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Decodable texts are an essential tool in primary classrooms for teaching phonics. But what exactly are decodables and why should we be using them? This teacher’s guide will answer those questions as well as assist you with how to use decodable texts. Plus we’ll discover how these differ from the leveled texts many of us had been using with our youngest readers.

What is a Decodable Text?

Decodable texts are written with the purpose of targeting a specific phonics feature. They provide readers with a chance to practice decoding words within connected text. Students are provided with opportunities to segment and blend familiar phonics features to build automaticity. Learn about decodable books that feature texts with entertaining stories that students will enjoy reading as they practice applying phonics skills.

Free Decodable Sample from Just Right Reader

Why are Decodable Texts Important?

Decodable texts offer students the opportunity to practice specific phonics features within a connected text rather than in isolation. This provides a more authentic reading experience as they work to blend and segment familiar sounds with automaticity which also enhances fluency. These books allow early readers to feel successful and build confidence in themselves as readers!

How to Use Decodable Texts

Before using a decodable reader with students, you need to make sure you are providing explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Follow a scope & sequence to teach students grade-level appropriate phonics features during your Phonics Workshop.

Decodable texts are meant to be used to practice previously taught phonics skills in your reading small groups – not teach new skills. It is helpful to use some type of reading or spelling assessment to determine where your students are academically. Using that data, place students into groups based on the skill(s) they have not yet mastered.

All students in a small group are reading the text

It is important to have ALL students in the group whisper reading the decodable text at the same time. This ensures they are all gaining as much decoding practice as possible. When you use “popcorn” or “round robin reading” where only 1 student reads aloud at a time, it significantly limits the amount of time each student spends reading.

As students are reading, you may want to take anecdotal notes to determine their mastery of the skills. Some students may also need prompting to help correctly segment and blend the sounds while reading.

Some decodable texts can have limited vocabulary and simplistic storylines. Be cautious of choosing these types of texts, as you want students to be able to comprehend the story (making meaning is the ultimate goal of reading!)

For more information about decodable readers, check out WIley Blevin’s book: Choosing and Using Decodable Texts.

Choose and Using Decodable Texts by Wiley Blevins

When to Stop Using Decodable Texts?

Since the purpose of decodable texts is to help students with phonics skills, they are meant to be used as a scaffold. Eventually, students will need to transition from decodable books to more authentic, complex texts. But when can you stop using decodable texts? Ask yourself these three questions to help determine if a student is ready to move on:

When Do I Stop Using a Decodable Text? Check these 3 things: accuracy,  fluency, and comprehension
  • Does the student read the grade-level decodable with at least 95% accuracy?
  • Can the student read the decodable text fluently?
  • Does the student demonstrate comprehension of the text?

Accuracy: Use a phonics scope and sequence to determine appropriate skills for your grade level. If students can read texts with those phonics features at 95% accuracy, they may be ready to move on to leveled readers.

Fluency: If a student is reading grade-level decodable texts at 95% but lacks fluency, you will want to focus on blending sounds to build automaticity before moving to leveled texts. You can use your school district’s expectations for WPM (words read per minute) to determine if a student meets grade level fluency rates.

Comprehension: One of the primary reasons to use leveled texts is to work on reading comprehension. If a student struggles to retell the simple story in a decodable text they are not ready to comprehend a complex, leveled text. Check to see if the student can discuss what was read and answer questions to informally assess their comprehension.

What’s the Difference Between Decodable Texts and Leveled Readers?

Decodable Texts are written to reinforce previously taught phonics skills. The focus of decodable texts is to practice decoding and reading fluency. The only high-frequency words included are ones that students can decode based on their current phonics skills. While pictures are included, students do not need to rely on them to be able to read the text. Teachers choose a decodable text for a small group based on the phonics feature to reinforce and practice with the students.

Leveled Readers are written with predictable and repeated text. Students need to rely on high-frequency words, context, and pictures to read the text. The focus of leveled readers is to build reading fluency and comprehension. Teachers select leveled books based on the group’s current reading level. This level is determined by the student’s ability to read the text with at least 95% accuracy.

What's the difference between decodable books vs leveled texts?

Want to Learn More?

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