England's National Curriculum states that pupils in year 1 should
''read aloud accurately books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge
and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words''.
The new (Nov. 2019) Ofsted School Inspection Handbook p87 (para
298) says that inspectors will look to see that, ''the sequence
of reading books shows a cumulative progression in phonics
knowledge that is matched closely to the school’s phonics
programme. Teachers give pupils sufficient practice in reading
and re-reading books that match the grapheme-phoneme
correspondences they know, both at school and at home''
''Decodable books are NOT just for dyslexics'' (Faith
Please note, it's a myth that synthetic phonics classrooms exclude
so-called real books; synthetic phonics is taught as part of a broad and balanced, language-rich curriculum. Beginning readers in high quality synthetic phonics classrooms will have plenty of access to real books (fiction and non-fiction). When doing shared reading of a real book, the teacher (or parent if it is a home book) takes responsibility for reading any as yet untaught GPCs or words with tricky spellings so no multi-cueing (guessing) or whole word memorisation is necessary.
''Send home four books a week, 2 decodables (one on current unit
and one for revision) and 2 books for parents to read to them.
Therefore home practise is supporting both strands of the
reading rope (decoding + comprehension)''
(James Lyra. DSF conference 2019)
ALL books become 'decodable' once you've learnt the Alphabet Code!
For guidance only: catch-up KS2-3 X KS3
N.B. this is not a definitive list of phonically decodable book schemes.
Written to support
Sounds~Write or any other linguistic
Can also be used with Letters&Sounds
-see the phonics progression chart available on the website.
- 'Launchers' first texts for beginners at Foundation stage -start at cvc level.
Launchers Units 1-7 are now available as interactive e-Books that can be downloaded onto the iPad or iPhone. Unit 1 is free to download.
- Dandelion readers:
Review of Dandelion Readers, Level 2, that introduces alternative vowel spellings.
Decodable book series for intervention KS2/3:
- X Alba series.12 books specifically written to appeal to girls in KS2/3. Reading Age KS1 -start at cvc level
- X Magic Belt. 12 books, a prequel to the Totem quest series -start at cvc level.
Review of Magic Belt
- X Totem series. 12 books specifically designed for older struggling readers age 8-14 / Reading Age KS1 -start at cvc level.
- X Talisman series. 20 books specifically designed for older struggling readers age 8-14 / Reading Age KS1.
Check out the website for several new series...
Sounds~Write readers -
written to support Sounds~Write or any other linguistic
Initial/basic code books following
the S~W GPC introduction order -start at CVC level.
Extended/advanced code books: ''These titles focus on particular
sounds to give children plenty of practice of the most common
spelling alternatives presented in each of the Extended Code
X Jera Books.
Cries', a comic book series specifically designed for
older, struggling readers age 11+. ''Each book
focuses on a particular sound and is deliberately contrived to
contain multiple spellings of the sound''. Important -read the
online Teachers' Guide before using these books.
Forward with Phonics.
X The Drop-In series: phonics decodable books (start
level) to use with older teens and adults.
Stories for Older Learners: photocopiable decodable stories and
Both publications follow the Sounds-Write phonics
No Nonsense Phonics: Non-Fiction books.
These non-fiction books are ideal for practising decoding skills using unfamiliar real words. All words are fully decodable using the GPCs covered in the Phonics Screening Check. The books are meant for consolidation after all the correspondences in them have been taught and are not meant to follow the progression of any one programme. They are divided into two levels. Level 1 correspondences nearly match the correspondences in Section 1 of the Phonics Check and Level 2 correspondences nearly match those in Section 2. Interesting facts are included at the back of each book to to encourage discussion and extend knowledge.
Read Write Inc. OUP. Ruth Miskin's story books and non-fiction books
N.B. RWI's 'Red words' are not meant to be memorised as whole units; Ruth Miskin says ''Help children look for the letters that “work” and ones that are tricky'' in the Red words.
- Ditty Books. first texts for absolute beginners.
- X Read Write Inc. Fresh Start modules. These 'catch-up' workbooks (purchased consumables) for students in Y5+ include age-appropriate text for reading practice.
OUP's Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) Floppy's Phonics fiction & non-fiction.
Matched to the DfE programme Letters and Sounds.
Caution: Do NOT confuse these
phonically decodable books with the first Book Band levels (pink, red, yellow, blue..) of ORT's 'Classic' Biff, Chip and Kipper
patterned text books.
Rising Stars. Rocket Phonics.
Fully decodable readers. Matched to the DfE
programme Letters and Sounds. Written by synthetic phonics
experts Abi Steel and Anne Glennie.
Sound Discovery: www.syntheticphonics.net
X King Wizzit stories. 12 decodable books specifically written to support the Sound
Discovery literacy programme at digraph level. Funny stories
about kings, islands and dragons, best for 7 to 11 year olds who are poor readers.
