The Benefits of Decodable Books: Why Invest in Them?
Decodable books benefit students as they are learning to read, and they are an essential tool for all elementary education classrooms.
Have you ever learned how to play an instrument? You may have started by learning about notes and chords and then playing songs to build your musical fluency, finally bringing meaning and purpose to every note. However, you cannot play using notes you have never learned, and you probably could not play a sonata to start. Decodable books are like the first songs children learn to play without being a concerto on the first try.
Decodable books are designed with phonics-based lessons in mind, reinforcing the skills young readers are learning during class instruction. Moreover, they give readers the chance to practice basic skills and gain confidence in reading, all while connecting their instruction to an actual book.
Not all schools invest in decodable books, which creates a challenge for teachers and a gap in instruction for students. Many teachers need the materials and resources to help their students read authentic text using the skills being learned. Many students need to connect their skills to immediate practice to work towards automaticity and mastery.
In this article, I will discuss the benefits of decodable books and the positive impact these resources have on early literacy. I will also examine how important it is for school districts to make decodable books available to young learners and what criteria you should use while choosing decodable books and book sets for your classroom or school.
Don’t have access to decodable books in your school or district? Download free copies and get free samples here.
What are decodable books?
Decodable books are books specially designed to help children learn how to read by scaffolding skills and building upon learned letter patterns and vocabulary. These books provide phonetically controlled materials that help students hear, recognize, and manipulate the sounds of language.
Read-alouds and class discussions are crucial sources for language comprehension, building background knowledge, and increasing vocabulary, but eventually, students need to be able to pull meaning from words on a page they have read. Through practice and explicit guidance and instruction on how to pull that meaning, students will begin the process of comprehending written words without facilitation from a teacher or parent.
By accelerating a student’s ability to sound out words in an engaging way, decodable texts can be key to developing a student’s lifelong love of reading and honing their reading comprehension skills.
How do decodable books work?
A book’s “decodability” is determined by how well it matches the letter-sound correspondences a student is familiar with. When a beginner reader uses decodable text, they encounter these letter-sound combinations several times in the context of an engaging story. This repetition helps them become more familiar with letters and sounds while developing a sensitivity for word order and letter patterns.
Decodable books introduce learners to new words in a manageable way, enabling them to feel successful while reinforcing their current reading lessons. They use words that are carefully selected based on the frequency of recognizable phonetic combinations and difficulty level, making it easier for early readers to decipher and comprehend.
What is the difference between decodable text and predictable text?
Decodable texts offer a way for learners to gradually build their knowledge and understanding of phonetics through repeated exposure, while predictable texts cause students to rely more heavily on contextual clues or pictorial representation within the text.
Predictable texts and predictable books are not always the same. Predictable books can be read-alouds or literature read to students, but predictable text is a practice source read by students.
Predictable books read to students are helpful for language development and recall, as adults read a story and ask children to fill in what might come next, rhyming words, or a predictable vocabulary word. In these read-alouds, children are not reading or even focusing on the written words but on the ideas and the meaning.
An example might be reading a book such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear and asking children what the reader sees while following the patterned text leading up to the prediction. These sources are often used in speech therapy, early intervention, at home with pre-readers, and in classroom read-alouds.
Predictable and patterned books are not the sources discussed in this section.
What is predictable text?
Predictable texts consist of predictable phrases and words, often repeated over and over again, and end with the same word or group of words in a set pattern. They often include pictures and other cues to prompt students to “fill in” the differing words in the story.
Predictable text is believed to advance early readers’ word recognition and reading strategies, but the practice can have harmful results, according to multiple research studies. It causes students to remove their focus from the words, turning to the pictures or the meaning of the sentence to speculate on possible words. Students guess what comes next instead of reading the actual text.
This method can be problematic during foundational learning because although students may show early and significant improvements in reading, these often cease as students encounter text without pictures or the possibility to predict the next words.
What makes decodable text different?
Decodable texts require students to attend to the words and the text to read. They allow readers to actively decode unfamiliar words as well as comprehend brand-new ideas and concepts in their own reading.
