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.
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.
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.