- Phoneme Spotter Story Books: each story
features the alternative spellings for a single vowel sound.
Corresponding comprehension and writing activities are
included for a complete lesson.
X MRI 'mature reading instruction'
series for teens and adults -also available as e-books. High
''From the tragicomedy of Henry VIII to the
doom of an Aztec city, from the antics of Africa’s spider
demi-god to the trials of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, from Hamlet’s
insanity to Beowulf’s heroics, the fifty MRI books offer a
darkly comic take on history, myths, folk tales and literary
Caution: not linked to any phonics programme's
10 reasons why beginning readers should be
given phonically decodable books for independent practice:
1. Phonically decodable book schemes are
consistent with synthetic phonics instruction; they go from
simple to complex, use only diectly taught code and the
illustrations are not deliberately designed to provide overt
clues to text content. Taught code is used throughout words,
rather than first letter emphasis, to ensure that transitivity
is well understood.
2. Patterned text (leveled / banded) scheme books and
(non-scheme) books give beginning readers a mistaken idea of what reading entails
if they are expected to read them independently. Many will come
to believe that it is a memorising and (psycholinguistic) guessing game.
3. Phonically decodable books allow
beginning readers to put their newly learnt alphabet code
knowledge, blending and segmenting skills into immediate
practice. This is essential to develop their reading stamina, fluency and confidence.
4. There is no way of knowing which
particular children entering a reception class have poor visual
/ auditory memories or intermittent hearing difficulties. These children are
more likely to become struggling 'dyslexic' readers if
a patterned text (Book Bands) scheme or real books are used at first. Children with good visual memories
and wide vocabularies may appear to do well initially with
patterned text schemes and real books BUT see 5.
5. Phonically decodable books prevent the
development of the word guessing habit. This harmful habit can be
very difficult to change when children get older. Those with good visual memories
and richer vocabularies are likely to quickly develop this habit
when they practise their reading, using patterned text or real
books. Eventually, their memory for whole words will reach its limit and, if they haven't, in the meantime,
taught themselves the alphabet code, segmenting and blending
skills, they will struggle to read advanced texts with novel,
multisyllable words and no illustrations.
6. Many beginning readers struggle to
decode words in
the early levels (pink, red, yellow, blue...) of Book Banded
patterned texts or real books, losing comprehension and confidence in the
process. High quality synthetic phonics instruction, along with phonically decodable
books for independent practice, gives children quick success, ensuring long term enthusiasm for reading.
The increased focus on phonics teaching has been accompanied by
an increase in reading enjoyment among children.
''In 2016 we recorded the highest levels of reading enjoyment to
date, with nearly 6 in 10 saying that they enjoy reading either
very much or quite a lot'' (NationalLiteracy
7. The use of phonically decodable books
for independent reading practice is usually only necessary for a
short period in the early years. When taught well with synthetic
phonics, most children learn the common code quickly, begin to
self-teach the less-common code, and can move to independently
reading real (non-scheme) books, rather than being stuck for
several years on a leveled scheme with the restricted word count necessary to ensure adequate memorisation of the high frequency words.
8. Good spelling is aided by the use of
phonically decodable books -see Spelling
9. Empirical research supports the use of
phonically decodable books for early, independent reading
practice -see below.
10. Parents easily understand the logic of phonically decodable books and are more able and willing to help their children practise reading at home.
''Fuency, Meyer et al (1999), is the ability to read
connected text 'rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and
automaticially with little conscious attention to the mechanics
of reading, such as decoding''. You can't get to that without
being able to decode and decodables assist that process''
(Quoted by John Walker)
What is a decodable book?
"Decodability thus describes how well a book/text matches its
reader’s decoding skills. It gives us a proper, objective way of
identifying a just-right book, by ensuring lesson-to-text
''The Key Takeaway: If using ‘phonic controlled’
books/texts/readers, it is important that the child taught in a
systematic manner the code sequence to match the books.
Otherwise, the child’s reading accuracy may be reduced which
could lead to frustration and other issues''
Why are decodable books essential?
''It is true that “Pam had a tan cat” is not the start of a
riveting story. But then again, adult readers, that story wasn’t
meant for you. It wasn’t meant for you to
read aloud to captivate children either, or to
build vocabulary and knowledge of the world, which is also
critical in a strong K-2 literacy program. It was meant to do a
different job, important for a different reason: to help
emergent readers...If students only focus on phonics as a set of
discrete skills through lessons and games and don’t connect
these skills to the reading of text, they will not develop this
habit and use it to read. This, in a nutshell, is why decodables
are so essential''
''When teachers poo poo decodable readers I remind them
that they are not for them, they can read. Rather, they are for
their students who are learning to read and they serve an
important purpose: to enable students to practice decoding and
reach early automaticity with the code''
What are decodable texts and why are they important?
