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Reading levels and book selection tips

September 05, 2013 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Finding the right reading level

You know your students’ proficiency levels very well, but deciding their reading level based on classroom or unit test performance can be misleading. If you’d like to gain more insight into your students’ reading level, do the reading level tests that we’ve prepared for our Red and Blue Readers. First have a look at our Structures and Grades chart with the CEFR levels to see which levels might work for your students then ask them to do the corresponding test. These tests should not take more than 15-20 minutes.

5 Reading Level Tests

You can find the answer keys to all the tests here.

Some ideas to keep in mind

As Pauline Gibbons suggests in Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom, if the book you choose is used as an instructional material, aimed to extend your students’ reading skills, it should be a little ahead of the students’ independent reading ability (p.100). However, for a successful independent reading experience, the key is to find a comfortable reading level which still offers some challenging language.

If you'd like to encourage your students to read stories with unknown words, here is an idea from Reading Matters, the Guide to Using Graded Readers, written by Alan Pulverness:

  • Blockout

Give students a longish extract (say, a couple of pages) from a reader a little beyond their current level. Ask them to black out any unknown words and then to see if they can work out the meaning of the blacked-out word and how much of the whole text they can understand. This should help to give them the confidence they need to choose books that are linguistically a little more challenging rather than always choosing ones that are easy for them to read.

Selecting the right genre

We have already shared some ideas about choosing the right book in our post Choosing the right reader, and you can download our Reading Personality and Reading Habits quizzes here.

Here are two more book selection activity worksheets that can be fun to familiarise with different genres and titles:

1 Download our Extracts worksheets, cut them up so that you have a set of quotes and book covers for each level. Ask your class to work in pairs or groups of 3-4 and match the quotes and the book covers. Ask them to look for evidence in the quotes to explain their choices.

2 Judge a book by its cover

Do these worksheets to talk about book titles, genres and themes.

Here are a few more ideas to consider when choosing books:

  • You can decide to choose a particular country where the story is set (see our posts about London and international locations), but it can be a time period or any cultural theme.
  • Since now you can find longer, shorter and graphic stories, the length of the story can be an important point to consider too. At the beginning of the term or a Book Club, I would read shorter books to secure success.
  • Try changing genres from time to time because the club members and you as well can easily get bored with the same kind of writing. It can be a good idea to have a month when everyone reads a different book and the club members can do little reports and book recommendations based on their experiences.
  • Finally, always try to plan at least three months ahead so that you can order or borrow the books you and your Book Club would like to read.

Remember that if your students can pick their own books from time to time, they will be more motivated to read them.

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