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Teaching Strategies | March 5, 2024

Decodable books: Choose Quality, Use Routines

Decodable readers are an effective tool for phonics instruction, an essential element of learning to read. This article explores several criteria for choosing high-quality decodable readers and suggests instructional routines to maximize the value of these texts for early readers. Learn more strategies to support whole class and small group instruction using decodable texts in a free on-demand webinar.

What Are Decodable Books?

Decodable Books are short books purposefully crafted to support reading development. These texts are utilized in the early stages of reading instruction while students are learning how specific phonemes (letter sounds) and graphemes (written letters) work together to form words.

Decodable books are an effective tool for phonics instruction. They give students an opportunity to read books that require decoding familiar graphemes. “A high proportion of the words in the earliest selections children read should conform to the phonics they have already been taught” (Blevins, 2017). Words with phonemes that haven’t been taught explicitly and high-frequency words are limited, allowing students to read confidently and independently. 

The national conversation highlighting the science of reading has prompted many teachers across the nation to ensure that students receive high-quality phonics instruction, building the foundation for reading. Decodable texts are considered an important application component of phonics instruction. And yet, teachers still wonder, “What might I do with these decodables?”

Decodables are powerful tools to provide ample opportunities for application, allowing for learning to cement. Decodable texts provide organic ways to infuse writing instruction, practice to develop fluency, and to build vocabulary and comprehension.

Choosing High-Quality Decodable Books

As literacy teachers, we have a responsibility to choose decodable texts wisely. When choosing decodable readers, there are several considerations. We must choose high-quality and interesting texts, understand, and ensure that the sequence of phonics matches with the decodable books being utilized, and ensure that syntax and grammar rules are being considered within those texts.

It is important to consider the sequence of decodable books. They are ordered with intention. As the books progress, the texts gradually include more spelling patterns and words with more complex structures. Books used in the beginning will have less text per page than books used later in the series. This makes them valuable for building ongoing foundational reading skills.

Traditionally, decodable books include engaging pictures or illustrations. While these visuals enhance the overall impact of the book and are of high interest to the readers, picture clues can lead to students guessing words in sentences instead of applying phonics knowledge to decode words (a preferred reading habit). Reading text without relying on picture clues is an important step to developing fluency and supporting a student’s love of reading. Decodable books must allow for students to use their phonics skills over the pictures telling the story. Text-first decodable readers introduce text by itself before revealing the same text with pictures on the following page.

Choosing high-quality decodable texts is important. When selecting a set of decodable books, be sure they

  • introduce phonemes and graphemes in an order that aligns with phonics instruction
  • include a high percentage of decodable words, yet sound natural
  • identify targeted phonics skills
  • highlight the use of any challenge words that appear in the text


Using Routines for Instruction

Once you’ve chosen high-quality decodable texts for your classroom, it’s tempting to get these books into the hands of students right away. However, developing routines for the use of decodable readers in the classroom will increase their value as a means for phonics instruction. The predictable nature of routines allows for positive and successful learning experiences.

Keep the following routines in mind when using decodable readers with students.  

  • Prior to reading, explicit phonics instruction should take place. Students should know and practice the skill(s) included in a decodable book before they read.
  • High-frequency words and challenge words are included in decodable books. Although they should be limited, teach or review these words before students read independently.
  • Create before-reading activities. These might include previewing the text and making predictions.
  • Dig into the book! Students can participate in several different ways. Independent reading, echo reading, whisper reading, and partner reading are some examples of how to engage students with the books.
  • While students are reading, provide corrective feedback in the moment when it’s necessary. Students may be tempted to continue reading starting with the word after their mistake. Encourage them to make the correction first, and then resume reading.
  • Plan for after-reading activities. Students will benefit from a review of the phonics skill(s), an assessment of comprehension, word play activities, and more.

Using Decodable Books for Vocabulary and Comprehension Work

High-quality decodable texts should be worthy of vocabulary and comprehension work as well. Ensure that comprehension questions asked of students increase in complexity. Allow for students to build their vocabulary. Encourage them to put multiple pieces of information from the text together. Invite them to draw conclusions and talk with peers. And finally, ensure that students have ample opportunities to elicit textual evidence, even from these decodable books.

When the reinforcement of specific phonics patterns and grapheme-phoneme correspondences is needed, be sure to reach for a quality decodable text and plan for purposeful instruction with decodable book routines and strategies.




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Leslie Reichert, Content Manager, Teacher Created Materials

Leslie Reichert has been a Content Manager for Teacher Created Materials since 2022. In this role, she collaborates with the content team to develop new and innovative products to put in the hands of teachers across the country. Mrs. Reichert has a Master’s degree in Elementary Reading and seventeen years of classroom experience in grades 2–5. As a certified Gifted and Talented Specialist, she taught for several years in a self-contained GT classroom, provided teachers with professional...

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