The Case for Complex Text 

Reading standard 10 of the Tennessee Core Standards is devoted solely to text complexity. In both literature and informational text, standard 10 defines a grade-by-grade “staircase” of increasing text complexity that rises from beginning reading to the college and career readiness level.  In Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, the authors acknowledge that many students will struggle as we increase reading expectations, but the answer to this problem is not found in providing students with below grade level text.  The authors go on to note, “All students, including those who are behind, must have extensive opportunities to encounter and comprehend grade-level text as required by the standards.”  All too often, students who have fallen behind are given only less complex text rather than the support they need to read text at the appropriate level of complexity. 

Determining Text Complexity

Text complexity is often measured in Lexile levels that are based on two factors: sentence length and word frequency.  Considering Lexile levels is a great place to start as you select complex texts for your class, but don’t forget to consider other key factors that can affect the complexity of the text.  The text’s level of meaning (readers must make inferences and uncover layers of meaning), and the developmental appropriateness of the theme must also be considered.

Improve Students’ First Readings: Set Purpose

Setting purposes for reading helps guide students’ search for important details, themes, and inferences in complex texts. To set the purpose for reading, you can ask students to turn the title into a question and then read the text to answer the question. Anticipation guides also increase students’ interest and encourage them to read more closely. A true/false anticipation guide requires students to decide if statements are true of false before they read the text.  As students read, they determine if their answers are correct and rewrite the false statements to make them true.


Teach Students to Reread 

All students, from struggling readers to advanced readers, can experience confusion when reading an unfamiliar word or a complicated passage of a complex text. Teachers can help students by leading the class through several readings of difficult passages (teacher reads, group reads, individual students read). Direct students to slow down and unlock meaning from a challenging passage or find context clues to figure out the meaning of a tough word.  



Challenge students with high-level, text-specific questions and ask partners or small groups to skim texts for evidence and then discuss. Also teach students that a high-level question has more than one answer. Students can craft their own discussion questions using words such as how, why, evaluate, compare and contrast, and explain. No matter who composes the questions, the Tennessee State Standards stress that students use text details and/or inferences to support responses.


Complex Text Resources:

Achieve the (Exemplar Close Reading Texts)

Read Write

         Fast Facts: 

       *Students in the classrooms of more effective teachers read ten times as much as students in classrooms of less effective teachers (Allington and Johnston 2012).

       *A significant body of research links close reading of complex text – regardless if the student is a struggling reader or advanced reader – to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness.