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Choosing Decodable Books to Support Your Students Reading Level

Choosing Decodable Books to Support Your Students’ Reading Level

Using decodable books to teach your kindergarteners how to read will speed up their learning progress exponentially. The carefully curated material in these books supports classroom phonetics lessons.


Decodable texts are designed to align with students’ reading level, providing ample opportunity for children to apply the decoding lessons they’ve learned in the classroom. This helps them build a strong understanding of word-sound relationships and develop reading fluency.


That said, there are a lot of decodable books to choose from. This guide is going to break down exactly how you can find the best decodable resources for your students and integrate them into group learning activities.

Why are Decodable Books Important for Students with Reading Difficulties?

Students with reading difficulties often need more time to process or more repetition with the same lessons. By picking decodable books with repetitive sound-spelling patterns, you can: 


    ◊ Give children the opportunity to practice the same skills until they have a complete understanding of the material

    ◊ Encourage sound-by-sound reading  

    ◊ Keep the practice simple and direct since the focus is on the words and the text and other strategies are not promoted

    ◊ Provide students a place for practice that also doubles as valuable informal assessment for an educator

    ◊ Provide support and feedback on a specific skill set by listening to a student read decodable text

    ◊ Address obstacles in a more targeted fashion, as only a few skills or new words are added or identified as new for the student with            each decodable book

How to Choose Decodable Books for Your Students

Before you can pick out an appropriate decodable book series for your classroom, you need to do the following:


Determine Your “Students’ Reading Level”

Unfortunately, as discussed in a former blog post, it’s not as simple without the levels from before (A, B, C, etc.), but by working through books by skill sets, educators can ensure that the focus is on what the child actually needs to learn, not on how many words are on a page. 

“Level” can often feel like a loaded word with the leveled readers that have previously been many of the go-to books for beginning readers, and so, a better phrase for “reading level” might be the “skill set and reading abilities” of a student.


Use a Quality Phonics Assessment or Phonics Inventory

By finding the phonics known and the phonics needed, educators can decide on specific sets for targeted practice. It’s important to note that educators also need to assess the ease or difficulty with which students approach the decodable text, a student’s anxiety or confidence, and the fluency with which they read. These factors will help with identifying the type of reading skills to teach or practice within the chosen decodable book.

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Since decodables are meant to encourage independent reading, children should ideally be able to decode a majority of the words in any text. Experts and researchers haven’t identified an optimal percent of decodability, but decodability is an important characteristic for finding the best books for specific students.


Lower-level books will have a limited vocabulary built on simple phonemes, while higher-difficulty texts will use complex phonemes-graphemes, such as “ay” spelling /A/ or “oi” spelling /oy/. Books are often categorized in some form by the publisher, be it levels, steps, units, etc.

Consider the Level of Support Each Student Needs

To consider the level of supporting lessons needed to incorporate your chosen book, you can ask yourself questions like:

    ◊ What phonics skills must each student have?

    ◊ What sight words should students know?

    ◊ What background knowledge should be introduced?


Some books provide more spacing for tracking or managing overstimulation. Some books have simpler sentences, which are good when students are having difficulty with text endurance or remembering the beginning thought in a sentence (to make meaning once the entire sentence has been read). 


Overall, between a phonics inventory and an assessment of the needs of each student, matching decodable books to student needs is not as difficult as it may seem.

The Importance of Matching Text Difficulty to Students’ Reading Level

When you pick a text that appropriately matches your students’ reading level, or skill set, they can approach a majority of the text with sound-spelling rules they’ve learned. This results-oriented approach gives children the confidence to practice their reading, sidestepping the frustration they may have felt otherwise.


If the text difficulty is suitable, students can build confidence. If a student can find success with a touch of challenge (a handful of words), they can take on a challenge in a “safe” way. Students begin to see that their hard work with phonics has a purpose and that they’re being successful by using/applying that skill or knowledge. As children build confidence in their decoding skills, they’re more willing to participate in classroom learning activities and group read-aloud sessions.