Unlike predictable texts that can be varied in word structures and sound spellings, decodable texts are controlled by containing skills students have previously learned and sound spellings or phonics structures that students are currently practicing.
Decodable texts offer a way for learners to gradually build their knowledge and understanding of phonetics through repeated exposure, rather than relying more heavily on contextual clues or pictorial representation within the text. By focusing on decoding, readers can gain a greater understanding of words by practicing sounding them out accurately.
Are decodable readers compatible with other reading strategies?
Decodable readers can also be used in conjunction with other literacy activities, such as:
– Sight word mapping
– Phonemic awareness exercises
– Phonics instruction
– Sound hunts
– Recall of text
– Understanding of basic story elements
If the correct decodable sets are vetted and chosen, these books can offer valuable spaces for the practice of reading comprehension and language retention for vocabulary building.
When students practice both decoding and comprehension together in an integrated approach, they learn to become proficient at all aspects of reading much faster. When it comes time to tackle more advanced books, such as novels, decodable readers prepare students with the skills they need to succeed before taking on a bigger challenge!
When incorporated into a reading program, decodable books help children gain a better understanding of phonemes and their relationship with letters, ultimately leading to improved reading fluency.
Decodable readers typically contain shorter sentences and adhere to basic grammatical rules, making them a suitable choice of books when introducing literacy concepts such as punctuation marks, syntax, or sentence structure.
What are the benefits of decodable books?
Exposure to spoken language, sounds, and sound spellings is at the foundation of every reader’s literacy journey. The more students practice reading using the knowledge they are taught, the more they hone their recognition of sound-letter combinations and sight words. This helps them become more fluent in the language.
Here are ways decodable books can help different types of learners:
For beginner readers
Early readers haven’t had the chance to map many sight words into memory yet. With decodable books, they can get more controlled reading practice. This enables early readers to use their current understanding of phonics rules and limited sight words to decode texts, gradually refining their ability to read fluently.
Other benefits include:
– Stress the connection between letter symbols and sounds
– Help children gain control over basic language structures
– Introduce language patterns that develop reading skills
– Prepare students for text comprehension by reinforcing previously acquired concepts
– Give students interesting material to discuss and practice what they’ve learned
For kindergarteners and first graders
Decodable books are specifically designed to allow students to focus on the sounds and practice recognizing common phonics patterns in preparation for learning more complex words. They often feature words that contain phonetic elements that have been taught.
Additionally, words are placed in context on pages so kindergarteners and first graders can construct sentences as they learn new patterns and connections between phonemes and syllables. If the correct sets are chosen, these books keep students engaged with interesting storylines. These positive reading experiences help children build confidence and the motivation to continue practicing their emerging reading ability beyond the classroom walls.
For students in teacher-led small-group instruction
Here are some ways using decodable texts during teacher-led small group instruction can improve student outcomes:
– Improve phonics skills: By working with decodable texts during teacher-led small-group instruction, students can practice decoding words and recognizing common spelling patterns, which can help them become more confident readers.
– Build fluency: When students can read text fluently, they can focus more on understanding the meaning of the text. Decodable text can help students build fluency by providing them with text that is appropriate for their reading ability. This also helps them improve their knowledge of sight words and phonetic combinations.
– Support struggling readers: Repeated practice with a specific set of phonics structures can often help struggling students grasp and retain the needed skill set. Decodable texts can also help them feel successful when engaging with texts, encouraging them to independently explore literature.
– Provide a structured and personalized learning environment: Decodable texts can be used to help ensure that students are receiving the support they need to succeed. Students can work closely with their teacher and peers, and receive more individualized feedback and support, which can help them develop their reading skills more effectively.
Decodable books provide teachers with tools to teach students to transition from letter-sound recognition to more advanced, multi-skill reading. They can also help create a bridge between teachers and parents in the home, allowing both teachers and parents to reinforce students’ literacy education. This helps teachers and school districts produce well-rounded students who are better prepared for their entire education.
When should I use decodable texts?
You should use decodable texts whenever necessary to encourage active participation from students and foster positive attitudes toward reading! You can also use them specifically for the following:
Introducing new concepts or skills
Decodable texts will allow students to practice correct pronunciation and word recognition before being asked to apply the same concepts in less controlled spaces.
