A Discussion on Reading Material

Finding Appropriate Level Books

to Help Students Improve Reading Skills

& How to Select Books to Match Your Child/Student’s Reading Level


Daily reading is critical. Students should read a minimum of 20-30 minutes every day. Of course, the more reading is better!   In learning and remediation stages the majority of this reading time should be guided reading (out loud to an adult or other proficient reader with feedback). As the student’s skills develop, their reading will shift primarily to independent silent reading. Practicing correct reading skills is essential to developing proficiency.

In general the student should read level appropriate material. Obviously, ‘appropriate’ is a relative term and the student’s reading level will change and advance as the student gets older and as their skills advance. The level of material also varies depending if they are reading alone or reading outloud with feedback.


To determine if a book is level appropriate for a child or to select text that matches a student’s reading level you need to consider several interacting factors.  The general guidelines/suggestions to consider include the following three factors:


1) Student’s Age or Stage of Reading Development

· Beginning Reading Level  - Primarily guided reading. It is important to use decodable text in the beginning/learning stages. See the article Decodable Text Explained for detailed information. The guidance is critical for the learning stage.

· Intermediate Level - Use a combination of independent reading to practice known skills and guided reading to help the student develop new and advanced skills. Practice with independent reading is important to improve proficiency and build fluency. Guided reading is important in learning how to handle multisyllable words, expand vocabulary and develop comprehension skills.

· Advanced Level - Use primarily independent silent reading. Although, guided reading is an effective tool to achieve higher level comprehension and learning objectives.

· Remediation - Use primarily guided reading in the remediation stage. The guidance is critical to extinguish improper techniques and build correct skills. Use decodable text in early remediation stages and then move to guided oral reading to develop intermediate and advanced skills.


2) The Reading Situation (oral guided reading or independent silent reading) 

· Guided Reading is ideal for acquiring and developing new skills. Guided reading is particularly important in the beginning and remediation states.  Guided reading is also important in developing advanced skills in intermediate readers.  See the article Guided Reading Explained for complete information on this effective tool for improving your child or student’s reading ability.

             Guided Reading = Learning/Developing New Skills

· Independent Silent Reading is ideal for practice and improving proficiency of existing skills. Independent reading is important in the intermediate and advanced reading stages. 

             Independent Reading = Practice/Improving Existing Skills


3) Level of the Book/Reading Material ~ Determining Appropriate Level Books for Reading Development

Evaluate the actual level of the words/text found in the reading material. This includes factors such as word structure, decodability, vocabulary, number of multisyllable words, sentence length and structure, grammar, and complexity.  In beginning reading it is critical to select decodable text. To determine if a book is decodable evaluate the phonemic code used in the text and compare it to your child’s code knowledge. Remember to evaluate the text carefully! Do not rely on the grade level rating printed on the book.  Many very simple children’s picture books with only one or two words per page and numerous books actually labeled “early readers” are full of words like ‘rhinoceros’ and  ‘laugh’ that contain complex code or multisyllable words such as ‘carnival’ and ‘investigations’ that are not decodable by beginners.  It is not only simplicity of the text, but rather the structure of the words used. See the article Decodable Text Explained for a more detailed explanation and examples.

Multiple formal methods and systems for evaluating and rating ‘reading level’ exist. (For example,  the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score and Fry Readability Graph) Most are based on readability factors such as vocabulary, number of multisyllable words, sentence length and structure, grammar, and complexity of story plot. A few rating systems consider suitability of the content.  Many of these systems provide numerical ratings as a score or age rating to evaluate and compare text or books. These technical methods attempt to provide objective information on the actual ‘reading level’ of a particular book.  The reading level then needs to be considered relative to the individuals’ skills and reading situation to determine what is ‘appropriate’ for the student.

In addition to the formal methods, you can simply listen to your student read and then adjust material to fit. The following simple rule of thumb can be used to help you determine if a book is the appropriate reading level for a particular student at a certain time and situation:

Independent level: This is material the student can read with few errors. If the student is making only a few errors on a page the material is at the independent level. This ‘easy’ or independent level is ideal for silent reading.

Instructional level: The learning level material is where the student reads with some errors, challenges and skill building. If the student is making 4 or more errors per page the material is considered instructional level and should be read to an adult as guided reading material. This instructional or learning level is ideal for guided reading so you can help the student develop skills.

Frustration level: This is where the material is ‘too hard’. The student makes frequent errors in every paragraph. The reading level is really too advanced for the student. It is best to avoid frustration level material by finding another book. If frustration level material must be read, it is should be read as guided reading with assistance.


When a student learns to read proficiently, they should be able to read grade level material. In other words, a 6th grader  may have difficulty reading a college level physics textbook but should not struggle with their middle school science textbook or other classroom material. If grade level material is consistently not ‘appropriate’ for your student, chances are they are lacking necessary decoding skills and need direct instruction in developing the necessary phonologic processing skills. If your child or student struggles with reading grade level material, please see the information on reading difficulty, dyslexia and helping struggling readers achieve success.

Note: This article only discusses the ‘appropriateness’ of text from a reading development standpoint. 



Additional free information on teaching students to read is located at Reading Information and Information & Resources for Teaching Reading pages of the Right Track Reading website. 


This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at www.righttrackreading.com ~ Copyright 2008 Miscese R. Gagen