What Makes a Good Decodable Book? 5 Things to Look For

What Makes a Good Decodable Book? 5 Things to Look For

With so many decodable books on the market, educators should follow these 5 criteria to select the best options for their school.

Decodable books have been used as part of early literacy instruction for decades. They provide students with valuable opportunities to practice new phonics skills and build on previous knowledge. But not all decodable books are created equal!

Historically, decodable books were known for their silly, nonsensical stories—think: the pig jigs in a wig. Due to the limitations of writing such tightly controlled text, decodable books are often boring or use awkward or strange language structures. These kinds of decodables can be challenging for novice readers, especially English language learners.

The good news is that renewed interest in phonics instruction has led to much higher-quality decodable books on the market. When selecting decodable books to add to your school, classroom, or home library, consider these criteria:

  1. Appropriate Complexity

    For a book to be decodable, students must already have the code. They must have learned the phonics skills and high-frequency words present in the book for it to be considered the appropriate complexity. If a student can’t read the book with a 90% accuracy rate or higher, it’s too hard!


    Decodable books are books for early readers written to include the letter-sound correspondences and high-frequency words that a student has already been taught. A decodable book will usually provide a scope and sequence listing the phonics skills present in the book on a continuum.

  2. Engaging Storylines

    Students can spot a boring book a mile away. Look for decodables with a meaningful story and interesting characters. If the story is fiction, does it have an actual plot? Would your students enjoy reading about the setting, problem, and solution? In nonfiction books, the information should be presented clearly and accurately while also bringing the topic to life.

  3. Natural Language Structure

    The book should sound like natural language to reflect how students will ultimately be interacting with text. Read the book out loud to yourself. If it sounds too awkward or clunky, you may want to consider other options.

  4. Captivating Imagery

    Students deserve books with rich illustrations and quality photographs. 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.


  5. Systematic Learning Opportunities

    The best decodable books provide opportunities to practice new skills and review old ones. If you’re considering a phonics curriculum or book set, look for those that build on and review previously taught skills and high-frequency words. This systematic approach is the best way to support students’ practice in decoding as they continue to build their confidence in reading.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to select dynamic decodable books to use when teaching students how to read—and cultivate a love of reading at the same time!


Looking to build out your decodable library? 

Build confidence in reading with MyCodables, a collection of decodable books and plushies featuring beloved characters from Pioneer Valley Books. 

These brand-new decodables follow a carefully designed systematic scope and sequence that builds upon previously taught phonics skills. 

Explore More Decodable Books