"Decodable texts are a crucial resource for a phonics-based
approach. They incorporate words that are consistent with the
letters and corresponding phonemes that have been taught. The
books are intended to allow students to use their phonic
knowledge to decode new words."
''Spelling alternatives for each phoneme can be mastered
through controlled exposure and repetition, via...specially
(Prof. McGuinness ERI p59)
Why ALL Primary Schools Must Invest in Decodable Readers
Video-clip: How to help your child read a decodable story book
Parents: Top Tips for Reading with Beginners
Hi-Lo books are suitable for developing newly independent readers' fluency and
confidence, but use late into or on completion
of a synthetic phonics (intervention) programme. Barrington
https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/ Caution -do not use solely
for 'silent reading'. It is essential that students are
regularly heard reading text aloud to ensure that
they are still decoding accurately and not skipping or substituting
Moving from decodable books into levelled or 'real' books.
''Free-choice [silent] reading time — SSR, DEAR, SQUIRT — ranges
from having no affect on learning to having very tiny effects'' (Prof.
''Where she is more wary is about classroom initiatives such as
Everybody Reading in Class (ERIC) and DEAR. McGeown would like
to see a stronger evidence base to support such activities''
''Children who struggle when reading texts aloud do not become
good readers if left to read silently; their dysfluency merely
(Prof.Seidenberg's Language at the Speed
of Sight p130)
Book Bands and other book leveling schemes:
Book Bands and Leveled Readers Should be Abandoned
Reading Recovery's Book Bands, Pearson's Rigby Star
Independent & Guided readers, Scholastic's PM readers, Cliff Moon's Individualised Reading, Hatcher's Graded booklist and the Catch Up Literacy booklist are all commercial book leveling schemes based on the whole language notion of early reading - that is, beginners, or those requiring intervention, use globally memorised sight words, initial letter/s, picture and context clues to 'read'. In these schemes, books are leveled according to
the number of words on a line, number of lines on a page or
the number of high frequency words used and the degree of
repetition, NOT on the phonic decodability of the text. For example, books in Pink Bookband (recommended for children aged 4-5), 'usually have no more than 10 pages with up to 5 words on a page' (ReadingChest/bookbands). Typically, these books will be described as containing ''predictable text, utilising rhyme, repetition, and supportive illustrations''.
Daniel Willingham discusses readabilty formulas for leveling books.
Leveled books for guided reading - uses PM readers as an
Too bound by Book Bands
Why Book Bands block children's reading progress
The 4th edition of Reading Recovery's 'Book Bands for Guided Reading' (2007) states in the introduction that, ''We have banded only those series produced by publishers specifically for Guided Reading. This excludes books intended for shared or independent use, and also series designed to provide practice with the decoding of certain phoneme-grapheme correspondences, and therefore more suited to a daily, discrete programme of phonic work''. Despite this, the big publishers (OUP, Pearsons...) have chosen to place their phonically decodable books for beginning readers in Book Band colour groups.
Throw out the throwbacks: guided reading using leveled books and multi-cueing.
''(A)s they learn to master the alphabetic code, children should
be given reading material that is well within their reach
in the form of 'decodable books'... Using such books as part
of the phonic programme does not preclude other reading. Indeed
it can be shown that such books help children develop confidence
and an appetite for reading more widely.'' (Rose
Report 2006. para 82)
The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading
achievement: A review of the evidence
''Collectively the results indicate that decodability is a
critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases
the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy &
results in immediate benefits, particularly with regard to
''Both Foorman et al (1998) & Juel & Minden-Cupp (2000) found
that explicit instruction and opportunities for extended
practice with phonemically decodable texts were particularly
beneficial for children at risk for reading failure''
‘'The selection of text used very early in first grade
may, at least in part, determine the strategies and cues children
learn to use, and persist in using, in subsequent word identification....
In particular, emphasis on a phonics method seems to make
little sense if children are given initial texts to read where
the words do not follow regular letter-sound correspondence
generalizations. Results of the current study suggest that
the types of words which appear in beginning reading texts
may well exert a more powerful influence in shaping children’s
word identification strategies than the method of reading
instruction'' (Juel and Roper/Schneider.
Reading Research Quarterly 18)
''Treatment participants reading highly decodable text were
found to apply letter-sound knowledge to a greater extent than
control participants. They also were more accurate and relied on
examiners less for assistance''
Books for beginning readers should use short words so
children can register all the letters in a single fixation. p58.
Experiments on the effects of including illustrations in
beginning reading materials: to improve reading proficiency use
plain text or only use illustrations that provide no direct clues to
the words in the text.