Reading age means an estimate of the age of the reader who would be able to cope with a piece of text. We know that students come into our classrooms with reading abilities that are quite varied. Some are confident, capable readers who can read extremely complex material. Others are less able, and they need support and encouragement to build their reading skills.
But sometimes it can be a challenge to help students find material that is matched to their reading skill level. Even when we write information to give to our students, the challenge is there to write in a way that can be readily understood by the majority of our class.
Measuring the reading age or readability of a piece of text is one way of ensuring it is set at the right level for a student. For primary readers, this information is often noted on the back of the book. It may be expressed as a level, or there may be information about the number of words, the type of text, and the reading level of the book. For older students, this is often not given, and so teachers can struggle to determine if a piece of writing is set at the correct level.
The Fry Graph
Using a Fry Graph is one way of checking reading age. It is a simple graph that measures language across two basic parameters; syllables and sentences. The assumption is that writing that contains shorter sentences and words with a lower number of syllables is easier to read. Conversely, writing with longer sentences and more syllables per word is more challenging.
To make a calculation using Fry, simply take a sample of the text of 100 words. Ensure the sample is representative of the rest of the text, and avoid including headings, captions and other additional pieces of text. It does not matter if the sample is from the beginning, middle or end of the piece.
Next, count up how many sentences are in the piece of writing. Estimate what percentage of the sentence is left over if the 100 word sample does not divide neatly into an exact number of sentences (it rarely will). For example, you may find there are 4.8 sentences per 100 words in your sample.
Then, count how many syllables are in the sample. This is often easier to do if you use a pencil to note the total at the end of each line so you don't lose your place. There is nothing more frustrating than counting syllables to the ninetieth word, then forgetting what you are up to!
Use the Fry graph (which has sentence number on the Y axis and syllables on the X axis) to find the reading age of the text. For example, a passage with around four sentences per 100 words and 120 syllables in the same passage will have a reading age of 12 years. A passage with only 3 sentences per 100, and 144 syllables will have a reading age of about 15 years. Note that some versions of the graph show age in years, while others show grade level. Check which version you are using!
For greater accuracy, repeat the calculations using three samples of writing from the text. That means you will calculate the score based on 3 x 100 word samples.
Here is some more useful information about Fry Graphs, easy reading books and readability scores:
www.phoenixeduc.com – 'Skills for Work' book series by Anne Vize – written to suit an adolescent learner with a lower than expected reading age (around age 10 years for reading age and chronological age of 14-17 years).