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Teaching Tip: What makes a good decodable book

Teaching Tip: What makes a good decodable book
Decodable books have been used for reading instruction for years. They can be very useful for providing students with opportunities to practice new phonics skills. But many teachers resist using them because of a variety of flaws in some of the decodable books on the market. A great number of decodable books have silly, nonsensical stories that are poorly illustrated. They also often have awkward or strange language structures. This makes reading the books very challenging for novice readers, especially English language learners.

The good news is that with the renewed interest in decodable books, much better options are now available.

What makes a quality decodable book? Here are some criteria for selecting a decodable book to use with your students:

  1. Storyline. Does the book have a meaningful story? Are the characters interesting? Will students enjoy reading about the setting, problem, and solution? If the book is nonfiction, is the information accurate and will the topic interest your students?
  2. Language Structure. The language structure in the book should sound like natural language.
  3. Illustrations. Children deserve books with quality illustrations. While your goal is to provide opportunities for practicing phonics skills, you do not want to turn students off from their reading experiences. The books should have vibrant colors, diverse characters, and pictures that are appealing to the age group you are working with.
  4. Appropriate Complexity. Leveled books are getting a bad rap from some people these days, but what they offer is a clear progression that helps teachers move students from simple to more complex text. Decodable books are usually not leveled, but they should have the appropriate complexity for the students you are working with. If a student can’t read the book with an accuracy rate of 90% or greater (with some support from you), it is too hard! Students will quickly get discouraged and shut down if they struggle with all the words. Also important is the number of sight words in the book. Sight words should be introduced carefully and be repeated in future books to build automaticity.
  5. Learning Opportunity. Does the decodable book provide opportunities to practice new skills AND review old skills? The text should also include plenty of the sight words you have been teaching.
Decodable books are very useful. The goal is to choose books that teach students how to read while cultivating a love of reading at the same time so your students become lifelong readers who can’t wait to pick up another book!

Looking for quality decodable books? Check out our wonderful Phonics Storybooks sets, a collection of decodable books for K–2 readers and older students who need more support in learning to decode.