Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Leveled Books: What They Are and Why They Are Needed

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who   is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.

Researchers and leading reading experts feel that the use of leveled book came from several practices of the past.   Marie Clay in   Becoming Literate   states that "compassionate people felt that making the reading task easier by presenting it in easy steps" created contrived texts that ignored the child's ability to produce language, distorted expectations children have developed as they listened to stories, and ignored supports that prevent the child 's learning by himself.

Basal readers for the early grades assumed that reading was reading unseen words, so words were read in isolation . Sounding out was felt to be the key to solving the problem of reading unknown words. The use of meaning was often neglected.

Margaret Mead (1970) expressed her belief that the contrived texts made the task of reading more difficult.   She noted that children who read controlled vocabulary texts often have difficulty with texts that do not control vocabulary. She also felt that children using the controlled vocabularies were reading little nonfiction. We now understand the importance of building vocabulary in content areas.

Clay, in her   Reading Recovery Handbook , gave the analogy of the teacher and children being a team.   The teacher is the coach and is there to encourage the children to use their strengths when meeting unknown words and to provide opportunities for the children to turn the use of skills into strategies. As the coach, the teacher models 'plays' and 'strategies'. The use of leveled books can help make this a winning team with children learning to be independent readers and less dependent on the coach. The use of leveled books can be the playing field and provide a real repertoire of strategies.



Leveled books are collections of books that change in difficulty from very easy to more difficult with longer passages.   This makes it possible for teacher to select books at the independent reading or instructional level for an individual child or a group of children. Placement in a leveled book is based on teacher observations and running records.

Since the first leveled books were available, the number of publishers and the number of leveled books have drastically increased. As the books are leveled, some factors in their level designation include these:

  • the number of words and length of sentences
  • clear spaces between words and size of print on a page
  • inclusion of some language patterns
  • illustrations that provide language and comprehension help
  • repetition of some high-frequency and multi-syllabic words
  • embedded sentences
  • literary factors such as plot, making inferences, understanding multiple meaning words, sequence, etc.
  • inclusion of topics that develop vocabulary and help the teacher integrate reading, writing, and the content areas.

The experiences the experiences I have had as I have used leveled books have made it evident to me that these are some positive aspects of the use of leveled books:

-child's opportunity to cross check and scaffold as they read
-development of productive and independent readers
-child's capability to become self-controlled and ask for fewer 'tolds'
-teacher’s flexibility in evaluating growth and placing children in texts that make reading more enjoyable for a child
-provision of more actual reading time and less time spent on isolated skills that do not become strategies
-improvement of comprehension
-excitement and pleasure in reading

Some of your students’ parents will need an explanation of why leveled books are important as take-home readers and library reading.   In explaining this, I have previously used the analogy between learning to read and learning to play the piano. The future pianist has to learn some fundamentals and little by little learn to read and play more difficult compositions. Fluency and ease must be developed before the learning musician can perform in a pleasing way.

Expectation of sight reading and playing more complex music cannot be accomplished by simply putting more difficult compositions in front of the student and expecting a pleasing performance.   What happens is frustration and a feeling of dislike for the task of producing music with ease. This also happens to the future independent reader who is asked to read beyond his instructional level for tutoring or guided reading and the independent level for home reading. The parent is not expected to be the reading teacher but to encourage the practice of strategies and create a comfortable environment for the child's fluent performance as he reads.


Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our   Kaleidoscope Collection   Series. For more information about the   K aleidoscope Collection  Series click  HERE  to return to our website or click the series highlight page below.