Choosing the right graded readers for young learners 

2 young children reading

Picking out the right graded readers for your young learners takes a little thought. There are thousands and thousands of stories out there. Not only do you have to find the right level, but also a range of books that will keep them captivated as they learn to read.

In this brief guide, I’ll be helping you to choose the right Disney Kids Readers for your students, so they can participate in guided and independent reading in class and at home.

Let’s delve in. 

First, what’s the difference between guided and independent reading? 

Guided reading 

In class, students typically read aloud in a small group with a teacher. The teacher supports the children as they decode the words, navigate elements of pronunciation, and make sense of the meaning. At home, a child reads aloud to a parent or care-giver. This is a terrific way to involve parents in a child’s path toward reading fluency.

Independent reading 

Independent reading, on the other hand, is when students read silently to themselves. These students are already reading with some confidence. They can decode common words and have a good handle on sight words. Their reading speed is fluent enough to focus on the meaning of the text. 

Read more about making story time engaging in my previous article, Learning English Through Storytelling with Disney Kids Readers. 

Graded readers can help with leveling 

So, how do you know which reader to choose for your students? Well, graded readers are already organized by level. They also often provide metrics to help teachers make informed decisions about what reading level a child is at.  

Let’s take a look at Disney Kids Readers as an example: 

Age and level-appropriate stories 

Disney Kids Readers have six levels. The number of words per page, and the number of pages per story, are consistent in each level.

For example, Level 3 stories have up to 40 words per page and 20 pages per story. As a child moves up through the reading levels, the books become longer and more complex.   

From Level 3 Disney Tangled, p. 7

Word lists 

To write the stories, authors use lists of common, high-frequency words. Level 1, for example, has a word list of 200 words. Level 6 has a word list of 1,200 words. These are called “headwords.”  

In this way, the vocabulary load is manageable for learners. Even better, learners come into contact with the same words again and again throughout the readers, which builds their vocabulary.

Of course, it’s difficult to write an engaging story for children using only headwords. So, the readers also include a few low-frequency, high-interest words, like “lantern” or “tower.” These words then go in a Picture Dictionary or Glossary at the back of the book to support student understanding.  

Flash cards
From Level 3 Disney Tangled, Picture Dictionary p. 23

Grammar syllabus 

The authors write using a grammar syllabus for each level. For example, regular past simple is introduced in Level 3 readers, around the same time that students are learning this verb tense in their general English lessons. As children read, they see examples of the regular past simple within the stories. 

Teachers can use the Disney Kids Readers’  Scope & Sequence to see which language structures are covered at each level. 

Lexile® measure 

Every Disney Kids Reader is assigned a Lexile® measure. This is a global standard for measuring text complexity. Generally, longer sentences and more low-frequency words in a text lead to a higher Lexile® measure. This gives teachers and parents a way to compare these readers against any other book with a Lexile® measure.

It also means that you can arrange the graded readers from the lowest to the highest score. You can be confident that the readers you choose are gradually becoming more complex as your young learners become more skilled at reading.  

Global Scale of English 

The Global Scale of English (GSE) is a standardized, granular scale from 10 to 90 which measures English language proficiency. It’s aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).  

Every level of Disney Kids Readers sits within a band on the GSE. For example, the range for Level 1 is 16–27, while Level 6 is 36–48. If you know the GSE or CEFR level of your students’ general English coursebook, you can match the graded readers to the same level.

Each reader includes a handy chart on the back cover.  

GSE Leveling chart
From Level 3 Disney Tangled, back cover

C is for “comfortable” 

Independent reading: Reading the text should be easy—with almost every word familiar to the student. In this way, they can focus on enjoying and understanding what they’re reading. Paul Nation, a leading expert on teaching and learning vocabulary, suggests that two new words for every 100 words is the right fit for comfortable, independent reading.

Guided reading: Reading the text should help the student practice the reading skills they’re learning, such as using context to understand words, language structures, letter-sound relationships, and reading comprehension. 

Tips for working out the comfort level:  

  • Make an estimate of a child’s reading level based on what you already know about their abilities, and use the tools available to you in the graded reader. Then start at the level below that. It’s safer to start low and go up, than the other way around. 
  • Have the child read a passage out loud to you from a book at this level. Aim for them to read about 100 words. As they read, make a note of the number of errors they make so that you can get a rough idea of whether they are hitting a target of about 90% accuracy. 

E is for “enjoyable” 

We want reading to be enjoyable for our young learners. If they are given books that they can understand, and that they find interesting, there’s a much better chance that they’ll develop a love of reading. 

Tips for making reading enjoyable:  

  • Never refer to reading books as “homework 
  • Let children pick books that interest them once they know their reading level.
  • Include a range of fiction and non-fiction reading material in the library 
  • Encourage children to read all kinds of material: poetry, graphic novels, articles, plays, profiles, in addition to stories  

Whether you’re a seasoned school owner, teacher, or parent, you can use these tips to get your children reading with confidence and developing a love of reading to last a lifetime. What could be better than that? 

Visit the Disney Kids Readers webpage for more information about the 36 readers.


Extensive Reading and Vocabulary Learning, Paul Nation, Victoria University of Wellington, YouTube, 2020                                                                                                                      

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