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Decodable Text 101

Updated: Feb 9

Decoding 101

As I work with teachers, I’m hearing more and more about the transition away from leveled text in the early grades to decodable text. It’s a shift for many teachers who have based their early reading instruction on a patterned text that is predictable and highly tied to the illustrations.


As educators begin to shift practice, it is important to build a common understanding among each other. Then when we partner with others we are speaking the same language and have the same understanding. 


This month’s post is going to help you get started by answering three important questions: What is decodable text? Why is decodable text important? And Where can I find decodable readers?


What is decodable text?

Decodable text or readers can best be described as having controlled vocabulary aligned with taught sound-symbol patterns. Essentially the majority of the words in the text can be sounded out using the phonics skills students have learned. The text may contain a few vocabulary words essential to the story that are not decodable or learned sight words, but this would be minimal or not at all. 


According to Wiley Blevins, in A Fresh Look at Phonics (2017), it is important to think about the quality of decodable text with 3 key criteria. One the text should be comprehensible, the stories should make sense and sound like spoken language. Two, the text should be instructive, that is the majority of the words must be decodable based on sound spellings previously taught. An obvious connection between text and instruction should exist. Three, the text should be engaging. Students should want to and enjoy reading the text. The text should be worth revisiting. 


It is important to remember that decodable text is one type of text that readers use intentionally to support their decoding skills. Students should also be exposed to a rich variety of authentic children’s literature during read-alouds to build their vocabulary, knowledge, speaking, listening, and comprehension skills. 


Why does using decodable text make a difference?

Learning to read is a complex process that requires our brain to essentially rewire itself. It’s important that when students practice reading, especially in the early stages, they activate the parts of their brain that promote orthographic mapping. Orthographic mapping is the process in which words are stored for instant and effortless retrieval. It’s why as proficient readers you recognize thousands of words on sight. Therefore, we want text that triggers the parts of the brain that lead to orthographic mapping. When we use text that allows students to figure out words using pictures, initial sounds, or context we are NOT triggering the parts of the brain that create the neuropathways for efficient reading. 


Where can I find decodable readers?

That leads us to a question I’m frequently asked. Where can I get decodable readers to use with my students? Below are a few great places to start.

  1. The Reading League has a decodable text source list that is a great place to start. 

  2. The Lexile Hub recently added decodable passages. It is free for Indiana residents. 

  3. Core Knowledge (CKLA) offers free materials which include decodable readers. This is a full program with lots of open-source materials.

  4. Text Project offers some free printable choices.

  5. Daffodil Hill Press has some free digital ebooks available.

  6. Flyleaf Publishing also offers free online digital ebooks.

Want more help?

Contact us to get more information, find additional resources, and learn how we can partner with you for ELA success!


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