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Phonically Decodable Books

Phonically decodable / cumulative / controlled phonics text is text that can be decoded or sounded out based on the letter-sound correspondences (GPCs) the student has already been explicitly taught. With this in mind, it is obviously desirable to use a decodable reading scheme that follows the same order of introduction of GPCs as the school's synthetic phonics programme.

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''

Why ALL Primary Schools Must Invest in Decodable Readers

Scroll down for details of decodable book schemes.

The new National Curriculum, statutory in maintained schools from September 2014, states that pupils in Y1 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''.

Please note, it's a myth that synthetic phonics classrooms exclude 'real' books; the alphabet code 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.

Guidance on choosing a phonically decodable book scheme
- For ease of use, the sequenced introduction of grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) in the scheme should follow that taught in the setting’s synthetic phonics (SP) or linguistic phonics (LP) programme as closely as possible.
- Alphabet code in the text should be cumulative, with previously taught code included along with newly taught code.
- The inclusion of words containing as yet untaught code should be very limited and they should not be taught as 'sight words' to be memorised as whole shapes.
- Check that the scheme's emphasis is not on initial letters –transitivity needs to be well understood..
- Text should focus on GPCs, not larger units of sound such as onset and rime.
- Avoid schemes where eye-catching illustrations are the main attraction - with text used simply as a garnish.
- If the text includes pseudo words, then check that they don't use illegal or highly unlikely English spellings.
- Avoid schemes where the illustrations have been deliberately designed to provide clues to the text as this can encourage word guessing*. Use pictures to aid comprehension and extend language.
- Check that there are enough books in the scheme to allow adequate code practice-this is vital for 'slow to learn' students- supplement with books from a compatible scheme if necessary.
- Check that the text is written by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic SP/LP practitioner - it does make a discernable difference..

* http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.1577/abstract
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 clues to words in text.

ALL books become 'decodable' once you've learnt the Alphabet Code!

For guidance only: catch-up KS2-3 X KS3 - adult X

N.B. this is not a definitive list of phonically decodable book schemes.


 Written to support Sounds~Write or any other linguistic phonics programme. 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.
An independent 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 https://www.thereadingcentre.com/2013/01/21/the-magic-belt-series-from-phonicbooks/
- 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 phonics programme.
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 Units'
X Jera Books. http://www.sounds-write.co.uk/page-79-books-for-young-adults.aspx 'Battle 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. http://www.forwardwithphonics.com/index.html
New. X The Drop-In series: phonics decodable books (start at cvc level) to use with older teens and adults.
Phonics Stories for Older Learners: photocopiable decodable stories and worksheets

No Nonsense Phonics: Non-Fiction books. http://www.raintree.co.uk/product/9781474709323
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 decodable first readers with the first Book Band levels (pink, red, yellow, blue..) of ORT 'Classic' Biff, Chip and Kipper whole language books.

Rising Stars. Rocket Phonics.
48 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 older teens and adults -also available as e-books. High text content.
''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 masterpieces'' Note: not linked to any synthetic phonics programme's GPC introduction order

10 reasons why beginning readers should be given phonically decodable books for independent reading practice and guided reading.

1. Only phonically decodable book schemes are consistent with the synthetic phonics reading method; they go from simple to complex, use only explicitly 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. Sounding out is the only strategy required to read the words.

2. Whole-language reading scheme books give beginning readers a misleading idea of what reading entails i.e. that it is a memorising and (psycholinguistic) guessing game.

3. Phonically decodable books give beginning readers the necessary direct and sustained practice in newly taught code and skills to help develop reading stamina, fluency and confidence.

4. There is no way of knowing which particular children entering a reception class have poor visual memories or weak phonological learning ability. These children are likely to become struggling 'dyslexic' readers if whole-language books are used at first. Children with good visual memories and vocabularies may appear to do well, initially, with whole-language books, BUT see 5.

5. Decodable books help prevent the development of the sight word guessing habit. This harmful habit can be difficult to change when children get older and the brain less 'plastic'. Those with good visual memories will develop this habit quickly and easily through the use of predictable, repetitive text. Eventually their memory for whole words will reach its limit and if they haven't, in the meantime, been taught or deduced the alphabet code for themselves they will struggle to read advanced texts with novel words and no illustrations.

6. Many beginning readers struggle to read the early levels (pink, red, yellow, blue) of Book Banded predictable texts, losing comprehension and confidence in the process. Synthetic phonics instruction along with 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.
https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/celebrating-reading-enjoyment-findings-our-annual-literacy-survey-2016-report/ ''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''

7. The use of phonically decodable books for independent reading practice is usually only necessary for a short period in the foundation stage. When taught well with synthetic phonics, most children learn the code quickly, begin to self-teach, and can then move to independently reading real books rather than being stuck for several years on whole language reading schemes with the restricted word count necessary to ensure adequate memorisation of the high frequency words.

8. Good spelling is aided by the use of decodables -see Spelling

9. Empirical research supports the use of phonically decodable books for initial reading practice: ‘'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)

10. Parents easily understand the logic of phonically decodable books and are more able and willing to help their children practise reading at home.


How to help your child to read a decodable story book

Moving from decodable books into leveled or 'real' books (with assistance) at the end of KS1.

Book Bands and other leveled book schemes.

Book Bands and Leveled Readers Should be Abandoned

Is there a role for predictable texts in beginning reading instruction?

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 number of words on a line, the 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 example.

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 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)