What is a decodable reader?
A decodable reader is a book that only contains words that can be ‘sounded out’ and the letters use their most common sounds. Usually, they are part of a set, where more sounds are added gradually. Children can use their letter-sound knowledge and read a book independently from an early stage (sometimes after only learning the first 6 sounds).
Other types of readers
Many Educational Publishing companies offer a core reader or set of readers specifically for Junior Infants and Senior Infants (age 4-6). These books usually contain high-frequency words that need to be pre-taught. One disadvantage of this is that the whole class are expected to be at the same reading level, which is pretty much impossible!
Levelled Reading Schemes
Levelled Readers are sets of books that have been organised in stages of difficulty. These stages are usually very gradual, allowing for accurate differentiation among your class. The downside to these for emergent or beginning readers is the focus on retention of high-frequency words, as well as semantic and syntactic cues. These skills are important, but an over-reliance on guessing can develop very quickly. You will also often find children learning these texts ‘off by heart’.
Decodable Readers for Emergent Readers
I have two sons. One struggled with learning to read and the other did not. They both had attended the same pre-school and school and had to same exposure to print at home. They were just different (and still are!). My son who struggled picked up the letter sounds ok, but he really struggled with learning ‘sight words’. I made flashcards galore, but they were getting us nowhere. I bought some decodable readers in a bid to help and we both found them beneficial. It still took a little time for reading to ‘click’ with him, but now he was finally able to achieve reading success.
Very soon after starting phonics instruction, children begin to blend sounds together to make simple words. Take a handful of letters and you can build many, many CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words! Why read these words in isolation on flashcards? Why not let the children use their new skill and apply it to a REAL reading experience?
Decodable readers give young children the opportunity to experience success in reading at an early stage. This positive experience boosts confidence and helps to establish a long-term love of reading.
I will give a brief overview of some of my favourite decodable readers that I have used both at home with my boys and with my pupils at school (and online!).
Jolly Phonics Decodable Readers
Jolly Phonics have a series of 7 colour-coded levels of decodable readers aligned with their 7 Phonics Groups. After learning the first Group of letter sounds (satipn), children can read the 3 books in ‘Orange’ level of readers. These are lovely, modern books with bright, colourful illustrations and helpful tips for parents. They are also available in eBook format.
In 2020, Jolly Phonics also released a new series of decodable readers called ‘Little Word’ readers. They also follow the sequence of the 7 Phonics Groups. The difference between the Little Word readers and the previous, colour-coded series, is that they contain single words rather than sentences. They are ideal for children who may be finding blending difficult. You can find them here.
Julia Donaldson’s Songbirds by Oxford
These books were the first decodables that I encountered, and I fell in love with them instantly! Julia Donaldson is a master storyteller, and I think it is important that the children get to experience reading an enjoyable story, rather than some of the more repetitive and dull alternatives on the market. There are six levels of books in total, with just 6 letter sounds in the first book. You can find them here.
Letters and Sounds by Junior Learning
‘Letters and Sounds’ is a wide range of graded fiction and non-fiction titles that are fully decodable. They begin with wordless pre-readers to familiarise the children with initial conventions of print, moving on with gradual progression. You can see samples of each pack to check the level before ordering. You can find them here.
Of course, as with any teaching resource, decodable readers are just that, a resource, and should not be relied upon exclusively. Children should always have access to a wide variety of texts and text types. The window for using decodable readers is relatively small as children progress from emergent reader through to fluent reader. Class readers and levelled reading schemes can be beneficial, too. Consider the needs of the children in your care, and use your own knowledge and experience to choose the resources that best suit them.
About Playful Classroom
The author has been teaching at Primary Level for over 15 years. She has used decodable readers with her infant classes. You can connect with Dee on Instagram or Facebook and you can find some FREE Phonics Resources here.
Note: ABC School Supplies provided samples of ‘Letters and Sounds’ for free for the purposes of a review.