Create Your Own Leveled Readers

As English language teachers, we often struggle with finding the right articles or reading materials for our classes, and when we finally do find something that matches our content needs, we then realize that the lexile level may be right for some students, but not for others.

Sigh.

Okay then, time to dig in and gloss the heck out of this thing. Truly ambitious teachers might spend hours rewriting the article so they can have it at two different levels. We’ll use it again next semester, right? Right…or maybe not.

There are wonderful programs out there like Newsela that tackle this exact problem, but we don’t all have the funding to make it work. Others may already have the perfect reading for our lesson plan, and something premade just isn’t going to fit.

Luckily, we can have our cake and eat it, too! The wonderful world of artificial intelligence (AI) has sprung up a cottage industry of free tools that you can use to summarize and rewrite articles, essays, and columns. This takes a ton of the leg work off of teachers who want to create differentiated learning experiences for their students, all while ensuring they’re moving forward together with the same content.

Fair warning: This doesn’t mean no work, it means a lot less work.

Let’s take a look at how we can create our own leveled readers.

Getting Started

Your primary source is up to you. There is an endless supply of free blog posts, reviews, opinion columns, essays, short stories, analyses, and more available to you at the tip of your fingers on the internet. While you may choose anything you like, I recommend that you start with the end in mind. The original reading should be the highest lexile level you might expect your students to read at. If you’re a Krashen fan, you might want to consider this your i+1 level. Don’t pick something that will demotivate your readers if they peek at the highest level; make sure it’s still within their grasp.

In other words, don’t select a think piece from the Economist for your low-intermediate composition class.

Once you have found something that you want your students to aspire to, I recommend copying and pasting the text into a Google Doc or a Word Doc. This makes for a clean final document, and if you’re using Google Docs, it’s easy to link the different documents together. Don’t forget to cite your source!

Now it’s time to start crunching the text.

Summarizers

There are a number of summarizers out there that will analyze your text, simplify the vocabulary, remove unnecessary clauses, reorganize sentences by key ideas, and more. The algorithms get more and more sophisticated with each passing day.

Resoomer

Resoomer in Action

Resoomer is a powerful tool that lets you resize the summary of your original text by percentage. If you take a 1,000 word text and reduce it by 70%, you’ll end up with a roughly 700 word summary. In my experience, the more you reduce, the less clear the final output, but it’s a great starting point. You can then click “Rewrite” at the bottom of the new summary and Resoomer will take a crack at changing up the language.

Quillbot

Quillbot Paragraph Summary

Quillbot summarizes your primary text either as a paragraph or as a set of key sentences, both of which you can choose to make longer or shorter depending on your needs. One nice feature here is that once you have the summary, you can click a button to “paraphrase the summary,” ensuring more linguistic variety.

Wordtune

Wordtune Paragraph by Paragraph Comparison

Wordtune is a promising option that summarizes paragraphs alongside the original text, letting you quickly judge how accurate the AI has converted the information. In my tests, I found that it does a pretty good job of dropping the unnecessary information and combining paragraphs to focus on key ideas. It even lets you “thumbs up/down” each paragraph’s summary, training the computer as to whether or not it’s doing a good job.

There are many other summarizers out there to explore and they’re getting stronger all the time, so I encourage you to think of these as primers rather than definitive best choices.

The Clean-Up

To be clear, these summarizers won’t always create exactly what you want. For example, I’ve found instances where they don’t include a clear topic sentence or conclusion, have unclear pronoun references, or other issues. But compared to rewriting the article myself over and over from scratch? I’ll happily take the kickstart from one of these sites any day!

Once you’ve exported the summary, give yourself a few minutes to read through it carefully, make adjustments to anything that’s unclear or unnatural, and tidy it up to include any vocabulary or grammar points you want your students to focus on.

The Final Product

After you’ve made two to three versions of your original text, make sure that you clearly distinguish them. If you’re presenting them online, include links to each at the top of the document. If they’re PDFs, you can choose a naming convention, such as “Original/Intermediate/Simple” so students know where they are.

With a little practice, you can now create multileveled readers of any content in about 20–30 minutes, where it would have taken easily upwards of 3–4 hours without the support of technology. I expect in the coming months and years, that time will go from 20 minutes to 10 to 5 to 0 as the AI behind these services gets stronger and stronger control over the language.

For now, though, have some fun, see what you can come up with, and give your students a real opportunity to explore your classroom content through better differentiated materials!

If you have any other techniques or tools that you’ve found that do a better job of summarizing than others, let me know in the comments!

About Brent Warner

Brent Warner
Brent Warner is a professor of ESL at Irvine Valley College in California, and an educational technology enthusiast. He is co-host of the DIESOL podcast, the only podcast with a specific focus on EdTech in ESL. He frequently presents on the crossroads of technology and language learning, focusing on student engagement and developing learner autonomy. Brent likes his coffee black and his oranges orange. He can be found on Twitter at @BrentGWarner
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5 Responses to
Create Your Own Leveled Readers

  1. Genie Smiddy says:

    Thank you! I had not heard of these platforms before and am beginning to try them out. I wonder if you ever tried Rewordify.com? It doesn’t summarize so much as give you options as to how “difficult” vocabulary is defined and included in the text for the students. Like anything else, you need to still do some work, but it has been quite useful to begin the process of levelling readings.

  2. Keith M. Graham says:

    Great tips here! Thank you! This was very valuable!

  3. Mary Eileen McDonnell says:

    Thank you! This was very helpful!

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