Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Write for the Educational Market Part 2 by Tina Cho

Reading Levels

In How to Write for the Educational Market Part 1, I explained some ways to break into this market. In Part 2, I’d like to discuss reading levels, specifically the Lexile.

One of my books on display at Bologna 2013 for publisher display!

As a parent, teacher, or writer, we often look at the back of a book to check if it’s at the appropriate reading level for our child. And if you’re a writer, you might be asked to write a story or article that corresponds to a certain reading level. Each publisher will tell you their specific guidelines and which measurement to use.

There are many different scales or measurements to go by, but I’d like to discuss the Lexile measurement in particular, because one, this measurement has been updated to reflect Common Core Standards in which the levels have increased for each grade, and two, I’m currently writing to this measurement for a project. But most of the different measurements are very similar.

The Lexile uses word frequency and sentence length to produce a measure called a Lexile. So basically, a story that uses the same words over and over and has small sentence lengths are for younger grades. Think Dr. Seuss.

A story that has an average of 15-20+ words per sentence with less word frequency will be a story for upper grades. The problem with these measurements is that they don’t account for text content, quality, or text difficulty. So a great teacher and parent will not only check the reading level, but also check the content to see if it's appropriate for your child.

Here are the current Lexile measurements for 2012 Common Core Standards which I got directly from their web site. Notice overlapping. Different ranges of students exist in any grade level.
1st grade
190 -  530
2nd grade
420 - 650
3rd grade
520 – 820
4th grade
740 - 940
5th grade
830 – 1010
6th grade
925 – 1070
7th grade
970 – 1120
8th grade
1010 – 1185
9th grade
1050 – 1260
10 grade
1080 – 1335
1185 - 1385

Now, let’s have a little fun with this. You’re probably thinking—how does this apply to me? Well, if you’re writing a book or have a book out, you might want to know the current Lexile of your story. You can put that info on your book’s web site or in your teacher’s guides or lesson plans. Then, when teachers are perusing your book, they’ll know if it’ll be a good fit.

Also, if you’re wanting to write to a specific level, you can use the search feature at Lexile and find other books on the level you want to write to! Let’s give it a try.

First, go to and sign up for a free account. Then type the title of a book under the search feature. 

I chose Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and the Lexile is 1020L, which is right in the 6th grade bracket. 

Now let's find out the Lexile of one of YOUR manuscripts. Are you ready? On the blue bar of the Lexile web site, click "Use Lexile Measures." Then click "Lexile Analyzer."

Here comes the tricky part. You have to change your Word document to a "plain text" document. Follow these directions:
1. Open up your manuscript. Click "save as."
2. Choose "plain text" instead of a Word Doc. I like to save mine on my desktop.

3. When you hit save, another box will pop up. You're going to click 4 things. Check the box that says "allow character substitution," click the circle that says "other encoding," and when you do that, scroll through the box and click US-ASCII. And click ok and close the document.

4. Now, let's go back to the Lexile analyzer. Click choose file. And click on your plain text document that you just saved. (remember where you saved it!) And click submit. 

5. Instantly, on the right side, you'll see the Lexile measurement for your story, along with your average sentence length and word frequency. Pretty cool, huh! Check the grade level equivalency that I typed above. What grade range does your story fall? For all that work, you deserve a ribbon!

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

Now if you're trying to hit a specific level, you'll have to play with your words and sentence length. If you want a higher level, expand your sentences and use lots of different words. If you're trying to decrease the level, use small sentences and repeat the same words. 

I hope this gave you an overview of the Lexile, and that you're able to find the Lexile of your own manuscripts. Let me know if you have any questions!


  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing your expertise, Tina. I do have a question though. Once you are an expert at writing to a certain level, are you able to, with pretty good accuracy, predict what the Lexile level will be? I'm just wondering if it's intuitive.

  2. Laura, that is a good question. I think if you have to write a bunch of stories at a certain level, you know what to expect--how many words per sentence, how many new words or words with lots of syllables, etc... I just wrote 2 stories for a 6th gr level, and once I figured out how to get my manuscript at the 6th gr Lexile, it was easier on the 2nd one. Some publishers will tell you the maximum # of words per sentence.

  3. This is extremely useful, Tina. Thank you! My Fala story came up with a 6th grade Lexile, but I am guessing that to be because of the back matter that I included. I'll have to re-do it based on the story alone. I really appreciate the walk-through...I'm sure I'll be using this a lot in the future!

    1. Hooray, you tried it, Martha! Yes, certainly it's the back matter that made it a 6th gr level. I'm sure the story itself is lower.

    2. Yep, I resubmitted the story only and came up with a 3rd grade Lexile reading. Whew! :)

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  5. Wonderful tool, Tina...thanks for the detailed explanation.:)

  6. Thank you Tina/
    You have explained it better than I understood, B-4.
    Are you interested going over Accelerated Reader #s, with us?

    1. I've never had to write to the Accelerated Reader levels, and so I wouldn't be comfortable teaching that one. Sorry, Jan.

  7. As an aspiring children's book author, you have reminded me of the importance of reading levels. Such a useful post on how one can determine the reading level for our manuscripts. As a trained Reading Recovery Teacher, I am familiar with the Reading Recovery [RR] reading levels, used within the program that provides one on one reading support for struggling readers in first grade. The RR levels can be compared to Guided Reading Levels by Fountas~Pinnell and even to Lexile Levels. Additionally, there are other leveling systems that can be considered and used during teacher/parent conversations, assisting students in selecting a book that is a *good fit* for student's independent reading level, and what supports the school's curriculum. Thank you, Tina. ~Suzy Leopold

    1. Yes, Suzy! I'm used to Fountas & Pinnell as well, which I used when I was a teacher. Thanks for the article, excellent info and comparison!

    2. Your post is appreciated, Tina and reading levels are definitely important to consider in writing for children.

  8. Good timing for this article, Tina The people in the Chapter Book Alchemist class (Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie) are talking Lexiles today, too. I linked them to your post. Thanks for the info and so helpful to have some step-by-step instructions!

    1. That's cool. Thanks for sharing the post with them!

  9. Thank you for sharing, Tina. You're a good teacher! (As well as a good writer.)

  10. Thank you for the very useful information along with explicit instructions!

  11. Thank you, Tina! I haven't looked into Lexiles before, and I'm grateful that you've given me the info to get started. Very helpful post!

  12. Tina, this is great info. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. It surely makes our lives a lot easier!

  13. Thanks a tons Tina. You made my day.