‘Cat sat on mat….’
Critics of decodable books claim that they are boring and often don’t make sense. They quote examples like ‘Cat sat on mat. Pam sat on cat…etc.’ They have a point! Many decodable books published in the past are repetitive and don’t exactly make sense. If the purpose of reading is to make meaning of text – reading a book which doesn’t make sense seems to defeat that purpose!
Fast forward 20 years and today decodable books are quite different. Since the crucial role of decodable books in the very early stages of reading has been recognised, and they have become a required part of the curriculum in England, publishers have put their minds to improving the quality of these books.
Why control the text?
Decodable books are texts that are controlled by words that the beginner reader can decode. We want beginner readers to work out words by sounding them out. They can’t do this if the text has too many words with spellings they have not been taught, so they need to start with very simple words like ‘cat’. As they progress, words with more complex spellings are introduced. If we don’t limit the words in the books to those the kids can decode, they will revert to guessing! Guessing words is not reading and it is an ineffective reading strategy that should be discouraged.
Get the illustrations to work harder
So, how do you create a decodable book with such a limited word bank to engage, entertain and make sense? The trick is to get the illustrations to work with the text and deliver an experience that goes beyond the literal meaning of the words in the text.
Take a look at our book at a page from the Dandelion Launchers series – ‘Pip and the Bat’.
Here is Pip, the ant. He is useless at hitting the ball with the bat, so he cleverly uses a frying pan. This book is from Unit (level) 2. The reader is expected to be able to blend (push sounds together into a word) the sounds s, a, t, i, m, (from Unit 1) and n, o, p (sounds in Unit 2). Imagine the exciting and empowering experience of being able to read a book independently with only eight letters/sounds of the alphabet?
So, to conclude – decodable books don’t need to be repetitive and they must make sense, but sometimes it is fun when they are a bit silly!