Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.
We know the importance of students developing strong reading comprehension skills. Students need to be able to read and understand a variety of complex texts in order to be successful – in school, in their careers, and in life.
As a teacher, I am always looking for new and better ways to engage my students in reading. One recent find worth sharing is ReadWorks. This site provides teachers with passages, paired texts, text sets, lessons, comprehension units, and novel study units, all at no charge to the user. The materials are research-based, come from reputable sources, and are classroom ready.
ReadWorks is an education website that provides teachers with online, research-based units, lessons, and nonfiction and literary passages to help develop and strengthen student reading comprehension. As its website says, “ReadWorks is committed to solving the nation's reading comprehension crisis by giving teachers the research-proven tools and support they need to improve the academic achievement of their students.”
The ReadWorks website offers more than 2,600 informational and literary passages for students in grades K-12 at no cost. About half of its passages were commissioned from professional journalists and writers, while others were obtained from partner institutions such as the National Audubon Society, History.com, and the American Museum of Natural History.
The passages are supported by an extensive research base, including studies by the National Reading Panel and the RAND Reading Study Group. The website also summarizes key research on topics such as comprehension skills, read-alouds, vocabulary instruction, developing background information, and instruction in text structure and syntax.
All passages on the website are searchable by keyword, grade, lexile level (a standard for matching readers with appropriate texts), topic, text type, and skill/strategy. The text passages are grouped under 12 topics, such as Civics & Government, Technology & Engineering, and World History, so teachers can easily find passages to fit whatever subject or topic they are teaching. Literary, informational, and poetry passages are all available. In addition, the skills/strategies are broken into 20 distinct categories, including Author’s Purpose, Cause/Effect, Drawing Conclusions, and Vocabulary in Context. This helps teachers find passages suited to the teaching of specific reading skills or to select passages that address multiple skills and strategies.
The majority of ReadWorks’ reading passages are accompanied by a text-dependent question set, i.e. questions that require students to use evidence from the text to answer correctly. They aid in assessing student comprehension and typically contain five to ten multiple-choice and short answer items.
Additional resources accompanying some passages include a vocabulary resource with definitions, cognates (words with common etymology), and sample uses of the words. Also available are “StepReads,” which are more accessible versions of the passage for struggling readers, as well as text pairs. (Currently, ReadWorks has developed at least one StepReads passage for approximately 280 of its texts. About 40 texts have two StepReads passages, and this will continue to rise in the coming months.) Teachers can filter search results to locate passages that contain any of these specific resources. For example, a teacher can search for 8th grade life-science passages that contain both vocabulary and StepReads options.
ReadWorks does not specify the order in which teachers should present passages, but it does provide general recommendations, such as suggesting that early-grade teachers start with literary texts and focus first on passages that lend themselves to teaching character, setting, and plot. It also recommends—for both literary and informational texts—that educators begin by focusing on drawing conclusions, inferences, and how to understand vocabulary-in-context.
Resources on the site are said to be aligned to all state standards (including the Common Core), and to several widely used reading programs, including Macmillan McGraw-Hill Treasures and Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt Journeys. Teachers can use the “My Standards Alignment” tab to select their state or their reading program to show which ReadWorks lessons align with particular standards.
The ReadWorks website is clearly designed and user-friendly, providing teachers with an online “Binder” where they can save passages, lessons, and units that they may want to use or refer back to at a later date. The site can be accessed on a variety of digital platforms and works well on various browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox). It is also accessible via iPad.
As of August 2016, ReadWorks had over 2 million registered users.
Resources on ReadWorks
In addition to the reading passages discussed above, ReadWorks provides three types of lesson plan resources: Skill& Strategy Lesson Units, Comprehension Units, and Novel Study Units.
The Skill & Strategy Lesson Units are designed for grades K-4 and focus on grade-level reading skills and/or strategies. They contain lesson plans, texts and materials, and offer standards alignment. (While most lesson materials are available on the ReadWorks site, lessons based on literature require teachers to acquire the book separately.)
Comprehension Units for grades K-5 are based on “carefully selected books that will build background knowledge and vocabulary” and are designed to “facilitate precise questioning and focused discussion based on evidence in the text.” Each unit has a scripted read-aloud lesson and a paired text with questions requiring students to integrate knowledge from both texts.
ReadWorks also offers novel study units for grades 5 and 6. As of July 2016, there were 12 such units at each grade level. Available, too, are paired passages and text sets to promote vocabulary development and background knowledge, both of which have been shown to strengthen reading comprehension.
In my next post, I will delve deeper into these resources, including their greatest strengths and areas of improvement.
Shannon Garrison is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in California with two decades of teaching experience. She holds National Board Certification, serves on the National Assessment Governing Board, and was also recently selected as a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.