Decodable books (also called phonics books) allow children to practice the most common phonics sounds. They are beginning level stories that help kids feel like successful, confident readers, even when their orthographic knowledge is limited.
Decodable books gradually introduce new phonics sounds. They are analogous to teaching a child to ride a bike with training wheels or teaching a child to play the guitar with the Suzuki method (a style that includes easy to play songs that slowly increase in difficulty over time). Phonics books serve a purpose for beginning readers and struggling readers.
Reading Elephant offers a systematic series of printable decodable books that can help children gain mastery over the most common phonics sounds.
What do you do when your student is ready to get off decodables?
Do you think your student is ready to get off decodables? This would be like removing training wheels off his bike or allowing him to play a song on the guitar that includes many chords he has not yet learned. You hope that you have given him enough fundamental skills that he can cope with the new challenge.
So what do you do if you think he’s ready for some harder texts?
First, give your student exposure to other types of stories as soon as he’s ready. This varies depending on the child. Some children are ready for regular non-decodable books after learning letter sounds. Others—and Reading Elephant focuses on these readers—need to master the most common phonics sounds before venturing out to more difficult, unsystematized texts.
Accuracy rates can help you determine what book to give your student.
There is a simple formula you should follow whenever you pick a book for a student. Here it is:
If your student is reading a text with 91% accuracy or below (meaning she’s reading 91 or fewer words out of every 100 words correctly), your student is frustrated. She should not be reading that text. Set the book aside and try it out again later. If you are using decodable books, there will always be an easier series you can turn to. For example, kids at the very beginning of kindergarten can read short a books with sentences like, “Sam had ham.”
If your student is reading between 92-97% accuracy (meaning she’s reading 92-97 out of every 100 words correctly), your student can read that book with a more advanced reading partner. The more advanced reader can help your student when she struggles with a word. Your student should fall within this range when she’s reading decodable books.
If your student can read the text with 98% accuracy or above (meaning she’s reading 98-100 out of every 100 words correctly), she can read that text on her own. This is the independent reading level. No student should be reading decodables independently. Kids who read decodable books are working on fundamental decoding skills. Thus, if your student is reading a decodable with near perfect accuracy, try to select a text with a different phonics sound that might challenge her a bit more like the r-controlled phonics book below.
If you’re a reading interventionist, consider using the accuracy rates above.
If you are a reading interventionist, I encourage you to try using the above accuracy rates. They are specific and the most ideal. If you take accuracy rates several times each reading session, you will become a master at determining book levels. Keep a calculator in your pocket, find the numbers you need and then punch them quickly into your calculator to get your student’s/classes accuracy rates.
Here’s how you do the calculation:
Have your student read for one minute. Find the number of words he read per minute (wpms stand for words per minute). Find his number of errors. Subtract his errors from his wpm. Here’s an example:
James read a long vowel phonics story “The Tail” at 24 words per minute. He made 5 errors.
24- # of words read
5- # of words missed
79% accuracy, frustration level, this book is too hard
James is reading “The Tail” with 79% accuracy. The book is too hard for him. James is likely very frustrated. This student is not ready to get off decodables. The teacher, Mr. Phillips, needs to find an easier book earlier in the phonics series. Mr. Phillips also needs to review the long vowel sounds with James.
Mr. Phillips goes back to an easier text. He has the student read a book with blends, “Rick The Trash Truck.” James reads 30 words per minute. He misses 2 words.
30-# of words read
2- # of words missed
30-2= 28 correct words per minute
93% accuracy, instructional level, this book is just right, not too hard and not too easy
James is reading “Rick the Trash Truck” with 93% accuracy. This book is at his level. After Mr. Phillips reviews long vowels with James for a few lessons, he can test out “The Tail” once again. Soon enough, James will be ready for a harder text. And after James masters enough fundamental skills, he’ll be ready for regular, non-decodable books. Mr. Phillips will keep testing non-decodable books with James to ensure he makes the leap to regular books as soon as possible.
Is there an easier way to remember how to make sure a book is at the appropriate level?
The above method is best for a reading interventionist.
But what if you’re a busy parent or a teacher of a large classroom? Unfortunately, most people do not take accuracy rates at all. A less specific accuracy rate is A LOT better than none. Thus, I want to show you the simplest way to find an accuracy rate.
Make sure your student is reading about 9 out of every 10 words correctly. That’s it. This very simple method is more valuable for younger kids who are reading few words per lesson. Once you have an older kid who’s reading at a more advanced level, I strongly encourage you to use the more specific, albeit harder to find, accuracy rates outlined above.
Again, it’s better to get a rough estimate of an accuracy rate than none at all.
How do accuracy rates translate to decodables?
Keep testing out non-decodable books. If you have an instinct—and I believe trained phonics-based instructors develop these instincts—that your student is ready for a harder text, then try out a harder text that session. Again, follow the math outlined above. Your student should always be reading in the 92-97% accuracy range. If your instinct was wrong, set the book aside and try it again in another session.
Kids usually progress out of phonics books gradually.
A typical struggling reader might need all decodable books in the beginning.
A child who struggles with learning to read can benefit from reading systematized phonics books. Decodable books can help build his confidence and help him practice decoding skills. However, he needs to progress out of phonics books as soon as possible. Here’s how most struggling readers progress out of decodable books:
Step 1– Child needs decodable books. He is unable to read anything else without frustration.
Step 2-Child reads a combination of non-decodable easy readers and decodable books. He is progressing through the phonics books series so he’s still mastering new sounds.
Step 3– Child mostly reads level one non-decodable books. However, the instructor has him read a phonics book now and again when she sees he’s weak in a particular sound.
Step 4– Child is off decodable books.
While decodable books are a useful tool, the whole goal of them is to get a child off them! If a phonics books series is truly valuable, it will guide a student through the most common phonics sounds. That way, the child can read regular books as soon as possible.
Reading Elephant offers systematic printable phonics books.