I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again – decodable texts matter!
Decodable texts focus on a specific part of the phonic code. They teach kids to blend as they read, rather than merely throwing out a random guess to get the word right. Decodable texts are important because they help kids learn phonics within a controlled text, helping them to become stronger readers.
But which decodable texts are the best for your students?
Choosing decodable books for your kiddos will depend on how far along they are. Most of the time, we use decodable books for our young readers. They’re used for a short time to help build a solid sound-based decoding foundation. But in most cases, you can move along from decodable texts quite rapidly.
The problem with decodable texts is that they’ve gained quite a negative reputation for themselves; Many people find them boring. They take forever to get through. And, the most prevailing one yet, it’s not “real reading”.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with you! However, this is only true when you’re spending 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!
In this blog post, I share a list of mostly decodable books that you can use with your early or struggling readers. I shine the spotlight on a few of my favorites to show you exactly why I like them and how powerful they can be!
(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 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. I prefer texts with diverse characters and immersive story worlds.
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.
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.
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).
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)
Soap Boat has been a long favorite of mine because it has multiple spellings of the /oa/ sound in it. Not many phonics books do that, which makes Soap Boat ideal when it comes to teaching and practicing the /oa/ sound.
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 to what they have already been explicitly taught.
However, I don’t suggest that strategy because it won’t help develop your kid’s 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! After all, we want them to develop their cognitive flexibility and tackling unfamiliar words, and sounds is a great way to get the ball moving.
At Reading Simplified, we call this strategy Flex It. You can learn more about Flex It here.
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 illustrations throughout. The text is engaging and straightforward, making it perfect for younger readers who need to practice phonics and develop a robust sound-based decoding foundation.
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 version of the texts is perfect.
These books do a great job of targeting one phonic sound at a time, which gives kiddos plenty of opportunities to learn that sound and become familiar with those short-vowel words. Throughout the text, you’ll also stumble across some sight words and consonant blends, which is ideal for beginning sight word introduction.
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.
This book is part of the “I Like to Read” series by Paul Meisel. There’s also the See Me Run and See Me Play, both of which are superb at helping to develop vocabulary and a strong sound-based decoding foundation.
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