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Using Stair-Step Texts

Tell me about it

Lack of sufficient background knowledge can make a text difficult to comprehend. Instead of pre-loading students with the concepts and ideas found in the text (and therefore reducing its complexity), offering students multiple texts on a topic at varying levels of difficulty builds their knowledge and vocabulary. A staircase of texts on a topic will increase students' comprehension with greater complexity. In addition, the overlaps in important information increase the likelihood that students will pay attention and retain the information they have learned. 

Considerations for instructional planning

  • Use text sets to build knowledge and vocabulary on a topic.
  • Utilize supplementary or apprentice texts to help create interest in a topic, and in turn, increase students' motivation to read.
  • Consider a mix of literature and informational texts that complement each other topically as well as build a staircase of complexity.

Be sure to's

  • Be intentional in the selection of texts are of increasing complexity by using quantitative and qualitative tools to measure complexity.
  • Support independent reading by providing scaffolds only as needed.
  • Use engaging texts to increase motivation to read.

Tools and Resources

  • Guide to Creating Text Sets helps design stair-step collections of materials.
  • Readworks offers lessons and passages that incorporate stair-step design in instruction.
  • ThinkCerca provides a selection of high-interest texts that span a range of reading abilities to use when creating text sets.
  • Newsela is a site that provides informational texts at different complexity levels on a vast number of topics as well as text sets.
  • Check out Student Achievement Partners Text Set Project and consider creating your own!

Research