How to use decodable books

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Decodable books are controlled texts that beginner readers can read independently once they have been taught the spellings in the text. Children learning to read with phonics benefit from reading decodable texts because these texts allow them to practice what they have been taught and experience success. They also help children develop an effective strategy for reading: sounding out letters and blending them into words. Decodable books are fun decoding exercises.

Here are some tips about how to use decodable books:

  1. Know your phonics programme

Decodable books complement any phonics programme you are teaching. Understanding the phonics progression of that programme is fundamental to using suitable decodable books alongside it.  It is not necessary for decodable books to progress in the same order, but the pupil must have covered the spellings in the decodable book they are reading so that they can read it independently and successfully.

  1. Prepare for reading

Make sure that children have learned the graphemes before they start reading. Get them to word-build, blend, segment and practice reading through a variety of reading and spelling activities and games. Reading a decodable book requires enough preparation so that it is a successful experience for the reader.

  1. No ‘messing with guessing’

Encourage and model blending at all times. Ask the child to sound out the word and blend the sounds together. If there is a spelling they don’t know, provide it and get the child to blend through the word with this new information. No guessing! Encouraging the child to guess or use ‘mixed methods’ (picture, context, grammar) won’t help him/her read that word the next time he/she encounters it. We want children to be confident in decoding any word they encounter.

  1. Reading is for meaning

Always check the reader understands the words in the text. This is a great opportunity to develop vocabulary within context of a story. Reading is a combination of decoding and comprehension.  Children need vocabulary in order to comprehend. The teacher can develop comprehension at different levels: factual, inferential etc.

  1. Practice and more practice

Reading a number of decodable texts with the same spellings will help children remember and commit new words to long-term memory. Some reading schemes have a number of books at each level. You can also ask children to re-read texts with expression or in pairs. This will develop reading fluency. Include phonics games and other reading activities such as ‘sound seeking’ in which the child reads a text and finds words with various spellings of a specific phoneme.

  1. Whole class, group or one to one

Decodable texts can be read in whole class lessons (as part of the phonics lesson), in groups, in pairs and one to one for children who need extra support.

  1. Age-appropriate decodables

Older readers will need age-appropriate decodable books in order to encourage and motivate them to re-engage in reading. Older students often suffer low self esteem due to previous failure, and offering them books which they consider ‘babyish’ reinforces this. Find age-appropriate decodables that these children will be happy to read.

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