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Get Your Students to Love the News, #3: Newsela meets kids at their reading level

newselafavicon Imagine my joy when I found out about Newsela, a website that modifies the vocabulary and syntax of news articles to match the reading levels of students.

I will confirm: There was significant joy.

Not only does Newsela offer students high-interest news articles, but it also does something truly novel: It provides those articles at five different reading levels. Students can choose the version of the article — ranging from a fourth grade reading level to twelfth grade — that is right for them.

Let me give you an example. A month or so ago, Newsela posted an article, originally published in the Tribune Washington Bureau, about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program. Here is the original article, estimated at a 12th grade reading level. When a student goes to the article, she sees this toolbar on the right side: 1 This is where it gets interesting. The student can choose to read the original article, labeled “max,” or an easier version. The L next to the number refers to Lexile, a well-regarded measurement of text complexity. An 1190L is around ninth grade, 1060L is seventh, 950L is sixth, and 700L is fourth. The magic happens when the student selects one of the levels. Here’s the article’s lead at the 12th grade level.

Screenshot 2014-05-02 21.28.36 And here is the same paragraph, adapted by Newsela staff (real people, not robots!), at the 4th grade level.

Screenshot 2014-05-02 21.30.12 You’ll notice that the meaning is the same, and in fact many of the words are the same, but the second paragraph has easier vocabulary and simpler syntax.

Pretty brilliant, don’t you think?

Newsela’s brilliance doesn’t end there. There are tons of other great features that will make teachers (and maybe students) extremely happy. For example, many Newsela articles come with a four-question comprehension quiz that looks like a friend version of the upcoming Smarter Balanced (Common Core) assessments.

Screenshot 2014-05-03 08.32.30

The quizzes let students know if they “got” the article, plus each question is aligned with a specific anchor reading standard from Common Core.

I’m working with a teacher in San Francisco right now who incorporates Newsela in her ongoing study of current events, and she reports that her students appreciate the quiz feature because it gives them quick and immediate feedback. If students feel like they’ve understood the article but got only 1/4 on the quiz, maybe the answer is to lower the reading level. (The quiz’s questions are also based on Lexile.)

There are only two negatives about Newsela (that I see). The first is that there’s no way this service is going to be free for very much longer. I’m hopeful that the kind folks at Newsela will continue to offer a free option. The second is that Newsela doesn’t currently have a mobile app. Sure, not everything needs to be on students’ phones, but it never hurts.

Please check out Newsela and leave a brilliant insight about whether you like it, and if you do, how you would use it in your classroom! Thank you!

Update: I just learned that Newsela now has an two-way annotation feature. My response: OMG! Something great just got even better.

(Want to read all the posts in the series?) Please do. favicon

Please share your brilliant insights!