Do you use decodable reading books with your beginning readers? Or with those students who are struggling?
Unfortunately, many of the schools that I have worked in do not have any decodable books available to use with their beginning readers (or struggling readers). And I think in many cases the teachers are not actually sure what a decodable reading book is!
These schools use a number of random books from numerous publishers that don’t have any systematic introduction to the sound-letter correspondences. Beginning readers are unable to read these books, so the children are encouraged to guess by looking at the pictures.
This is not an appropriate thing to do when teaching children to read, which I explain further below.
I have also seen where schools have placed these random books into levels; I’m not sure how they came up with the levels! Then they have placed the children in a level which is where they select their home reading books from. Level 1 is the lowest, and the levels go up from there. I can’t see any rhyme or reason to the levelling or the books used within each level. This is just crazy!
To help you navigate all the possible reading books out there I’m going to share with you:
- What are decodable reading books;
- Examples of good quality decodable reading books and where you can buy them;
- A decodable reading book in action; and
- Why we don’t use picture and context clues when helping kids with their reading.
What are decodable reading books?
When working with beginning readers or kids that have a learning difficulty, or that have fallen behind, it’s important to use decodable reading books. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about what these are and how you can find good quality decodable reading books.
Ideally the decodable books you choose will link in with your reading and spelling program and follow a similar phonic progression. The program I use to teach reading and spelling is Sounds-Write. If you’d like to find out more about this program then read this article:
When looking at books that are labelled decodable see if they follow a systematic and structured approach to introducing sounds and spellings.
For beginning readers they should start with small regular words where the sound/letter relationships have already been taught.
For example, these small regular words for our beginning readers are CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant). They may have been taught the sounds s, a, t, i, m, n, o, p; so the decodable book would use small regular words incorporating these sounds. They will also introduce some high frequency words too, such as ‘the’ and ‘is’.
Then as your students progress through your teaching program they move to 4 and 5 sound words, such as CVCC and CCVCC words. They will then move to digraphs and more advanced concepts such as 1 sound/different spellings and 1 spelling/different sounds.
The decodable books you choose will also follow this systematic and structured approach.
Examples of good quality decodable reading books
The books that have been the most popular with all of my students are by far the range available from PhonicBooks.
They begin with their Dandelion Launcher range, which introduce a few single sounds at a time. There are 4 books in each unit, which provides variety and lots of practice before moving to the next set.
Then there are the Dandelion Readers which again follows the same sound progression, but you will notice these books are a little more challenging and slightly longer. There are sets for digraphs and for the extended code.
They also have the older catch up range. So if you have some older students that are a long way behind the Moon Dog series would be great. They also have the Magic Belt, Totem, Alba, Talisman, Rescue and Titan’s Gauntlets.
I’ve also written about these books in more detail which you can find at the below links:
Other decodable books that I use with my students are the Sounds-Write reading books. These are also good and they have books for the beginning sounds and also the extended code. They also have a range of older comic style books called Battle Cries.
What’s fabulous about the PhonicBooks and Sounds-Write readers are that they come with matching workbooks for each of the sets of books. So these can become your practice and consolidation sheets or home activities for those students that need some tailored help.
Keep an eye out for next week’s post where I look in detail at the Sounds-Write resources.
If you don’t have much of a budget and your school isn’t willing to spend a lot of money on changing their reading books, then Pocket Rockets are a fantastic alternative.
I like that each set includes 10 of the little books in the Phase 2 box and 6 in the Phase 3 box. You would only need to buy a few of the boxes and all your students would have their own set of mini reading books, that are appropriate, decodable and allows them to experience reading success!
Alison from Spelfabet has a superb video showing you exactly what these look like and how she stores them for each child, which you can watch below.
Can’t see the video watch it here.
Decodable reading book in action
I also wanted to show you a clip of a beginning reader. This is my little girl who is now in pre-primary, but this video was taken last year towards the end of kindergarten.
She has wanted to read the older catch up books (even though she is only 5) for so long. This is her first attempt at reading the first book in the Magic Belt series. This particular book focuses on CVC and CVCC words which is where she was up to in her reading at the time.
Can’t see the video watch it here.
Why you shouldn’t use picture and context clues
Good readers don’t need to rely on context clues and pictures to read because they can decode, which means they can segment and blend sounds to form words.
Research shows that poor readers over rely on one strategy, such as visually guessing, often using the first and last letter to the exclusion of more appropriate strategies. Then they struggle with comprehension, fluency, spelling and writing (DSF Literacy Services, 2014).
It is estimated that only 1 out of every 4 words can be predicted using context. And content words are the most difficult to predict, only about 10% can be predicted. Generally these are the words that students really need to make sense of the text (DSF Literacy Services, 2014).
If you’re listening to a student read, discourage them from guessing or telling them to look at the picture and guess. If you do this you are setting them up to fail 75% of the time!
Focus more on word attack skills. Such as in the video when there was an error, I focused in on the error, gave a clue and allowed my little girl to self correct.
That is the one part of the Sounds-Write program that I like the most, how it teaches you to error correct.
Well we’ve covered a lot today, from what decodable reading books are, to where you can find good quality decodable reading books and why we don’t use picture and context clues when teaching children to read.
If you’ve got any other questions about decodable reading books or the Sounds-Write program, then please ask them in the comments below.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and buy some good quality decodable reading books to allow your students to experience reading success!
DSF Literacy Services. (2014). Understanding Learning Difficulties – A Practical Guide. Perth; Western Australia, Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation.
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