Tackling Text Complexity

Hi Literacy Land Readers!  This is Wendy here from Read With Me ABC.  

I recently attended a literacy workshop where we discussed text complexity.  I had a few "ah-ha" moments during the session that I'd like to share with you today.  

Text complexity is something many teachers struggle with when selecting reading material for their students.  We want a "just right" fit, a book that will engage students and provide the appropriate amount of challenge.

There are three aspects of text complexity we should consider:

Quantitative Measures

Quantitative measures look at the readability of the text based on syllables per word, words per sentence, and so forth.

When determining how difficult a text is, most teachers use a book leveling system of one sort or another.  Quantitative measures, like Lexile scores, are a great starting place.  However, they may not accurately represent the complexity and deeper meaning of the text.

Qualitative Measures

Qualitative Measures consider the quality of the text by evaluating the text structure, language, complexity of the ideas in the text, and knowledge demands on the reader.
Here are a few examples:
  • single plot v. multiple plot lines
  • one narrator v. multiple narrators or perspectives
  • sequential order v. non-sequential
  • literal v. figurative language
A text's qualitative measures rely on our professional expertise.

Reader and Task Considerations

When determining a text's complexity we have to think about the Reader and the Task.  The reader's motivation, knowledge of the topic, and experiences all factor into the text's complexity.  Each reader transacts with a text differently.  Features that one reader may handle with ease, another might stumble upon.  Here are some questions to ask as you consider the reader and task:
  • What do I want students to learn while reading this text?
  • Will this text keep students engaged?
  • How will students' past experiences influence their responses to the text?
  • Do students have the knowledge needed to comprehend the text?
Reader and Task is also based on our professional expertise and common sense.

Student interest is critical to their motivation to learn.  We must get to know our students well, in order to match them with books that will engage and entice them to persevere through the most challenging tasks.

I loved this video explanation by Carol Jago.

Graphics in this post were courtesy of Ashley Hughes and Oodles of Doodles.  Check them out!


  1. I really enjoyed this post as I teach middle school ELA and need to monitor text complexity carefully. :)


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa! You may be interested in this link:


      It provides 7 actions that teachers can take to support students as they tackle text.
      :) Wendy

  2. This is so true! I have had students in third grade who read on the a sixth grade level, but that material is way over their heads. Thanks for reminding us to look beyond the Lexile level and at the whole picture!

    Reading Toward the Stars