Appropriate text also improves fluency. If a student doesn’t have to stop every other word to figure out, decode, or attach meaning, they can integrate expression, tone, and prosody based on sentence structure. By being composed of previous skills and a handful of new ones, students can begin to apply learned skills with automaticity in decodable readers. 

Scope and Sequence


Tracking Progress and Adjusting Book Selection as Needed

While there’s an extensive body of research that supports the use of phonetics-based learning practices, it’s important to recognize that students will have changes in their needs and might all excel at varying speeds. A book might meet all their initial requirements for practice, but they could need more of a challenge or even a step back to review and support gaps.


That’s why it’s important to incorporate informal reading assessments into literacy instruction. This means teachers should find ways to monitor student progress frequently outside of their main assessments. 


Small group reading allows teachers to hear each student read, albeit briefly. Also, reading comprehension sheets done independently by students and paired with the decodable book can be a valuable way to look at reading comprehension for early readers. 


Tracking students’ progress will help educators figure out how effective the classroom instruction is and whether there needs to be adjustments in the book selection.


Tips for Using Decodable Books to Support Reading Instruction

The process of introducing decodable books to the classroom can be very simple. Take, for instance, the sample organization below:


     1. Begin with a planned phonics lesson.

     2. Select a decodable book that uses the phonics sequence being taught.

     3. Preview “sight words” associated with the corresponding text, possibly introducing or reviewing these words in a “mapping” activity.

     4. Preview vocabulary by identifying and defining a handful of words from the book.


As using decodable books becomes more familiar for an educator, it will become simple to select books quickly for skills-based reading instruction, small reading groups, and even independent book element practice for students, such as character reviews, setting, and opinion writing.

Skills-based reading instruction


Different Types of Decodable Books Available

All decodable books are phonics-based, so you’ll want to make sure that the reading material you select only includes phonics skills that have been previously taught. While beginner or early learner decodables rely on basic decoding skills, more advanced books will include more sight words, varied syntax, and more complex semantics.


Format and style do need to be considered when selecting a type of decodable book. Some books are built for older students, mimicking the style of a chapter book but containing beginning phonics to allow for more age-appropriate material.  Some books have more spacing and larger fonts, helping to accommodate beginning readers’ need for tracking and ease in identifying separate words. This also helps students overwhelmed by crowding letters and words or those with visual impairments. No matter the choice, having different types of decodables can help when it comes time to select a series based on student needs.


Many decodable books are designed to be interactive and include exercises for classroom activities, whether they’re written on the back of the book, included as printouts, or provided in a workbook. Instructors can use these materials to carry out engaging activities and skill-build based on the book.


How to Integrate Decodable Books in Your Reading Curriculum

When you’re picking decodable books for your curriculum, don’t forget to:


    ◊ Consider your students’ interests. What kind of stories do they like? What topics might engage them? While the phonics is                     important, subject matter can play a key role as you try to encourage a love of reading in your young readers.

    ◊ Align the scope and sequence of the book series with the skills being taught in the program. Decodable books are an                      essential resource needed in a curriculum, and those books need to support the material being taught. Review books for possible              obstacles based on what kids have been taught or exposed to.

    ◊ Use decodable books in conjunction with other resources. That way, you can celebrate students’ reading successes while                   helping them explore varied texts that are in line with their skill set. As students learn and master more phonics, less controlled text             becomes decodable for them without specifically being called “a decodable book.” As always, you can monitor students’ progress and         make changes when you need to.

Support Your Students with the Right Decodable Books  

Choosing decodable books for your students can be a game-changer in their reading journey. By ensuring that the books they’re reading align with their current reading level or skill set, you provide them with the support they need to succeed.


Remember, reading is a skill that requires practice, patience, and the right resources. So, let’s help our students become confident readers, one decodable book at a time.

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