations . . .

· Educators should be cautious applying approaches to literacy that are used in other environments without first considering the similarities and differences between those environments and the context in which they are working.

· Collaborate! Build curriculum coherence by discussing the generic reading comprehension strategies that will be introduced, practiced, and reviewed in subject-area classes.

· More research on disciplinary reading is needed. However, the activities involved in disciplinary reading developed thus far suggest learning benefits.

Teaching Example #2: Science and Text Complexity (Current Events)

Lesson Objective: Students discuss the journal and science articles that were assigned to them and relate their findings and understandings to what they are learning in the classroom by identifying topics, subject matter, and vocabulary from content learned in class.

Using informational text from current event science articles to connect readers to the text, vocabulary, and real-life experiences, the teacher guides the discussion of an 8th grade science class to making connections to the subject matter that is taught in the classroom.

  • How did the teacher engage each student?
  • How did the teacher evaluate and assess the learning?
  • What had to take place prior to this lesson for the students to be able to actively participate in the classroom discussion?
  • What was taking place during the discussion to make sure students were engaged with the discussion?
  • How might you adapt your instructional practices to accommodate this type of learning in your classroom?

View the video for the example lesson by clicking on the link below. (May require free registration on "The Teaching Channel" site to view the video.)

Considerations for Implementing a Lesson

Use the 5 guiding questions to plan and implement a lesson:

  1. What standard am I teaching?
  2. What are my daily measurable objectives for this standard?
  3. What strategies will help me focus and pace my lesson appropriately?
  4. What strategies will require ALL (100%) of my students to engage in content through TWIRLS?
  5. What actions will I take to assess throughout the lesson?

Lesson Reflections:

  1. What were students able to do based on the standards?
  2. What evidence do you have?
  3. Which students need additional instruction?
  4. How will the next lesson be adjusted to meet their needs?

Cullman County Schools

The information for this newsletter has been assimilated from materials received from the CCRS Implementation Team Quarterly Meeting and information from The Lexile Framework (website), unless otherwise indicated, and was compiled by June Chandler, the librarian at Fairview High School.

If you have any comments or questions please contact Mrs. Denise Schuman, Curriculum Coordinator, Cullman County Schools.