Want to make lots of readers? Their MOST important activity every day is oral reading practice....with support.

Yet this precious time is often wasted by the types of texts we choose. 😐 Some texts, at certain times, yield very little growth. It's all about the TIMING.

For students who do not yet have a strong sound-based decoding approach to reading unknown words, the best texts are those that encourage decoding. We call these decodable texts. Decodable texts often focus on a specific part of the English written code--a particular phonics spelling or sound, such as short vowel "o" or the various spellings of the /oa/ sound. Texts that control the word types to mostly those that young readers have been exposed to, typically spur greater decoding growth. In this constrained environment, young readers are more likely to attempt a sound-based decoding strategy, rather than merely guessing based on context or the picture. 

In this article, I'll share a decodable texts booklist and some of my favorite go-to series for decodable texts that help grow readers...and are still fun.

The hate they get

The problem with decodable texts is that they’ve gained quite a negative reputation for themselves; many people find them boring. Some teachers believe that students take forever to get through the decodable book phase. And, the most prevailing criticism yet, it’s not “real reading."

Don’t get me wrong, decodable texts are, almost by definition, not great literature! However, most of the critiques about decodable texts are only true when students have to spend years on decodable texts. But, with help from the word attack strategies and skills we teach here at Reading Simplified, you can zoom through decodable books within weeks or a few months!

Give students access to decodable texts for a season; then they've gained sufficient sound-based decoding skill that they can move ahead to more natural, authentic texts.

(To watch the video where I discuss decodable book recommendations in more detail, hit play below, or read on for a detailed overview.)

Choosing the right decodable text for your students

In the early stages, beginning or struggling readers need to read books that target their particular developmental stage. When it comes to selecting the perfect decodable book for a beginning reader, you’ve got a few things to consider before making the final decision.

The most important of which is to select a text that includes mostly the same phonics knowledge and skills they have already learned. You don’t want to pick something that’s too difficult too soon!

You may also want to find a book that’s more appealing to young children. Something with interesting illustrations will grab their attention and encourage them to keep reading.

Starfall Decodable Texts

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m a massive fan of starfall.com. Starfall is a website that’s been supplying free reading materials to help kids learn phonics for over a decade.

They use a systematic approach in conjunction with “audio-visual interactivity,” which is ideal for preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students. Of course, the website caters to a variety of reading levels and grades including second grade, special education, and even English language development.

What I love the most about this website is the wide variety of decodable books they have available, most of which are 100% FREE to print out.

However, there are some options that you have to buy. But, these are very cheap and affordable. I would encourage every person who teaches reading to beginners or struggling readers to grab the Learn to Read Cut-Up Take Home Books  selection.

Decodable Texts Booklist

It’s incredibly cheap, and kids can take the books home with them to practice and get ahead with their phonics skills. Some popular titles included in this section include Peg the Hen, My Horse Glory and many more! The selection consists of five short vowel books, over five excellent code books including long vowels and some others.

For beginning and struggling readers, I suggest focusing on the short vowel decodable books such as Zac the Rat (one of my all-time favs!).

You can explore Starfall’s set of 16 short-vowel pal books here.   

Decodable Texts Booklist

Zac the Rat

Zac the Rat is an excellent example of a decodable book for early readers. It focuses on the short vowels, which is an excellent starting point for beginners. There’s also a couple of sight words and high-frequency words (see example below).

Decodable Texts Booklist

As you move through the book, you’ll notice more short vowels being introduced and maybe a few words that the student hasn’t learned yet. Don’t worry, you can model those words for the student. Everything is mostly decodable with a few high-frequency words dotted throughout the text. (see example below)

Decodable Texts Booklist

Soap Boat

Soap Boat and other Advanced Phonics texts of starfall.com have long been favorites of mine because they have multiple spellings of the target sound in them. For instance, in Soap Boat (below) notice how the spellings "oa" and "oe" are both included. Not many phonics books include multiple spelling of a given sound, but I've found that's the fastest way to teach our tricky Advanced Phonics sounds, like the /oa/ sound in "go," "home," "show," "boat," and "toe." 

Decodable Texts Booklist

The example page (above) shows exactly what is meant by finding a text that is “mostly decodable.” What I mean by this is that the texts you have your students read don’t have to be 100% decodable. A lot of people think that when it comes to decodable books, you should only expose kids 100% to what they have already been explicitly taught.

However, I don’t suggest that philosophy because it won’t help develop your students' cognitive flexibility. When the student is encouraged to think more about a sound they’ve never encountered before, they’re more likely to try and figure it out for themselves. And, obviously, this is a glorious thing! If one word out of 10 or 20 words has a pattern that is new to the child, he can try to deduce the unknown sound himself. As long as these challenges make up a small fraction of the text, he will be more likely to feel successful and discover more about our written code for himself.

At Reading Simplified, we call this decoding strategy of testing out different sounds in a word, Flex It. You can learn more about Flex It here.   

Animal Antics

I absolutely love Animal Antics and other box sets by Nora Gaydos for teaching kids essential phonics skills in a fun and humorous way.

The set includes ten story booklets with colorful, outlandish illustrations throughout. The texts are engaging, short, and quippy, making it more fun for younger readers who need to practice phonics and develop a robust sound-based decoding foundation.

Decodable Texts Booklist

This particular pack focuses on short vowels, but there are more advanced variations of the code that includes long vowels. But for young readers who are just starting out, this set (Level 1) is perfect.

These books do a great job of targeting one sound at a time, which gives kiddos plenty of opportunities to practice that sound and learn it! Throughout the text, you’ll also stumble across some high frequency words and consonant blends, so there are other challenges besides reading just CVC words.

See Me Dig

See Me Dig by Paul Meisel is another great decodable book for early and struggling readers. It’s about a group of energetic dogs that are up to no good. It caters to preschool to third grade and focuses on developing phonics knowledge.

Decodable Texts Booklist

This book is part of the I Like to Read series which has several clever books for beginning readers. There’s also the See Me Run, which is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award Winner, and Pig Has a Plan, by Ethan Long, which has cute illustration and an amusing plot. 

Ready for more nuanced understanding about different types of early reader texts? Watch this presentation in Facebook about the best timing for decodable, predictable, and high frequency word readers.

Then let us know what you think!

Do you have a favorite decodable text or two? Please let us know in the Comments below!

If you’d like to get your hands on the FREE Decodable Texts Booklist, simply leave your name and email address below and the downloadable PDF will be sent straight to your inbox!

(As an Amazon affiliate, Reading Simplified may receive financial support from links on this page, but we only suggest that which we really like!)