There are different ‘levels’ of reading depending on what text the student is reading. When finding a text for developing the student’s extensive reading ability, some teachers prefer to give students a standardised test (often multiple choice) such as the EPER test. While this can generate a score, a multiple choice test is not always a good predictor of fluent reading ability. Therefore when possible, students should be allowed to decide their own fluent reading level.

Reading level

Alternative 1.

An easy way to help learners find their own reading level is to find books of different difficulty levels from your library. Put the book in order left to right across some desks in the classroom from easy on one side to difficult on the other.  Student picks up a book at a level they they can read fluently. Their task is to find a book they can READ.


Read quickly and 
Enjoyably and with
Adequate comprehension they 
Don’t need a dictionary

They choose a page from the middle of the book and start to read it asking themselves if they need a dictionary, if it’s enjoyable and if they understand most of the story.  If the answer is NO, then they put the book down and try a book at the next level down. If the book is easy, they try the next level up.. Thye do this 2-3 times until they find a level they are comfortable with.

Alternative 2.

This is similar to Alternative 1, but you photocopy a representative page from each of say 8 graded readers at 8 different levels. So there will be 8 texts all ranging from easy to difficult. Glue the photocopied pages in order on a sheet of A3 paper with 4 on each side. Photocopy the paper (both sides) and ask students to go u and down the levels as in Alternative 1.

Listening Level

Prepare a few short excepts from various published graded readers at all levels in your EL library. Play each excerpt to the class one by one in order of difficulty from easy to difficult asking them to write down if the text was easy, okay or hard. Their level is the one below where the texts become hard.


Not all students who’ve had the same teacher and the same course book will be able to read the same material at the same level of fluency. This could be because one student is is more willing to take risks; or more confident and so on.

Students often need significant training to select well. Many students are used to the ‘reading pain is reading gain’ notion and will choose something a bit too difficult. Remind then to choose the right material for the type of reading or listening they are doing.

If a student really want to read something quite a lot higher than their fluent reading or listening level, let them try because strong motivation can often get them through. Do monitor the student to make sure motivation doesn’t wilt due to the difficulty of the text.


Choosing the right EL level

Many people try EL but soon give up. The main reason they gave up is that they chose listening texts which were too difficult. As they listened, there were words and grammar they did not understand which stopped or slowed their comprehension, they became frustrated, then tired, then gave up. Some people even blame EL itself for not working, but in fact the reason it didn’t work is that many people chose listening material at the wrong level. There’s nothing wrong with EL, only inappropriately chosen listening materials!

It is very important that the listening be at the right level. This is the key to successful EL, of this there is no doubt. Remember, the aim of EL is to build listening fluency (speed of recognition of words and grammar) so if the listening text is too hard, you’ll become frustrated that you cannot listen smoothly, and only by listening smoothly can you build automatic recognition of language, and only when you can recognize words and grammar quickly and smoothly can you process it quickly and thus enjoy it painlessly.

So how do you choose the right listening material? There are several key things to decide.  You should listen to something and ask yourself these questions…

  • Can I understand about 90% or more of the content (the story or information)?
  • Can I understand over 95% of the vocabulary and grammar?
  • Can I listen and understand without having to stop the CD or tape?
  • Am I enjoying the content of the listening material?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you have found the right level for you.  If the answer to any of them is no then it may be a bit difficult for you and you may get frustrated, tired and under these conditions you’ll not enjoy the listening and soon stop.  You may even get discouraged. If you don’t enjoy the content of the listening material, you’ll soon become bored, so choose something interesting. If you think something is enjoyable but it’s too hard, you can try it because your natural interest will compensate for the lack of language. Similarly, if you know a lot about the topic but the language is too hard, then you may understand because of your background knowledge. But don’t try something which is too hard. Put it to one side and come back to it later after your listening speed has increased.

So the best thing to do to find your own listening level is find listening materials of different levels. Then, using the questions above, listen to a little of each of the recordings and find the right level for you. Listen to that level for a while and when you feel your comprehension improves from the minimum 90% to 100% and you know all the vocabulary and grammar, then move up to the next level.  When you move up to the next level, remember you will be working with more difficult language and grammar and your comprehension level may slow down, but don’t let it go under the 90% benchmark or you won’t be listening extensively.

Don’t be tempted to listen above your level. EL is not like sports, when you can push your body until it hurts so you can improve your strength.  If you push your listening speed too much, you won’t understand and then you can learn nothing.