There's an advantage to beginning a unit with complex text--the advantage is that complex text has something for everyone.
Yesterday, I started our endangered species/animal reservation unit with a complex article and related activities (complex for fourth graders). The article included many unfamiliar words and concepts. The article also included some terrific start-of-the-unit inspiration with a wonderful Rachel Carson quote.
I liked this piece of text because it gave us a great starting point for our upcoming collaborative research and presentations for many reasons. First, the article provided an inroad to some of the important vocabulary we will use throughout the study. Next, the article provided students with a glimpse of what it's like to be a child living on an animal preservation. After that, the article depicted the viewpoint of a scientist who has chosen to work and raise her family on a land preserve. Finally the post provided children with a terrific Rachel Carson quote that we'll return to again and again as we study animals and reservations around the globe.
We'll continue to use complex articles as we outline the reasons for endangerment, and the ways we can protect animals--articles we've hosted on this website.
Then we'll move to texts of differentiated complexity as students begin their independent research beginning with easy-to-read texts and moving to more complexity as students' questions become more sophisticated.
Starting with complex text, if done well, can serve to pique the curiosity and interest of all your students and teachers at the start of the unit. It lifts them up with a spark whereas if you start with text that's babyish you can lose a large number of students at the beginning, and that's not the way you want to start a month-long, dynamic unit. I welcome your thoughts related to this topic.