What does text complexity mean for English learners and language minority students?

Lily Wong Fillmore and Charles J. Fillmore

This paper addresses the implications, for ELLs, of the new standards’ requirement that students be able to read and understand complex, informationally dense texts. 

The authors discuss the types of supports that learners need in order to work with complex texts. They also provide a sample of what academic discourse involves, using an excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. They demonstrate how English learners can be provided with strategies for accessing complex texts, such as closely examining one sentence at a time. The authors argue that instruction must go beyond vocabulary and should begin with an examination of our beliefs about language, literacy and learning.

6.Lily Wong Fillmore: Text Complexity, Common Core, and ELLs


Lilly Wong Fillmore says the new Common Core State Standards require students to read complex texts. This is a challenge—teachers and administrators have little training in language instruction. What kind of professional development will they need?

About the Authors