Decoding requires students to use knowledge of phoneme-grapheme correspondence (phonics) together with other knowledge about print. Decodable texts help students practise specific phoneme-grapheme correspondences that they have been explicitly taught, to build independence and experience early success with the decoding of words. Decodable texts are designed to follow the sequence used by the teacher to help teach grapheme-phoneme correspondences and provide an increasing level of complexity for students.
Decodable texts are usually purchased as a series of texts that follow a specific sequence of phonics development. New grapheme-phoneme correspondences are introduced in one text and reinforced in subsequent texts, with opportunity to practise blending and segmenting skills. Commercial phonics programs may differ in the sequence of graphemes and phonemes presented but all begin with simple consonant vowel consonant (CVC) and vowel consonant (VC) words, with increasingly complex patterns of phonics presented in later texts. Some decodable texts include repeated patterns of grammar. For example:
Pat sits on a pin.
Pat sits on a bed.
Pat sits on a mop.
Some decodable texts may follow a simple storyline. For example:
Sam is a dog.
Sam can run.
Sam can nip.
In addition to building students' knowledge of the alphabetic code, decodable texts can be used to help students blend and segment phonemes when reading continuous texts. While decodable texts are appropriate for beginning readers, experience with a variety of texts is still required (Birch, et.al. 2022). More advanced readers require exposure to a wide range of print texts for learning of complex vocabulary and grammatical structures, and comprehension (Castles, et al., 2018; Price-Mohr & Price, 2020).
Selecting texts to teach reading: decodable and levelled texts
Text selection is an important part of teaching reading. Teachers should match each student’s reading needs with a carefully selected text that will help them progress. Decodable and levelled texts (sometimes referred to as predictable texts) are sequenced texts that can be used to teach specific skills or strategies.
Decodable texts present a specific phonics teaching sequence (Pogorzelski, 2021). They have a high number of words with regular grapheme-phoneme correspondences. Decodable texts are useful for teaching phonological skills, such as blending and segmenting, as well as phonics, orthographic knowledge and fluency.
Levelled texts encourage the reader to use contextual cues to make meaning. This includes phonics, background knowledge, syntax, knowledge of high frequency words, text structure and visuals. Levelled texts are useful for teaching comprehension, grammar and vocabulary. They generally have more high frequency words and more syntactic representations (Birch et al, 2022).
Decodable and levelled texts become similar at the higher levels, where orthography becomes more complex (Birch et al, 2022).
Other texts may also be useful when focusing on specific reading outcomes. These texts might include picture books, information texts, recipes or newspaper articles. The text selected must address the student's current reading need and the identified instructional purpose.
Below are some considerations to guide teachers in selecting texts for reading instruction.
- determine the teaching point(s) that will be addressed with the student
- consider the student’s level of interest and motivation in reading the text
- predict the student’s level of familiarity with:
- the context of the text and the content presented in the text
- the grammatical constructs
Quantifiable text features
Teachers should consider the following:
- number of words
- frequency of words
- sentence length
- number of high frequency words
- number of phonetically regular words incorporating the phoneme/graphemes that have been taught
- number of phonetically irregular words
- number of rare words (Tier 2 or Tier 3)
- number of multisyllabic words.
Qualifiable text features
Teachers should consider:
- the opportunities for talk before, during or after reading the text
- how the text represents different groups (gender, cultural backgrounds, age, abilities)
- the level of familiarity the student has with the vocabulary and content.
Teachers should also critique the clarity of language used, for example, whether the text follows a familiar sentence structure.
Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert.
Psychological Science in the Public Interest,
Birch, R., Sharp, H., Miller, D., Ritchie, D., & Ledger, S. (2022). Systematic literature review of decodable and levelled reading books for reading instruction in primary school contexts: an evaluation of quality research evidence. University of Newcastle Research Alliance for language, literature and literacy.
Price‐Mohr, R. M., & Price, C. B. (2020). A comparison of children aged 4–5 years learning to read through instructional texts containing either a high or a low proportion of phonically-decodable words.
Early Childhood Education Journal,