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by Sandy Scragg | November 2, 2017 New York Teacher issue
New York City teachers, given the diverse body of students, often have readers at widely varying levels in our classrooms. When it comes to selecting texts for whatever subject we teach, reaching all students including English language learners and special needs students can be a challenge, to say the least. Many teachers have differentiation strategies that work well, but another solution lies in websites that offer high-quality texts at different reading levels.
All of the websites below are free, at least at the basic level. Teachers need to register and set up classes to get started. Most of these sites also include tools such as integrated assessments and grade-tracking data to help measure student comprehension.
Newsela presents each student with the same text, adapted to the student’s reading level. Newsela, a robust site with many features, focuses on current events for students in grades 2–12, with Lexile reading levels starting at 300 and increasing up to an article’s original wording. Texts are grouped by topic and are cross-curricular. Teachers choose and assign articles to a class of students, and the students can read those articles at their Lexile level — Newsela converts the text for them. Assessments are included with every article, and teachers can track class progress. Signing up for Newsela is free, but its pro level offers more powerful tools for data, tracking and collaboration.
Commonlit offers access to both nonfiction and fiction for grades 5–12, searchable by Lexile range. While it doesn’t provide the same text at different levels, the site does have built-in scaffolding and supports, like word definitions and guiding questions for all pieces, and you can choose texts by reading level for quick differentiation. You can also download and print reading selections, with the supports included, for easy handouts. The website organizes pieces by theme (an English teacher’s dream!) and has many standard works that teachers already use in their classrooms. Commonlit also includes free progress tracking, teacher-to-student online feedback and built-in assessments.
Readworks is another website housing high-quality texts, both nonfiction and fiction, for students in grades K–12. It also offers “step reads,” which modify the reading passage for a reader who is one or two levels lower. These adapted passages are written by a person, not converted by a bot, to ensure fluency. The site also offers audio versions of many reading selections to aid understanding. Texts also include comprehension questions, vocabulary and assessments. Some of the extensive features of the site include automatic grading, texts paired on a common theme, supports for English language learners, student progress data and a full range of curriculum lessons and teacher tools — all of which are free.
Rewordify is a simple website with a simple solution: You can copy and paste any text into its online tool and it will simplify it to a more basic level of English. Yes, the site can only reduce the complexity of the text by one level, but you have the freedom to start with whatever text you wish. The site also supplies a large collection of classic literature and public documents, along with scaffolding supports like definitions, assessments, grammar and, of course, “rewordified” speech, which the user can activate on a word-by-word basis, as needed. The site does offer more advanced tools, such as a vocabulary-quiz generator, student accounts, online assignments and assessment reports.
Differentiation is always a challenge in the city’s public school classrooms, but these websites can assist teachers in meeting their students at individual reading levels.
Sandy Scragg is an instructional technology specialist with more than 15 years of experience in New York City public schools.
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Dead Poets Society
Stand and Deliver
Mr. Holland's Opus
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