Much Ado About Text Complexity

Painted portrait of William Shakespeare as example of dynamic text leveling

Dynamic Text Leveling

At the mention of Shakespeare, you’re likely to have the same reaction as your students…first a feeling of bewilderment, then a sense of awe.


The playwright brought more to the English language than any other writer, and today, nearly 400 years after his death, it’s hard to watch a movie without seeing his motifs at work.

Yet, his plays can be difficult to read. He wrote with an incredible vocabulary—close to 20,000 unique words (30,000 words including variations). He coined 3,200 of those, including words like fashionable, freezing, and even bedroom. (At the time, the average educated person had a conversational vocabulary of 3,000-4,000 words.)


But as challenging as Shakespeare’s plays are to read, the text tied to the new rigorous state standards may be even more challenging for students to read.

I did a quick informal analysis comparing Romeo and Juliet to the 9-10th grade text exemplars (Common Core Appendix B). Here’s what I found…


  1. The narrative “story” exemplars had approximately the same density of difficult words as Romeo and Juliet, but the density of unique words was 56% greater in the exemplars.
  2. The “informational” exemplars were even more difficult. The exemplars had a 16% higher density of difficult words and 82% higher density of unique words than Romeo and Juliet. The readability of the exemplars measured at college level.

Both Romeo and Juliet and the exemplars contained a lot of difficult words—24% to 30% of all words fell into a category of “difficult.” Having students look up all of these words in a dictionary is not just impractical—it would literally kill fluency. And all too often, dictionary definitions just lead to more definitions (try looking transcendence up in the dictionary; you’ll get “the quality of being transcendent.)

For the struggling reader, this is overwhelming. But what if we could help smooth out the difficult words in the context of the original text, whether Shakespeare, social studies, science, or ELA?


It would be huge!


Our latest release of Snap&Read Universal does just this. It takes the difficult vocabulary and modifies it to improve readability without changing the meaning of the text through dynamic text leveling.


It takes transcendence and turns it into “excellence.” Even many of the words Shakespeare coined instantly become easier to understand, including lustrous (shiny), pageantry (showiness), perplex (confuse), pious (religious), and unappeased (unsatisfied)–just to name a few. And it does all of this within the website pages where the original text appears.

Original Macbeth before Snap&Read

(difficult words highlighted)



If you shall cleave to my consent, when ‘tis,

It shall make honour for you.

Macbeth after Snap&Read

(difficult words transposed and italicized)



If you will stick to/cling to my permission, when it is

It will make honor for you.

Easier, huh?

We’re calling it Dynamic Text Leveling because it works dynamically right over top of what students are reading. I put together a brief video (3-min) demonstrating how it works.


When students use Dynamic Text Leveling and then hear the text read aloud, they can read a wider range of text than ever before. Whether reading Shakespeare or the text required in the new standards, let’s turn bewilderment into awe.


Let Snap&Read Universal help!



Watch the 3-min video


For more information and to download a trial click here.

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