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What to Look for in a Quality Decodable Text: Essential Features and Characteristics

What Makes a Good Decodable Text?

Decodable books help students conduct targeted reading practice that strengthens their phonics skills. These texts promote active reading so students have a chance to apply the lessons they’re learning in the classroom.

So, what makes a decodable text different from other books, and how can you identify high-quality texts? If you’re looking for reading resources for your early learners, you’ve come to the right place. I realize I might not be the most unbiased resource, but I support many other publishers in their work, as I believe that students deserve to have the best resources possible, whether you find them here or elsewhere. Hopefully, this post will help you review decodable text for yourself.


What are Decodable Texts?

Decodable texts contain carefully curated content that follows focus grapheme-phoneme patterns. These books give students a chance to practice their decoding skills with reading material that follows their classroom phonics’ scope and sequence (the order in which the skills are taught). 

For example, teachers may use decodable books that focus specifically on CVC words (consonant-short vowel-consonant), vowel teams, double letter blends, or CVCe words. Your chosen reading materials should align with students’ phonics lessons, reading abilities, and background knowledge.

Decodables allow for autonomous reading or reading with little facilitation since the text mostly contains words children have already been taught to decode. Hence, they can use their understanding of sound-symbol relationships to read.

How to Determine High-Quality Decodable Text

High-quality decodable texts keep students interested by providing the following:

Suitably Challenging Practice Material

Decodable texts should transparently identify the included skills so educators and parents can find books using learned skills with a bit of a challenge.

The repetition of a phonics pattern helps students practice until they’re comfortable reading that particular sound-spelling in text with fluency. Beginner books are often easy to follow and use VC (vowel-consonant) or CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. As the series progresses, advanced-level decodable texts use more complex phonics patterns and introduce children to more words with irregular spellings.


Reading Comprehension Support

Just because a book focuses on basic phonics structures doesn’t mean that the book needs to be without content. Students should be able to apply more than just sound-spelling knowledge when reading a decodable. Reading instruction is more effective when students feel engaged and interested in the resources being used. 


Interesting Yet Meaningful Content

Low-quality decodable texts often don’t have a lot of meaning. These books will focus primarily on the phonics lessons they’re trying to teach without trying to build interesting narratives, characters, etc. 

These books might also lose meaning in the attempt to be “highly decodable,” by using odd sentence structure or poorly chosen words. These factors can cause children to lose interest, and although students will not love every task laid out before them, you can find decodables that can avoid these factors.

You should avoid low-quality decodables that:

    ◊ Contain a majority of words that cannot be decoded, due to irregular spellings or higher-level phonics that haven’t been introduced

    ◊ Lack a scope and sequence that’s reasonable according to cognitive development or even grade-level standards

    ◊ Have too much text per page, which can overwhelm or overstimulate some students

    ◊ Have too many picture clues, allowing students to use the pictures to guess words instead of focusing on the text itself


While teachers should introduce students to a range of reading material including traditional storybooks, decodable texts are one of the best resources for children learning HOW to read, be it using phonics structures, practicing fluency, or reading comprehension of text read BY the student.



3 Characteristics Every Quality Decodable Text Should Have

When you’re trying to figure out which decodable text is the best fit for your classroom, look for these three characteristics:


A good decodable text should be comprehensible in that the story should follow a clear narrative with interesting characters and a setting. This allows children to engage with the text as teachers can conduct classroom discussions about the story and use the stories in other contexts outside of just decoding practice. 

With poorly written decodables, you’ll find that the text often doesn’t have clear meaning. The sentences are badly structured, with similar-sounding words that have been thrown together. Teachers should make an effort to avoid such texts. 



High-quality decodable texts are sequential and instructive. The book series will follow a clearly outlined sequence of grapheme-phoneme relationships, building on students’ existing knowledge. As a rule, the text being used in the classroom shouldn’t contain any material that hasn’t been covered in students’ phonics lessons.

The focus phonics structure will be repeated throughout the book, providing ample opportunity for practice. Instructive decodable texts list any “sight” or “tricky” words at the beginning of the reader to minimize confusion, also known as “sticky words” in Express Readers. Teachers should help their students preview these words so they know where their skills apply to the text and which words will need to be practiced differently.



Decodable texts should be fun for students to engage with. The stories should be relevant to children’s interests and lives, drawing on their background knowledge to create fun learning opportunities. 

Texts that are comprehensive and follow correct grammar and punctuation rules are generally more engaging than those with fragmented sentences. Overall, teachers should remember that phonics instruction alone doesn’t make for a good decodable text. 

Repetition is the key to reading practice, and children must want to revisit these texts repeatedly for them to be successful. The best situation is to have multiple decodable books with the same patterns to allow for continued interest.



Choosing the Right Decodable Books Makes Teaching More Effective

At the end of the day, teachers need to make sure their chosen decodable books are instructive, comprehensive, and engaging. In terms of phonics education, the books should cover relevant topics and support students’ reading abilities. 

At the same time, teachers must hold their educational resources to a high standard for engagement.

Look for interesting stories with natural-sounding sentences that will appeal to your students’ interests. If your students don’t enjoy the books, they might not want to practice their reading. 

And doesn’t that defeat the point?

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