How to Find a Reading Level

Written by katie zenke
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Many adults when selecting books for children may be primarily concerned with finding the reading level of the books. Even if this should not be the primary concern for selecting a book, it is an important consideration when shopping for a learning reader. You don't want to give a child a book you think he'll love, only to find that he has no hope of reading it before he outgrows his interest in the topic.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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    The easiest way to find a reading level is to check the book itself. Some publishers print a numbered reading level somewhere on the book, such as on the back cover, on the inside or outside of the front cover, or on the page listing copyright and publisher information. Easier to read books designed for beginning or transitional readers are more likely to have this information on the book. Books for more advanced readers still occasionally print the level, but may not do so or may list age brackets that do not always correspond to reading level.

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    Publishers of children's books often list reading levels on their websites as well. To find a reading level from a publisher's website, search for the book title on the site. Somewhere on the page with the book's description an image of the cover is usually information including the copyright date, the list price and sometimes the reading level. Not all publishers put this in the same place. For example, Scholastic puts this information in a sidebar, while HarperCollins lists it in a box under the description of the book.

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    Another resource to check is a levelled book list. Many schools and libraries maintain lists of recommended books, but there are also similar lists online. Not only can you peruse the lists for a variety of books at the reading level you want, but you can search by specific title and (provided it is included on the list) check its reading level. Older titles, award winners and classics are more likely than new titles to be on such lists, but best sellers and extremely popular series titles tend to get added quickly.

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    Some levelling systems have websites too. Type in the name of the book to find the level. The most commonly referenced reading level systems don't have websites or have websites available to teachers only, such as Fountas and Pinnell. The Lexile system website is available to everyone. Many books are not in the system, since it relies on publishers to submit books, but the database is large and many new, popular titles as well as classics are there.

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    If all else fails, determine if a book is at a child's appropriate reading level by having the child test it. Open the book to a random page and have the child begin reading. This is somewhat subjective, but if the child feels like she is struggling too much or if she stumbles over too many words (more than five per paragraph), then the book is probably too difficult. Choose a book If the child can read a page with a minimum of struggle or none at all. This has the added benefit of helping the child decide if she is interested in the topic, style and layout of the book.

Tips and warnings

  • Be aware that each level system is different, and each has limitations. For example, fantasy books almost always rate very high in the Lexile system because they use fantastical names and terms, but the actual complexity of the text may not be too difficult. The levels printed on books often have an explanation next to them, and websites usually have a guide to explain what their levels mean. Numbers don't always correspond to grades, nor do children always read at grade level.
  • Reading levels are not a measure of content, only of the complexity of the writing or the words used. Consider the content of the book you are considering too. A very easy book for high school may have content that is not of much interest to high school students while some challenging books might touch on concepts too mature for fourth graders, even if the reading levels are correct for students of those ages.

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