Giving Middle-School Readers a Boost with TopicReads

    by Elfrieda (Freddy) H. Hiebert | April 26, 2023

    middle school students in a classroom

    My name is Charlie, and I am the youngest rider on the Pony Express. The other riders call me Young Boy Charlie, because I am only twelve years old, but I have been riding for nearly ten months now, through the blistering heat and freezing cold. I ride six or more hours each day, changing horses every hour. I must tell you that yesterday was my most exciting day yet. I was riding my favorite horse, Jennie, an excellent pinto and my last horse of the day. We were crossing a swift stream, when my horse spotted a mountain lion. 1

    The example shows the number of words that fourth graders at the 25th percentile read orally in a minutes: 97 words of a 100-word, grade-level text. The three words in boldface are the words that most in this group do not recognize.

    Often the interpretation of the reading of students who don’t perform well on assessments is that they can’t decode. Words such as pinto and blistering show that the words that students can’t recognize typically are rare, unfamiliar and have multiple syllables. These are not the words that are typically part of decoding instruction.

    What challenges these students is their speed in recognizing the meaning of the 2,500 words and their family members (e.g., change, changing, changed) that make up 92% of all words in school texts. When reading is slow, students simply don’t have the bandwidth to attend to the meaning of the text.

    Cover of TopicReads title "The Origin of Sports" showing 3 young men playing basketball.Middle schoolers who are challenged in reading don’t need more decoding practice with single- syllable words. What they really need is to spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading texts where they can get fast in recognizing the meanings of the 2,500 most-frequent words and their family members. A new set of texts at—TopicReads-Middle School—provides precisely this opportunity. 

    TopicReads-Middle School is an evidence-based set of texts that support vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension for struggling, middle-school readers. Texts become progressively harder across the 6 levels, from an emphasis on the 600 most frequent root words at Level A to Level F, where all 2,500 root word families that make up 92% of all the words in texts appear. The texts are available in two formats: downloadable PDFs or digital flipbooks that can be read online. We’ve also provided assessments for teachers so that they can get students into the right levels. Additionally, vocabulary and comprehension activities accompany each passage.

    At, we are confident that TopicReads-Middle School will give middle schoolers the boost that makes reading engaging and enjoyable.

    1 Good, R.H, II, & Kaminski, R.A. (2011). DIBELS© Next Student Materials: Fourth grade
    Benchmark Assessment.
    Dynamic Measurement Group, Inc.