What are decodable books?
Decodable books and text passages are an important part of a structured literacy approach to reading instruction. Decodable books and text contain words made of letter-sounds, and spelling and morphological patterns (e.g. prefixes & suffixes) that a student has been explicitly taught. In order to make the text more readable, a small number of high-frequency words that have more difficult or unexpected spellings, such as ‘the’, ‘my’, ‘was’ are also used. As a student learns new parts of the alphabetic code the vocabulary used in the text expands to include the newly learned ‘graphemes’ and ‘morphemes.’
For instance, structured literacy programmes often start by teaching
- 5 short vowel sounds (e.g. /ă/ in ‘cat’),
- most common consonant letter-sounds and
- consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) syllable type (e.g. ‘cat’, ‘pig’, ‘run’).
At this stage, decodable text provided for reading practice would only include those letter-sounds and CVC patterns, such as “The rat bit the pig. The bad rat hid in the tin can. The pig bit the cat”. Words like ‘any’, or ‘water’ would not be included because they include other pronunciations of the letter <a> that have not been taught yet. This is usually followed by words that include digraphs (eg. <sh>, <ch>, <th>) and consonant blends, such as ‘trip’, ‘glad’, ‘camp’, and some common suffixes (<-s>, <-es>, <-ing>, <-ed>). The consonant blends are often very challenging for students with dyslexia and require lots of reading practice which decodable books can offer.
It is important that the decodable text closely matches the sequence of instruction in letter-sounds, morphemes, phonetically irregular words, syllable types and spelling patterns that are taught throughout a structured literacy program, especially for struggling readers.
Decodable readers vs. leveled readers
Decodable text is quite different from ‘leveled readers’ which are used by many reading programs. With leveled readers, children are taught to rely on cues in the text or accompanying pictures to guess unknown words, and/or memorise a list of the most common words found in print. Often predictable and repetitive sentences are used to help students guess the correct words (e.g. “I get my ruler. I get my pencils. I get my shoes. I get my sweater. I go to school.”). Many words in early leveled readers require advanced decoding skills. For example, to successfully decode the word “pencil” a child needs to know that the letter <c> represents the /s/ sound when it comes before the letters <e>, <i> or <y>. And in the word ‘school’, the <ch> grapheme represents /k/.
When to use decodable text/books
Using decodable text in the earlier stages of literacy instruction ensures that a student has the skills to read without guessing. They are especially important for students with dyslexia (or any struggling reader) because they provide reading practice using the knowledge of letter-sounds that are taught explicitly in a scaffolded approach. Reading decodable text helps students build fluency and gain confidence as they become proficient with word-level reading. Eventually, when most of the code has been explicitly taught, students will be able to read regular, more authentic texts. Decodable books are only needed until the student has mastered the code; after that, they can read anything!
Where to find decodable books?
Alphabet Series Readers (from Recipe for Reading) - click here for brochure including scope and sequence
Core Knowledge Readers - these readers are part of the Skills Strand of the Language Arts program of the Core Knowledge Curriculum. They are available for FREE download here (look for the reader in each grade/unit). Printed copies are available only for purchase in the U.S.
High Noon Books offers a selection of phonics-based chapter books.
Readinga-z.com offers short, downloadable, decodable readers. Membership subscription. A free 14 day trial is available.
Emily Gibbons decodable reading passages - available on Teachers Pay Teachers (search in her store for 'decodable reading passages' for different buying options. One page decodable passages. Scope and sequence is provided at the beginning of each level.
Hill Readers - are a series of 13 phonetically controlled, decodable texts that are designed to complement the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP); they can be used independently or also to supplement any Orton-Gillingham influenced reading program. Comprehension questions are included. Purchase from Amazon.ca.
Now I'm Reading - Animal Antics by Nora Gaydos. Booklets 1-5 focus on mostly three-letter short-vowel words, some consonant blends, and early sight words. Booklets 6-10 progress to mostly four-letter short-vowel words, plus additional sight words and consonant blends.
Dog on a Log books - by Pamela Brookes. The books, available on Amazon, follow this Structured Literacy/Orton-Gillingham based phonics sequence . Printable games and activities are also available on the website.