Where is the first place students will head when they are assigned a project that involves research? I am willing to bet that you answered, "Google!" The ability to quickly find information pertaining to a topic is one reason Google is so popular. Students know they can search for just about any topic by simply typing in a few words. It doesn't even have to be spelled correctly! However, as soon as the hits appear problems can begin. In terms of readability for the student, the initial list of links can be fairly hit or miss. If a link has too many words or not enough pictures and interaction, they'll quickly close them and try others. Sites that are difficult to read quickly cause frustation and lead to hands in the air and cries of "I can't find anything." There is a simple way students can narrow their choices down, however, so they view only sites and articles that are closer to their own reading level.
After completing the initial search, by choosing <search tools>, <all results>, and <reading level>, a graphic appears showing the percentage of hits that are written at a basic, intermediate, or advanced reading level. Clicking on the word for the desired level eliminates all other articles that are too easy or too hard for the student to read.
Changing the Reading Level still won't make researching a completely independent exercise, but it will allow for differentiation during the process and further aid the students in being successful. Give it a try next you assign a research project in class!