Decodable Texts Defined
Decodable texts are based on the Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction (Reading A-Z) that aims to support struggling readers. Most of the focus when using decodable texts is to decode (most obviously) the text based on the phonics instruction. Therefore, decodable texts are really necessary when students are just learning letter sounds and CVC words. As such, the focus on reading comprehension is not necessarily a key factor. This is because most decodable texts do not directly help in building those reading comprehension skills. While reading comprehension can be added as a part of the decodable text, the underlying objective is to get students to decode words in the text, using various fluency strategies (e.g. segmenting/blending).
Do Decodable Texts Work?
There are researchers who claim that decodable texts do not work (Pressley & Allington, 2015), noting that there are few differences in students who learn with and those that learn without decodable texts. They also noted no difference between using decodable texts rather than predictable texts. Hiebert & Sailors (2009) define predictable texts as a way "to support beginners' reading success through pictures and linguistic patterning, such as rhyme and repetition" (p. 28). However, Pressley & Allington (2015) mention that Adams (2009) supports the use of decodable texts in the kindergarten years, but not later on. Furthermore, decodable texts should be introduced with variety, using "high-frequency words that are likely already known in the spoken form by the young readers, while other words that may be unfamiliar" (Pressley & Allington, 2015, p. 180). At the same time, Foorman, Fletcher, & Francis (1997) argue that "there is a period during the beginning reading instruction when all children benefit from practicing letter-sound connections in decodable text" (p. 16). While the research on decodable texts varies across different research, I agree with the sentiment that decodable texts are useful at the beginning of a student's development of letters and words.
Reading Fluency Strategies
When using decodable texts, incorporating reading fluency strategies is really helpful. Traditionally, these include chunky monkey, eagle eye, flippy fish, helpful kangaroo, lips the fish, stretchy snake, skippy frog, and tryin' lion.
Students have to segment (break) and blend (put together) the word. For example, if the word is ship, the word can be broken into beginning/middle/end — this means breaking the word into /sh/i/p/, putting it together to make ship. In a sentence, students may read the following: I like to play with my car. It includes many sight words and the word car can be read by segmenting and blending. Therefore, students would read it as a /c/ar/, assuming they have learned the "ar" word family. This is particularly helpful when following the phonics progression, learning vowel sounds, word families, and so on.
Here, students use the picture to help them figure out the word. This is also helpful when reading books in general because the illustrations often provide context clues to the words and sentences.
In this strategy, students have to find the vowel sound and "flip" it to read the word. For example, if students are reading the word boat, phonetically they may read the word as bot, thinking of the "o" sound. However, ask students to think about how else "o" can sound (i.e. sound it the same as how it is said) to get boat. Here is a helpful example.
If students have tried all the strategies and are still struggling with the word, then they can ask someone for help. Here, having the Ask 3 Then Me strategy is useful, where students have to ask three of their peers before asking the teacher for help.
Lips the Fish
In Lips the Fish, students have to sound out the first few letters to decode the word. This might help students read the word before the even sound out all of the letters, which is why the emphasis is on using our lips to sound out the first few letters in anticipation of decoding the word.
Students have to look at the word and stretch each letter. For example, if the word is stop then students would stretch the word by saying, "sssssttttttooooooppppp." This is also a helpful way to spell words.
When students are stuck on a word, they can skip the word. Once the finish reading the whole sentence, they can come back and read it again to see if they can figure out how to read the skipped word.
This strategy focuses on trying again. It could involve reading the word again or the whole sentence, trying to decode the word because it might help students stumble upon how to read the word correctly.
Finding Decodable Texts
Reading A-Z has one of the best collections of RAZ texts (the above image is an example of one of its cover pages); however, they are not free. The value for the one year subscription is worth it, but there are a lot of free resources for those of us on a tight budget. Hubbard's Cupboard, for example, offers free CVC printable texts and word family printable texts for teachers to use in their classrooms. I have used and continue to use many of these, especially for emergent level students.
- Auburn University: There are a few decodable texts available here that are made by other teachers. These are also useful to practice common sight words.
- Centennial First Grade: Although I have never used these (because I started teaching fourth grade when I found this website), there are over 20 texts available.
- freereading: These are easy to use texts that are short, which is perfect for beginner readers who are building their basic phonics or for classrooms with less time allocated to reading fluency.
- McGraw-Hill: Here, there are a few textbooks for emergent and early year learners, which come in PDF format.
- McGraw-Hill: They have another collection of even more awesome fluency passages for our readers. You have to click on the story to be directed to the passage. You will see an almost empty screen, but look above to find where "download" is written.
- SPELD SA: I have not used these much because there are too many pages to print, but these decodable texts are an excellent alternative to the RAZ texts and Hubbard's Cupboard.
- Foorman, B.R., Fletcher, J.M. & Francis, D.J. (1997). "Do children understand what they're reading?" Yes, when they're taught to read. Reading Today, p. 16.
- Hiebert, E.H. & Sailors, M. (2009). Finding the right text: what works for beginning and struggling readers. The Guilford Press. New York, New York.
- Pressley, M. & Allington, R.L. (2015). Reading instruction that works: the case for balanced teaching. The Guilford Press. New York, New York.