Small Group Scaffolding of Complex Text

Intervention Overview

It is important for all students, including those that are reading below grade level, to access complex texts daily. In order to do this, teachers can provide scaffolded instruction for students, which can include, but is not limited to: pre-teaching vocabulary, focus on language structure of complex sentences, teaching cohesive ties, teaching morphology, and decoding of multisyllabic words.

What is Complex Text?

The Small Group Scaffolding of Complex Text intervention calls students to read text within their grade-level band of complexity or above. In general, complex texts should be challenging. Various features of a text can make it more or less difficult for students within a specific grade level. For example, the text’s vocabulary, how the sentences connect, its organization, and even how much a student already knows about the topic can all influence the text’s complexity. Quantitative measures, like Lexile levels, indicate whether a text falls within a grade-level complexity range by analyzing characteristics, such as word frequency and sentence length. Qualitative analysis can help you determine if a book is more challenging or accessible than predicted by quantitative formulas by considering more subtle features like theme or the author’s tone. Variables related to the reader and task can also make a text more or less complex.

Processes and guides are available to help you determine a text’s complexity. Knowing your readers will help you identify the textual or linguistic barriers a complex text might pose so you can design your small group instruction to address anticipated obstacles to comprehension.

Why Use Complex Text?

There are substantial advantages to placing students in complex text at their grade level. Compared to instructional-level text placements, students who are supported to read complex texts have more opportunities to learn how to deal with challenging language and text features and make greater reading progress. Additionally, complex, grade-level texts often match students’ intellectual levels and interests better than instructional-level placements. However, just exposing kids to harder texts and guiding them in reading is not enough to benefit their learning. To learn from grade-level texts, students need guidance in multiple areas such as vocabulary, sentence structure, and content analysis. 

Small Group Scaffolding of Complex Text

Students reading below grade level require more guidance and scaffolding to read texts at their grade level containing challenging content. Watch the video and read below to learn how to design instruction in complex text that leads to learning and comprehension

Preparing to Implement the Intervention

Select grade-level, rigorous texts aligned with core instruction in topic or theme. These can be texts students see in Tier 1 instruction with their peers or text sets that build to a target text used in the classroom. Use texts that will build critical background knowledge and academic vocabulary. Identify and pre-teach a few critical vocabulary words before having students read the texts. Plan explicit instructional routines that you will use to help students break up challenging words for decoding assistance during the text.

How to Scaffold:

Use Multiple Texts on a Topic

Break Up Words for Decoding

Build Sentence Sense

Teach Critical Vocabulary

Use Multiple Texts on a Topic

Use text sets as a powerful tool to learn vocabulary and build a knowledge base about the topic of an anchor text.

Break Up Words for Decoding Assistance

Break up challenging words into morphemes or syllables.

Build Sentence Sense

Draw attention to individual sentences in a text and words or phrases used to connect ideas between different parts of the text.

Teach Critical Vocabulary

Explicitly teach about three to five words per text.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a text set? How do text sets help build reading skills and comprehension?

A text set is a collection of sources supporting a common topic or theme. Text sets can include various text types, genres, and formats, including books, poetry, images, articles, and songs. Studies find that using text sets effectively builds vocabulary and background knowledge and prepares students to read and comprehend new texts on similar topics. 

Who benefits from small group scaffolding of complex text?

Students grade 2 or above with good basic decoding skills but poor reading comprehension benefit from small group scaffolding of complex text. 

Isn't matching students to "instructional level" texts best practice?

There is limited evidence that supports teaching students at their "instructional levels." Some research indicates that students learn more from reading texts two grade levels above their identified reading levels (Brown et al., 2018). Teachers can enable students to read and learn from complex text using scaffolding strategies.

Resources for Scaffolding Complex Text

Free text sets are available on various topics to build background knowledge and vocabulary. Includes a 10-minute routine.

Student Achievement Partners outlines more strategies teachers can implement to ensure student success with grade-level-appropriate texts.

Find the grade-level tier-two vocabulary words in any text.

Order texts on a curricular topic from less to more complex to build background knowledge.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Watch Teaching Students to Read Complex Text presented by Dr. Timothy Shanahan.

Watch Equity Through Rigorous Texts for All Students presented by Ohio’s Literacy leads.

Listen to The Missing Link in Reading Comprehension with Anne Lucas.