Decodable texts encourage kids to sound out words. They help develop decoding skills, the foundation of a successful reader.
What is Decoding?
Decoding is the ability to read a word sound-by-sound and then blend the sounds together. For example, a child who decodes the word “Sam” will say “SSSSS-aaaaa-mmmmm…. Sam.” In early reading, kids decode by saying the sounds out loud in order. As kids say the sounds, they listen to match what they hear to a word in their vocabulary. Decoding is not simply letter recognition. Decoding is the ability the ability to identify the sounds the letters make, and then blend all the sounds together to successfully read a word.
The word “decode” comes from cryptography. A cryptographer decodes and encodes. Decoding, more generally, means the ability to convert a message into decipherable language. All written languages require decoding. Without at least some adequate literacy instruction, people will not learn to read. In particular, dyslexic children require science-based reading instruction to learn to decode. If dyslexic children don’t receive explicit, systematic phonics instruction, they will struggle with decoding. Some dyslexic kids will struggle so much that they will not learn how to read at all until they receive science-based reading instruction.
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What is decodable text?
Decodable text are phonics stories that use a limited vocabulary. Decodable text focuses on recently acquired phonics sounds. Thus, if the child has recently learned the /ai/ as in “train” sound, a decodable text sentence may be: Jon rode a train to Main St. The repetition of the new /ai/ sound in the words “train” and “Main” helps the child achieve mastery.
Decodable text also includes old phonics sounds the child has already learned. For example, “rode” is a silent e phonics sound that kids typically learn before “ai.” Therefore, the decodable sentence “Jon rode a train to Main St.” helps the child review silent e and learn /ai/. That way, kids can retain old phonics sounds while acquiring one new phonics sound.
Decodable text includes words that contain phonics sounds the child already knows, along with one new phonics sound the child is trying to learn. Once the child has mastered one phonics sound, decodable text introduces another story with a new phonics sound. Decodable texts allow kids to master phonics sounds one at a time. The step-by-step, incremental progression helps children develop the skills they need to sound out words.
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Sample decodable texts
Decodable texts introduce phonics sounds one at a time. To provide you with some samples, check out the following decodable sentences. Notice that each sentences focuses on the new phonics sound. However, old phonics sounds are also incorporated.
Short a- The cat sat.
Short i- Sam had a big cat.
Short o- The big dog sat on the mat.
Short u- The dog and the cat got up on the box.
Short e- The red hen had a big egg.
Sh- Pam had a Fish Shop.
Ch- Chad had a bag of red shells.
Th- Beth can do math as she runs on the path. What fun!
Notice how 1) the text introduces one phonics sound at a time 2) At times, old phonics sounds are included. These 2 components make the above sentences decodable.
Decodable text scope and sequence
The Reading Elephant decodable text scope and sequence is available HERE.
Decodable texts follow a scope and sequence. The scope is the phonics sounds the text includes. The sequence is the order in which those phonics sounds are introduced.
No two decodable text series (or reading programs for that matter) use the same exact scope and sequence. However, there are some commonalities among many k-2 decodable passages. For example, most decodable texts introduce short vowels (hat, Ben, tip, hop, cup), then consonant digraphs (ship, chat, catch, bath), and then consonant blends (brand, trip, sand, send, grill). However, there is some variation, and it can get very divergent from here.
Should decodable text introduce /ee/ as in tree before /igh/ as in night? Or should /ar/ as in dark come before /oo/ as in hook? One thing is true about decodable text: after short vowels, the order, largely doesn’t matter. Decodable texts may use a different scope and sequence, but that doesn’t mean one series is wrong. However, decodable texts should map out the scope and sequence for the educator. Identifying what phonics sounds your student is learning shouldn’t be a guessing game. The scope and sequence should be clear and accessible.
The Reading Elephant decodable texts include a focus sound on the cover of each book. That way, educators know exactly what phonics sound the child is working on.
Find the Reading Elephant decodable text scope and sequence HERE.
Why are most decodable texts awkward?
Many decodable texts are awkward. Why is that? The authors of decodable texts must use a limited vocabulary so the child can gradually learn to read. This makes writing decodable texts challenging.
Many decodable text authors make basic writing mistakes. The tenses often don’t match. I came across a decodable text series the other day that wrote something like, “Ben will dash. Ben got a sash.” The transition from future to past tense is unnatural and difficult for beginning readers to cope with. The phrasing of “Ben will dash” is also awkward. Ben will dash where? There was no context. The writer simply jumbled a bunch of sh words together. There was little grammatical accuracy. There was no story arch.
When I wrote Reading Elephant decodable text, I worked hard to eliminate tense errors and awkward phrases. I also worked hard to tell an engaging story that includes components of literature that have held the test of time: engaging characters, adventure, and characters solving problems. That’s why our stories are fun and cute. Beginners love them because they follow the arch of a good story.
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Why are decodable texts important for beginning readers?
There’s a solid body of reading research that shows the importance of systematic phonics instruction. From the National Reading Panel, we know many kids will struggle with reading if we don’t teach them phonics sounds one at a time. It may be tempting to encourage children to guess at or memorize words. But guessing and memorizing isn’t reading. Kids need to learn to sound out words. That way, they can read words in any book. If a child can sound out words, their reading skills are transferable.
A child may seem to know /ai/ if he’s memorized the word “train.” But if he comes across “pail”, he won’t recognize /ai/ at all. In contrast, a child that’s learned to read phonics sounds one at a time, will recognize /ai/ in any word. He’ll be able to decode “train,” “hail,” “pail,” and “ailment.” He’ll be able to use his phonics skills to decode many words, even words he’s never seen in print before.
Decodable texts ensure that kids are reading words sound-by-sound. The text is not repetitive. The pictures are NOT designed to help the child decode the words. Instead, the child has the tools to decrypt the words. Since he knows the phonics skills in the book, he can become a cryptographer that reads the words one symbol at a time (sound-by-sound).
Decodable texts allow the child, not to memorize, but to learn the most common letter-sound combinations. That way, the child can develop a solid decoding foundation.