Literacy unlocks the door to opportunity. Among the top five skills for tomorrow’s jobs, as listed by RBC Economics Research, is reading comprehension. Every student should have opportunities to engage meaningfully with rich, authentic, complex text.

Complex text is text that is worthy of repeated readings over multiple instructional periods, allowing the reader to re-read, investigate, and deeply analyze a text for language and meaning, ultimately making connections to the author and the world.

Daily, effective literacy instruction is a matter of equity and gives students opportunities and full access to grade-level text develop language, critical thinking skills, and the ability to engage in academic discourse. Students who don’t have full access to text are at a disadvantage, lacking the critical opportunity to be ready for 21st-century literacy demands in college and or career.

So, we don’t deny access to complex and grade level text, we create access. There is a strong evidence base showing that the most important factor in comprehension is how much knowledge a reader has of the topic.

In a recent Forbes article by Natalie Wexler, a widely replicated experiment from Recht & Leslie is shared, and the report finds that students who scored poorly on a reading test but knew a lot about baseball outperformed "good readers" who knew little about baseball — when the reading passage was about baseball.

What can we do to support background knowledge? We can create access by analyzing the complexity of a text before our students begin the close reading journey so that we can anticipate difficulties, necessary background knowledge, and important scaffolds to add.

What are the text complexity factors that we should we analyze? There are three that must be considered: qualitative features, quantitative features, and the reader and task.

To find out more about these three factors visit: The Common Core ELA Standards. After analyzing the three factors of text complexity for a new grade-level text, it is time to build an Expert Pack for the selected text.

Expert Packs

Expert Packs are a collection of text, videos, graphics, and websites to build background knowledge so students can access grade-level text. I often build a nice collection, let students choose resources they want to explore, and then they share their knowledge with a small group or a few peers. Here are some of my top resources…all are free!

Leveled Text

The goal is to provide students with choice at instructional and independent levels before we jump into the complex grade-level text. At the click of a button, tier a nonfiction passage. Students can access comprehension quizzes and highlighting text features. A full collection of nonfiction and literary articles along with lessons on reading comprehension and vocabulary, assessments, and instructions for educators. The curriculum offered is cognitive and science-based, and includes questions, vocabulary, paired texts, daily articles, StepReads, audio options, and more. Online resource that contains lessons, interactive activities, printables, and an app to help kids improve their reading and writing skills.

New York Times: The Learning Network: A weekly collection of lesson plans, articles, paired passages, writing prompts and activities.


Visuals and video support diverse learners and can leave a visual imprint that lasts well beyond the text.

Google Arts and Culture: Explore collections, pictures, videos, and stories of people, historical events, and time periods from over 1,200 museums, galleries and institutions around the world.

Google Lit Trips: Lit Trips are downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth.

Library of Congress: Teacher Portal: The Library of Congress offers classroom materials and fabulous primary resources.

National Geographic: Geo Stories: GeoStories are interactive slideshows that combine dynamic maps, pictures, video, and captions to take viewers on tours of places and topics.

The Literacy Shed: Home to a wealth of quality short films and animations for various thematic people, events, and ideas.

We all know too well what happens if students never get access to grade-level complex text. The achievement gap continues to widen. We don’t want to impede our students’ opportunity to be college-, career-, and citizen-ready.

Rather than deny access and have different expectations for students based on their abilities, let’s provide access by proactively creating Expert Packs so that all students can have opportunities to engage in complex text at their grade level.