What is the purpose of Decodable Texts?

More and more we are hearing about decodable texts in our early primary classrooms.

What are they?

Decodable series of books will usually follow a phonics scope and sequence. Decodable texts are considered appropriate for early readers as they support learning to decode through the practice of sound-letter correspondences that have already been explicitly taught in the classroom. Decodables support phonics through:

  • Simple sentences
  • High-frequency words
  • Common sound-letter correspondences
  • Carefully controlled text
  • Explicit practice of the letter/sound correspondences that they have been systrmatically taught


  • Students are able to practice according to their own need in terms of their letter-sound ability
  • Students are not expected to infer words from the contexts or syntax
  • You can formatively assess sound-letter knowledge

There is some research that some students require systematic and explicit phonics instruction, and who benefit from decodables. The important thing to note is that they only need to be used temporarily to reinforce the sound-letter patterns.

They are not meant to replace a high-quality, reading program. The most effective classrooms are multi-modal, and include an array of reading opportunities from modelled, shared, guided and independent reading opportunities.

How are decodable texts different than other types of readers?

Other reading sets can differ according to the formulas that have been written to determine text difficulty. Levelled readers can provide reading opportunities to support students at a relatively systematic instructional level. They are usually based on word complexity, sentence complexity, and look at the number of words and word frequencies. Lexiles are one type of formula that difficulty might be calculated with.

Not an either/or proposition.

No books can serve all reading purposes. Decodables only work with the sound-letter correspondences and spelling patterns that students have already been explicity taught. There are rare opportunities to infer meanings from words, build content related vocabulary, and limited opportunities to build fluency and read for comprehension. Again, simple decoding is the main purpose here, and being responsive to the needs of your students is what is most important.

Other types of reading sets, including various levelled readers also have different kind of problems depending on the formulas they were based on. Most formulas are based on a one-size-fits-all approach as well. They are not guaranteed to be truly decodable. Often, the patterns of words and text are very predictable, and use highly predictable visuals.

No one set of readers can serve all purposes for reading.

It is not an either/or proposition for our students, and there are other authentic texts that students should be working with.

It really is so important for educators to be responsive to the needs of students, and ensure that those who need extra support in mapping sounds to letters and learning orthographic patterns (spelling patterns), have that opportunity daily in the classroom. But that ALL students have access to books that promote comprehension and meaning including, though not limited to daily purposeful Read-Alouds.

All students need daily reading opportunities to make inferences, work with vocabulary, and read for comprehension. sense of texts as well. Too much emphasis on decoding can be detrimental to reading success as well. It is absolutely essential that all students always have access to opportunities to make meaning from text.

Use the high quality evidence-based resources that are available to you, including authentic texts from your school or classroom library. Assess often. Learn about your students, and meet them where they are at, and challenge them each day.

(And if you are looking for high-quality decodables (you should- and not all decodables are created equally) definitely check out the excellent FREE texts offered through Flyleaf Publishing for the 2021-2022 school year)

Beyond Decodables is also an excellent site with free and research-based texts that are connected to content, highly decodable, have high-frequency words, natural syntax and language, repeated words and word parts, and are familiar, meaningful and relevant!

They should not replace rich read alouds, shared & guided reading, or independent reading opportunities that early readers especially need to engage in each day.

How do you incorporate Decodables into your reading program?







One response to “What is the purpose of Decodable Texts?”

  1. This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record Avatar

    […] Decodable Texts and Other Reading Programs? What is the difference? […]


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