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Phonically Decodable Books for Beginners and Intervention

2019. The ‘Ofsted School Inspection Handbook’:
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”

2021. The DfE’s new ‘Essential Core Criteria’ for phonics programmes includes the following note re. texts and books in KS1:
”The texts and books children are asked to read independently should be fully decodable for them at every stage of the programme. This means they must be composed almost entirely of words made up of grapheme-phoneme correspondences that a child has learned up to that point. The only exceptions should be a small number of common exception words that the child has learned as part of the programme up to that point. In the early stages, even these should be kept to a minimum. Practising with such decodable texts will help to make sure children experience success and learn to rely on phonic strategies”

Please note, it’s a myth that teachers who use high quality phonics exclude so-called real books from their classrooms; phonics for decoding is taught discretely as part of a broad and balanced, language-rich curriculum. Beginning readers, in classrooms where high quality phonics is taught, will have plenty of access to real books, both fiction and non-fiction. When doing a 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!

N.B. this is not a definitive list of UK programme-linked phonically decodable book schemes.


Phonic Books. Storybooks that follow the Sounds~Write GPC introduction order but can be used with other phonics programmes – 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.
Dragon Eggs – a quest series for beginning readers.
Decodable book series for intervention KS2/3:
– Alba series.12 books specifically written to appeal to girls in KS2/3. Reading Age KS1 -start at CVC level
– Magic Belt. 12 books, a prequel to the Totem quest series -start at CVC level.
Review of Magic Belt https://theliteracyblog.com/2013/01/21/the-magic-belt-series-from-phonicbooks/
-Totem series. 12 books specifically designed for older struggling readers age 8-14 / Reading Age KS1 -start at CVC level.
– Talisman series. 20 books specifically designed for older struggling readers age 8-14 / Reading Age KS1.
Check out the website for several other series…
FREE. 10 storybooks: ‘Moon Dogs at Home’ series + linked activity worksheets to print out.

– Sounds~Write decodable storybooks: initial and extended code sets.
– FREE. First Steps. 12 initial code stories: sign up with your email for the free pdf e-book versions
https://sounds-write.mykajabi.com/offers/KdRNaE2u/checkout or purchase hard copies.
– 2 sets of non-fiction (Animals / Countries) decodable books with a high ratio of text to illustration, ”suitable for Y1 onwards as well as for intervention”
– ‘Battle Cries’, a comic book series specifically designed for young adults.

Read Write Inc. OUP.
Ruth Miskin’s fiction, non-fiction and Ditty books.
Use with the RWI programme.

Caution: RWI ‘Red Words’ are not ‘non-decodable sight words’.

Sound Discovery: www.syntheticphonics.net
– King Wizzit stories. 12 decodable books specifically written to support the Sound Discovery SSP 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 Bookseach story features the alternative spellings for a single vowel sound. Corresponding comprehension and writing activities are included for a complete lesson.

Phonics for SEN
Several decodable book series for pupils with multiple and complex special educational needs.

10 reasons why beginning readers should be given phonically decodable books for all independent practice:

1. Phonically decodable book schemes are consistent with high quality phonics instruction; they go from simple to complex, use only directly taught code (phoneme-grapheme correspondences) and illustrations are not deliberately designed to provide overt clues that encourage word guessing.

2. Patterned / predictable text (levelled/banded) scheme books and so-called real (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 easy way of knowing which particular children entering a reception class have poor visual and/or auditory memories, (intermittent) hearing difficulties or are on the lower end of the normal distribution curve of PA acquisition ability. 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. Beginning readers with good visual memories and richer vocabularies are more likely to develop this habit when they are given patterned text or real books to read independently.

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 phonics instruction, along with phonically decodable books for independent practice, gives children quick success, ensuring long term enthusiasm for reading.

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 high quality phonics, most children learn the common code (simple and advanced) 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 levelled 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. ”Spelling alternatives for each phoneme can be mastered through controlled exposure and repetition, via…specially designed stories…” (Prof. McGuinness ERI p59) -see Spelling

9. Empirical research supports the use of phonically decodable books for early, independent reading practice -see below.

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


”Fluency (Meyer et al (1999)) is the ability to read connected text ‘rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically 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 match.”

”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”

”A central point of decodable texts is that they don’t need to be predictable because children…(wait for it…) *decode* them”
(Prof. Pamela Snow. Twitter)

”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” 
(Dr. Lorraine Hammond)

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.”

Video-clip: How to help your child read a decodable book

Parents: Top Tips for Reading with Beginners

Moving from decodable books into levelled or ‘real’ books.

Phonic Books: Amber Guardians. This series is designed to bridge the gap between decodables and mainstream reading, with a high ratio of text to illustration.

Hi-Lo books: for example, Barrington Stoke https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/ These books are suitable for developing newly independent readers’ fluency and confidence but should be used late into or on completion of a phonics (intervention) programme. Caution -do not use solely for ‘silent reading’. It is essential that newly independent readers are regularly heard reading text aloud to ensure that they are still decoding accurately and not skipping or substituting words.

Free-choice silent reading time:

”Free-choice [silent] reading time — SSR, DEAR, SQUIRT — ranges from having no effect on learning to having very tiny effects” (Prof. Timothy Shanahan)

”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”

David Didau suggests switching DEAR to DEAL (From Drop Everything and Read to Drop Everything and Listen)

”Children who struggle when reading texts aloud do not become good readers if left to read silently; their dysfluency merely becomes inaudible” 
(Prof. Seidenberg. Language at the Speed of Sight p130) 

Book Bands and other Book Levelling Schemes:

Book Bands and Levelled 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 levelling 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 levelled according to the 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 phonics decodability of the text. For example, books in Pink Book Band (recommended for children aged 4-5), ”usually have no more than 10 pages with up to 5 words on a page” (Reading Chest/Book Bands). Typically, these books will be described as containing ”predictable text, utilising rhyme, repetition, and supportive illustrations”.

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”.

Is My Kid Learning How to Read? Part 1: Purple Challenge.
”As an assessment, my child was recorded online reading an F&P level D book. She nailed it — or so it seemed”

Prof. Daniel Willingham discusses readability formulas for levelling books.

Levelled books for guided reading – uses PM readers as an example.

Why Book Bands block children’s reading progress

‘Who sank the (reading) boat? A sad tale of academic misrepresentation of the role of decodable texts for beginning readers’ http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com/2018/11/who-sank-reading-boat-sad-tale-of.html


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 accuracy”

”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” 
(Prof. Torgesen)

‘’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.