Leveled reading sets or storybooks?

Long Read | 8 mins

I want to pull apart the questions and queries regarding leveled reading sets and share some of my experience working with beginning readers.

What are leveled reading sets?

Leveled reading sets systematically introduce vocab and sentence patterns in a step by step approach over leveled ranges of difficulty.

Oxford Reading Tree Series

What are the benefits of Leveled reading sets?

“A leveled book set has several advantages, including the following:

  • An organized set of books makes it easier to select books for groups of children.
  • Having a gradient of text provides a way to assess children’s progress over time.
  • A book collection is established that does not need to be replaced but is revised and expanded over time.
  • As the collection expands, the varieties of text will provide opportunities for children to increase their reading power through experiencing diverse texts.” ¹

I have seen some benefits of Leveled reading sets, such as a great connection to the characters in the stories. The characters form a rich personality in the student’s mind as they experience so many different scenarios.

There’s a sense of consistency, with most sets having 50+ books in each series. Children do find some security in this predictability, which also leads me to some cons about them as well.

Most schools tend to use this system as it is easy to manage over many students and to track progress.

The downsides of Leveled reading

One of the leading literacy and Reading experts Wayne D’Orio shared, “The major criticism about leveled reading, though, is that it unnecessarily narrows the scope of opportunity, reducing exposure to books that might surprise or challenge students. Leveling can pigeonhole kids at the same reading level for too long, preventing them from progressing to more difficult books as their reading skills improve throughout the school year.” ²

I have witnessed this happen before with some of my students, where they get stuck on a level not of their own accord, but teachers and parents continually go over the same stories. This quickly diminishes the child’s enthusiasm to read.

Pros and cons of storybooks

Everyone loves a good wholesome storybook. Kids adore the unique flavor it brings to their reading experience. New text, and new characters to meet.

I personally like to see kids attempt new ranging levels of text. As challenges always bring up questions, and questions beget answers.

But, most storybooks can range alot in terms of difficulty and beginner readers that haven’t been able to build up their vocab base and phonemic awareness skills to decode text, the challenge can be too much. The last thing we want to do is give out kids material they have no idea how to tackle by themselves. It can also be overwhelming and frustrating. Storybooks of this nature, do require guidance and assistance to get through the text.

Depending on the length of the story, the amount of text on each page, and the difficulty of sentence structures, they should be chosen roughly  according to the child’s literacy ability.

“It is important to know your reader’s abilities, to pick storybooks that are just a tad above their level. Enough to produce questions, but satisfying enough for them to get through by themselves.”

Mr Jamie
This child is hooked on Dogman

Children’s interest is important

If the child has a personal interest in a particular storybook, you already have the child’s motivation to read. Even if you know the level is beyond their current capabilities, from experience you want to encourage that motivation and find a way to guide the student through.

Of course for a traditional group class, tailoring to every child’s interests is impossible to do, but for one to one tutoring, or for your own child it can work well.

Which method is the most effective?

Both Leveled reading and unmatched storybooks both share a place in a child’s reading development.

Leveled readers can introduce concepts and vocab at a pace children can digest step by step generally by themselves or with little assistance.

While storybooks bring new life and new experiences of diverse text that  children can explore, but often require extensive guiding reading to help them through.

The statement below sums up my thoughts perfectly:

“Leveling is an educational tool. It can be used well or used poorly,” clarifies Karen Yingling, a librarian at Blendon Middle School in Westerville, Ohio. It’s not that teachers need to stop using leveled reading—it’s that they need to be flexible in how they use it.”

The ever popular leveled series by Oxford Reading Tree

How I approach reading in Eduuplay sessions

ETP sessions //

Students are generally not reading yet, and English is their second language. However reading abilities can vary, depending on the learning requests from parents.

50/50 Oral and Phonics //

Students are practicing decoding skills learnt from their Oxfordworld workbooks, and recognising Sightwords that they have practiced from their Sightword Word work books.

Catering for different reading abilities

In both ETP and 50/50 sessions the three groups below apply:

  1. Teacher read group – listening and oral repetition on sections to build English awareness. Children select English books based on interests from my Pre – selected options.
  2. Guided reading group – children practice decoding skills and try sections by themselves. Focus on beginning to independently read. Scanning and focus on text is important.
  3. Independant readers – they have a broad range of decoding skills, a large data base of vocab and lexicon to use. They soar ahead by themselves. The focus with these readers is discussion and comprehension.

Eduuplay’s method

I use a blend of leveled reading for students that are building their reading base, and spontaneously mix it up with new storybooks from time to time.

As students demonstrate strength in a level, we keep moving up. If students show a particular interest in a storybook, I will find a way to incorporate it into our reading time, using one of the three reading groups above. Teacher led, guided or let them independently read.

Thanks for reading today’s blog, if you found it useful please share it. If you have any further reading development for early years questions, please send them through.

Happy reading everyone!

Mr Jamie 🤠 👍

My son and I getting stuck into a storybook.


1. https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/what-leveled-reading/

2. https://www.edutopia.org/article/if-we-want-bookworms-we-need-get-beyond-leveled-reading


Published by eduuplay

Eduuplay Founder Head Teacher at English with Mr Jamie

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