Decodable texts should be used regularly throughout any phonics program so that students always have additional practice applying the skills they’ve learned.
Decodable texts are also a valuable part of a library when correctly categorized or organized. By organizing decodable books by skill and/or place in scope and sequence, students have the opportunity to choose a book they are interested in while being able to read the book independently.
It is important to note that the more times students connect their own skills to actual reading, the more they will engage in decoding or trying new words with known structures. If the library contains books they CAN read, students tend to have more confidence in their own abilities.
What kind of decodable texts should I use in my classroom?
Whether you choose decodable readers, predictable texts, or classic children’s books to fill your library, the texts you use in your classroom should be relevant to the skill practice intended for your students. It should also be age-appropriate, engaging, and cover all the necessary topics that need to be learned.
For younger students, it is important to begin with shorter sentences with simpler words, so that they can understand the content easily.
When selecting texts for older students, longer and more complex sentences may be used, as well as informational articles from reliable sources that allow for thoughtful discussion. Teachers may also choose an anthology of poems or stories from different authors to cover a variety of genres and styles.
No matter what type of text you choose, make sure that it suits the learning objectives of your class. If a child is learning to read, choose books that encourage the practice of the learned skills. If a child is expanding their vocabulary to include a diverse language for topics, read rich literature and non-fiction to them while organizing opportunities for recall, referencing, and discussion.
How do I choose a decodable reader?
Choosing the right decodable reader for your students is an important decision for any teacher. Here are some factors to consider when selecting decodable readers for your classroom:
1. Check the phonics rules covered
Use books that primarily cover phonics rules your students are familiar with. Look for readers that introduce and reinforce skills that your students need to learn or practice.
2. Consider engaging content
Choose decodable readers that are engaging and interesting for your students. This will help motivate them to read and practice their phonics skills. Look for readers that have engaging illustrations (that do not exactly match the text), relatable characters, and interesting storylines.
3. Look for decodable readers that align with your curriculum
If you have a specific reading program or curriculum that you follow, choose decodable readers that will give your students the solid foundation of phonics skills they need to advance to the next level.
4. Consider the length of the books
Children may become overwhelmed or discouraged if the books they are expected to read are too long or have too much text per page. Make sure the books are a manageable length for your students’ reading ability.
5. Choose books that offer a progression of difficulty
A good decodable reader series should increase in difficulty by phonics, word length, and sentence structure so that your students can build their reading skills gradually. Start with easier books and gradually increase the difficulty as your students become more proficient.
6. Take format into account
Some children will be able to decode and advance with any format structure available, but some students might need the font to stay larger and the spacing to be adequate.
Students may also need for the text to be separate from the picture, meaning that the text is on the opposite page or is clearly defined in a space outside of the picture.
7. Look for interesting illustrations
The right illustrations can also help increase a child’s motivation to read. Illustrations are an important part of decodable books, but decodable books do not use pictures to encourage guessing over reading. Instead, quality decodable texts use illustrations to further engage young readers and add humor to their reading experience.
Make decodable texts a part of your foundational reading curriculum
By incorporating decodable books and book sets into early reading curriculums, school districts and teachers can give students the tools they need to quickly grow as readers. Students can also build a strong foundation of phonemic awareness, orthographic memory, and enthusiastic engagement.
By targeting and reinforcing specific phonic skills through repetition and increasing difficulty, decodable texts can accelerate any young reader’s journey, whether they are a struggling reader trying to catch up or an advanced reader preparing for more difficult texts.
Decodable books give young readers confidence as they are learning and enforcing new skills. When used in conjunction with other important reading comprehension skills, they can be the key to not only quickly improving a young reader’s skills but also instilling a lifelong love of reading.
While not all schools invest in decodable readers, educators and teachers need to understand the benefits of decodable readers so that they can make better decisions about the methodologies behind their reading curriculums.
To find out more about decodable readers and book sets, and how you can incorporate decodable readers into your curriculum today, visit expressreaders.org/decodable-books/.
Written by Elise Lovejoy