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8 Fun Ways to Teach Using Decodable Readers

8 Fun Ways to Teach Using Decodable Readers

Now that you’ve made the important decision to integrate decodable readers into your classroom, it’s time to incorporate them into your lesson plans. Teachers all know that engaging lessons increase student participation and will help them get the most out of a lesson. 

If you’re worried that using decodable readers means rote reading, think again! There are lots of fun activities you can do with your decodable readers.

If you need a refresher on decodable texts, look at Benefits of Decodable Books and Decodable Books: 9 Myths and Misconceptions.

Express Readers already has some fun activities built in to use while you’re teaching with decodable readers. Express Theater provides short, decodable plays that are perfect for practicing fluency and expression. Express Readers reading comprehension activities practice many skills in engaging activities and can all be found in the Tool Kit consumables.

Need even more ideas for teaching with decodables? Read on.

1. I Point, You Read

“I Point, You Read” allows pairs of students to work together on a decodable text. One student points to the words while the other one reads, and then they switch roles. 

Most young kids love working with peers. By reading with a partner, students can help one another build confidence and independence while practicing decoding words.

Remember to always set up clear guidelines and demonstrate the activity to help students work with their partners effectively, as well as with kindness and patience. Reading aloud can cause anxiety in some students, and pointing to words at the same speed a partner reads can be tricky and might take some practice. By setting the activity up as a low-stress practice with respect for one another, students can begin to read outside of the teacher-led environment while not being alone just yet. 


2. Autographs and Partner Reading

Students will feel like celebrities when giving out their autographs! Have the children pair up and earn an autograph from a friend by reading them a decodable book. Having a special paper or book to collect signatures on makes this activity even more exciting for students. 

Autographs during partner reading

Another variation of the autograph game is allowing students to read to a stuffed animal (or even a class pet). They can then get the animal’s “autograph” by drawing a paw print, tracing the paw, or using a special paw print stamp. 

3. Sight Words as a Group Activity

Not all words are decodable yet. Some of them even have irregular spellings. These words are called “sticky words” because they’re easy to get stuck on. By identifying and mapping these words, students can begin to remember the structures that make these words, allowing for automaticity. 

In the Express Readers program, we preview and map sticky words before beginning the book. We use a Sound Splat Board to map each sticky word in the decodable book. Once we have mapped those words, we go on a Sticky Word Hunt. We “splat sticky words with honey” (using a yellow crayon or highlighter) to show which words are easy to get stuck on.

Mapping sticky words (aka “sight words” in Express Readers)


4. Couple Cards and Memory Match

One big piece in comprehending any text is vocabulary acquisition. By identifying new vocabulary in books, especially those words containing phonics structures being learned, students can add to the background knowledge that will help them comprehend more complex text.   

Couple Cards is a game played that involves having a word card and the matching picture, and students can create this game to help with vocabulary acquisition. Have each student find 3-6 decodable words in the text that are new to them or that they would like to illustrate. Pass out index cards and have them write the words on one card and an illustration on the other. 

Students can use their cards to play games with a friend. To play Couple Cards, they give their mixed-up cards to a partner who tries to match the pairs correctly. 

Students can also play Memory Match with Couple Cards. Students combine their cards with those of a partner and spread the cards out face down. On each turn, a child turns over two cards, and if the word and the illustration match, they’ve made a pair and get to keep them. At the end of the game, the winner is the player with the most pairs.  

Pro Tip: Use card stock or thick index cards to ensure the words and pictures can’t be seen from the other side of the card.

Memory with Couple Cards from Express Readers


5. Creative Writing

Young readers love to make up silly stories or sentences. Incorporate their growing imaginations by using creative writing prompts related to your decodable readers. Give the students 1-3 words that follow the phonics structure you’re studying and ask them to write a sentence or two incorporating those words and then illustrate it. 

Creative Writing

A great prompt for creative writing is “What would you have done?” Ask students to decide their own problem-solving solutions for events in the book they’ve read. As they work, remind them of any previous phonics structures they’ve learned. 

If a word contains a pattern they haven’t learned yet, simply encourage them to do the best they can. You haven’t taught that yet, so it’s ok that they don’t know it.

6.  Phonemic Awareness Games

Teaching phonemic awareness (the ability to hear separate sounds in words) shouldn’t stop once students begin learning phonics (the ability to represent those sounds with letters). Activities that involve blending oral sounds or stretching out words to hear the sounds are working on phonemic awareness. 

When you begin teaching a phonics pattern in small groups, give each student a few counters, small blocks, mini erasers, or some other fun materials. Have them say the word slowly like a turtle or sloth would say it. For each sound they hear, they push one object.

Pro Tip: Use Pop-Its, pushing one “button” for each sound in the spoken word.


7. Word Hunts or Sound Finds 

There are many ways that students can hunt for words with the phonics pattern they’re learning. Highlighting words in a poem or consumable book is fun because young students love using highlighters. 

Sticky notes are also a hit, and students can put them over words they find in the classroom books. Students can also record the words they find in a list or a grid that lets them illustrate the words as well. 


8. Word Ladders or Switch

Give students a word to write or build. Say a new word that only changes 1-2 sound spellings at a time or have students change one letter at a time to create new words. 

If you don’t have time to create your own list, they’re already created for you in the Quick Keys of the Express Readers program. See the example given below for an idea of how it can work. 

Word building with Wonder Words and the Quick Keys from Express Readers


Create Engaging, Science-Backed Reading Lessons

The science is clear that structured, explicit phonics instruction is the best way to teach young students to read, and decodable books are an essential tool in that instruction. If you’re looking for the best decodable readers for young students, check out our online shop. You will find books with engaging characters that your students will love to read. 

The days of boring decodables are in the past! You can have fun, engaging lessons while using what science has taught us about how children learn to read.

Do you have any more fun ideas for using decodables in the classroom? Drop them in the comments below.

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