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Dyslexia and Decodable Books: Tips for Teachers and Parents

Dyslexia affects approximately 1 in 5 children, and the effects can be pervasive. Students with dyslexia often suffer reading trauma, anxiety, a lack of self-confidence, and more when faced with the wrong reading instruction or without identification and support.


With proper intervention, resources, and support, students can learn to read, avoiding much of the trauma and future implications of illiteracy. The first step is identifying students who struggle with reading, which can be complex in younger grades. However, this needs to happen as early as possible to maximize the impact of intervention and instruction.

Dyslexic students require instruction that meets them where they’re at, is explicit and systematic, works with their strengths, and often contains more time for repeated practice and review. As far as dyslexia and decodable books are concerned, these texts make for invaluable and essential reading practice when selected carefully.

This guide is going to help you understand why decodable books are so helpful for dyslexic students and how you can pick the best books for your students. We’ll also cover the best teaching methods, technological aids, and other valuable tips on teaching kids with dyslexia how to read.

The Benefits of Decodable Books for Dyslexic Children

Dyslexia is the most common reading disorder, disrupting a person’s ability to read. Students require systematic and cumulative instruction to ensure that all the mechanics of reading are learned, reviewed, and mastered. 

According to research, children with decoding difficulties or dyslexia experience deficits in the following skills in the preschool years:

  •     Phoneme awareness
  •     Letter-sound knowledge
  •     Rapid automatized naming

These phonological/language difficulties appear to be the probable main causes that make learning to decode print challenging for dyslexic students.

Knowing that decoding and sound-spelling relationships tend to be the most common struggles for students with dyslexia, general education and Tier 1 classrooms need to provide support and continued practice of these skills.

When you choose decodable books that contain the learned skills of a student with dyslexia, not only does it provide another layer of connected exercises to help with repetition to mastery, but it empowers those students to take control of their learning with fundamental practice. 

Decodable books give students with dyslexia access to text with the sound-spellings and phonics structures that they have learned. 

All students need access to practice with sound-spellings, but there’s definite evidence that students with dyslexia require more repetition with grapheme-phoneme relationships and decoding. Decodable books lead to a safer space for controlled practice to mastery.  


Tips for Using Decodable Books to Help Dyslexic Children Improve Reading Skills

Teachers and parents can help students with dyslexia learn how to read by focusing on one sound-spelling at a time, making room for repeated practice, and allowing students to practice without the added anxiety of failure. 

Choose Decodable Books Only Composed of Learned-Phonics

Decodable books can review previously learned concepts, but make sure that the chosen book doesn’t introduce more than one newly learned sound-skill at a time.  

Search, Identify, and Introduce All Irregularly Spelled Words (Sight Words)

By previewing any irregular spellings or sight words that are not yet decodable for a student, we can provide a more controlled practice text. Ensure that the book won’t have an obstacle that might hurt a child’s confidence or cause them to feel like a failure.

Consider the Visual Needs of Each Specific Student

Does the student get overwhelmed by large amounts of text? Find books with less or more text based on the text endurance or focus ability of that child. 

Does the student read more fluently with better spacing between lines or between words? Find books with double spacing or less text on a page. 

Does the student need a larger font to help focus on the phonics to decode? Choose a series with readable font types and larger font sizes on each page.


Consider the Needs of a Student Based on Their Age Group

Are the peers of the student reading chapter books? Find a series of decodable books that mimics the look of an older student’s books, avoiding books that might make a child feel as if they’re reading a “baby book.” 

Remember, Decodable Books Can Be Interest Based!

Luckily, decodable book selection is becoming easier as more publishers join the ranks. Find a series that attracts the interest of a child to help ease frustration and help students keep up their drive to keep going.



How to Support Dyslexic Children Who Struggle with Decodable Books

On occasion, some dyslexic children may continue to struggle, even with systematic instruction and the use of decodable materials for practice. Assessments and evaluations need to be ongoing to ensure that all difficulties have been identified for that child. 


There are, however, some ways to help support the continued struggle:

Choose Decodable Books that Are Not Too Text-Heavy

Are there too many words per page or book? We want children to make it through a thought or a story with success to ensure comprehension and enjoyment. If there are too many words, completing a text can feel like a chore for a struggling reader.

Identify Sound-Spellings Students Continually Mistake

Find more books with a focus on that sound-spelling, giving more repetitious practice. Also, find games and hands-on activities to practice the skill in isolation, outside of a book, such as Couple Cards.



Highlight Difficult or New Phonics Structures

Use a highlighter or crayon to color the specific letters involved in the problematic spelling in the book or text. By drawing attention to the specific composition of letters, you’re helping a child begin to map specific strings of letters and letter patterns in their brains.

The Role of Technology in Making Decodable Texts Accessible for Dyslexic Children

Using technology in the classroom can provide more practice within one skill set. Using apps and programs that isolate and then apply phonics to text is a great way to reinforce decoding. This also allows for differentiation within a classroom, giving students with dyslexia the ability to be involved with their peers but at their own level.

The honest truth is that technology in current production, outside of practice games for skills, doesn’t have to do much with decoding practice. Decoding exercises and books are needed to develop the mechanics of reading, but technology can support many other areas of literacy and academics for students.



Technology has made incredible advances to help students access their educational environment, such as: 

  1. Tools that read content-focused text to children, providing the same access to information, vocabulary, and content as their peers
  2. Audiobooks that allow students to study grade-level stories, developing higher-level language comprehension
  3. Speech-to-text functions, allowing students to record their thoughts and answers to questions without needing to work through the executive functioning required to write

Ensuring Continuity of Reading Progress with Decodable Books at School and Home

At the end of the day, there’s only one way for struggling students to improve their decoding, reading fluency, and reading comprehension, and that’s through regular practice. Learning needs to continue from the classroom into the home.

When teachers choose high-quality decodable books, they provide students with engaging practice material that aligns with their reading abilities and practice needs. Once classroom phonics lessons have prepared students with the tools they need to decode a text, books should be provided for at-home use to reinforce the skills. 

Parents should continue to read TO their child to ensure that language comprehension continues to develop and strengthen, even if the word recognition and decoding skills need more practice.

Also, children can show remarkable progress when parents incorporate decodable books into their daily reading routines. The combined effort of parents, teachers, educational tech creators, and curriculum developers is needed moving forward to ensure all children have equitable access to their education while learning HOW to read. 

Dyslexic students can learn to read, and by committing to providing the correct materials and support, we can create an environment to help ALL children learn to read.

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