Reading Levels Help You Build Reading Ladders

Reading Levels Help You Build Reading Ladders

November 21, 2015 0

Three years ago, Rob and I were super-excited. We got a hot tip about a charity in D.C. that gives away free books. FREE BOOKS! We were so excited. We went there with tons of boxes and loaded up my trusty Honda Accord. In fact the car was so loaded, I could barely see out of my mirrors on the way back. However, when Rob and I began to unload and sort the books back in our classroom, we realized that we had the most random assortment of books ever. Instead of having the entire Harry Potter series, we had the 4th book of the Gregor the Overlander series, the 3rd book of the Fablehaven series, and a bunch of books about Colonial America. Needless to say, this was not the fix-all strategy we needed.


The problem was that Rob and I shopped for books like we were buying food a day before a snowstorm in DC. Instead we should have gone with a shopping list and picked books like we were hunting for the perfect tomato at the farmers market. So how do you make the shopping list?


In this post we’ll discuss how to:

  • use reading levels to choose the books to buy
  • buy books systematically so the series form reading ladders


First, you need to know your students’ reading levels so you can supply them with appropriately leveled books. You only want to buy books that your kids can use. For example, in our 7th grade classroom library we have books that begin at level P (4th grade level) and go to level Z (8th grade level) because that’s the range of our readers. We wouldn’t, therefore, buy any level O books. We also know that we have a lot of Level W readers, so we bought a couple series on that level, such as Among the Hidden and Maximum Ride.

Reading levels entering 7th grade

Our reading level data revealed that we should buy a couple Level W series.

Second, you’ll want to stock your library with series that form a complete reading ladder, where each level is a rung to the top of the ladder, or to being a level Z reader. The term “reading ladder” gets a thorough treatment in Teri Lesesne’s book “Reading Ladders.” We’ve adapted her idea to match our experience and our current students. Essentially, a reading ladder is a collection of books that align by genre and range from easy to hard. In our library, we have two basic genres – fantasy fiction and realistic fiction. Within those genres we have a sub-ladder based on dystopian fantasy. Ideally, a student who reads all of the books in a particular level of your library will have mastered that level and be positioned to read books from the next level. For example, if a level W student successfully reads all of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief series (Level W) then they’ll be ready to read the slightly more difficult Heroes of Olympus series (Level X).


reading ladder

After students read The Heroes of Olympus series and the Kane Chronicles series, they could be ready to take a “step up the ladder” and read the Divergent series


There are a lot of benefits to building reading ladders using series. First, as the example above illustrates, the genre and content of one series can entice a student to read another series. If a student really likes Percy Jackson it makes it very easy for me to recommend Red Pyramid: “This next series is by the same author, with some of the same characters, dealing with similar supernatural problems. “Interested?” 99% of students will say, “Yes, Please!”  Another benefit to using series is that you have no random books in your library. This means that you know the difficulty of every book, you know if kids like it or not, and it’s easy for you to read the first book in each series so you have a good sense of whether the book matches the kid.


For more information on the reading ladders we use in our classroom and the best sources for buying books, contact us at matt@growingreadersdc.com or rob@growingreadersdc.com.

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