Critics of Synthetic Phonics have claimed that the language of phonic reading books (decodable books) limits children’s vocabulary. Instead of enriching their vocabulary they read about a ‘cat’ that ‘sat on a mat’. To this I would say:
Have you seen the variety of decodable books that publishers have produced in recent years? Many of them are exciting with proper little stories and even a bit of humour!
Actually, decodable books can expand language – and this is how:
Decodable stories start with a list of words. Our books follow a very clear phonic progression. It is clear to the teacher, not only which grapheme or phoneme is the phonic focus the child needs to practise and master but what skill level is required to read the text successfully, e.g. is the book at CVC (consonant/vowel/consonant) level or CVCC level etc.?
When I write a decodable story, I begin with a list of words. I will think long and hard how to create a fun story that will include many of these words. I will avoid language which is too predictive – such as repetitive language because the purpose of the book is to get children to decode, not guess the text. Repetitive language will soon encourage a ‘learning by heart’ approach to reading.
This list of decodable words may include words that are not familiar to the beginner reader. For example, take the first book in our Magic Belt series, ‘The Man in the Mist’. The skill level in this book is CVC/CVCC, which is very basic (you probably guessed it from the title). Whilst decoding this simple text, readers encounter words that will develop their vocabulary e.g.: ‘nag’ (horse),’kin’, ‘kid’ (baby goat), ‘dull’ and ‘odd’. These words are explained in a ‘vocabulary page’.
This means that the pupils not only get to succeed by reading a book independently at their level; they also incorporate new words into their vocabulary which will eventually expand their comprehension which will facilitate more success at a later stage!