How Can Decodable Readers Help Struggling Students FINAL

Motivate Readers to Find Meaning While Decoding


Readers at every level can benefit from decodable readers. Why do they work so effectively? We break it down for you here and answer some of your most-asked questions about decodables.

What Is a Decodable Reader?

Decodable readers engage students by presenting captivating topics and illustrations within texts that are appropriate for each student’s reading skills. Because students can understand them and find them interesting, decodable readers help bridge learning from decoding to fluency and comprehension.

How Can Decodable Readers Help Struggling Students?

As an acquired skill, reading doesn’t come naturally to humans as some other abilities do but must be learned. While some students require more support than others to build reading skills, children at all reading levels derive great benefits from learning phonics, the study of how letters represent sounds and combine to make words. Decodable readers and books are a simple, effective way to achieve successful phonics instruction and support readers at all levels, including struggling readers. Students who struggle with reading especially need to have time dedicated to developing their phonics skills.

What Makes a Book Decodable?

A word is decodable by a reader only when it contains phonic elements that reader has already learned. For example, a child who knows all the consonants but only the short vowel e can read (decode) words like pen, net, and yes. A decodable book is one whose contents are made up only of words that can be decoded by its reader.

Do Decodable Books Use Sight Words?

Decodable books frequently introduce sight words, which are some the most-used words in the English language. Some sight words are phonically irregular and must be memorized; others will become decodable once the student has learned more phonic elements. As they read decodable books, students continually learn new sight words and phonic elements while becoming more masterful decoders.

How Can Decodables Build Automaticity?

When they’re reading texts composed of phonic elements they’re familiar with, students are gaining automaticity (their brain’s ability to identify letters, sounds, and words with instant accuracy). Strengthening automaticity enables readers to devote their finite cognitive energies and working memory to complex, meaningful work like comprehension and integration, rather than spending it on word recognition and text processing. Automaticity applies first to sight words, then to decodable words, and eventually to most words students encounter, ultimately creating fluent readers who can achieve greater levels of comprehension. The capacity for effortless reading is a crucial marker on the pathway to reading success.

How Do Decodable Books Help Kids Read for Meaning?

Students often encounter opportunities to decode words in isolation, but decodable books provide rich context with connected text where students can practice their newly acquired reading skills. The student wants to know what happens next, so decoding becomes an exciting part of the unfolding tale. The process of decoding within an interesting story works as a powerful motivator to read for meaning: the ultimate purpose of reading and one of the main goals of reading instruction.

Do Decodable Books Help Educators Meet Standards?

Yes, decodable texts can be considered the first step on the “staircase of text complexity” that’s often addressed in both state and national standards. Designed to be used as a tool to precede and facilitate the reading of more challenging passages, these texts don’t replace other kinds of books but rather act as a foundation. Students who start out using decodable books can then begin to climb the staircase.

What Are the Benefits of Using Decodable Readers?

Because each student reads at their own level, decodable books act as an ideal addition to the classroom: any student benefits from reading them. On-level students get the chance to apply the phonics skills they’ve learned by reading a story or nonfiction decodable text at their own reading level. Struggling readers don’t feel left behind because the decodable texts enable them to read independently, even after learning only a few letters and their sounds. Emergent students, struggling readers, and nonreaders can benefit enormously from decodable connected text paired with reading instruction.

Decodables also give each reader a sense of achievement and success. For all students, experiencing success builds confidence in their reading abilities as they gain the skills to decode unfamiliar words—improving accuracy, discouraging bad habits like skipping unknown words or guessing words based on initial letters, increasing the enjoyment of reading, building confidence, and strengthening neuronal connections.

Decodable readers also demonstrate and inculcate the organization and basic features of print, text, spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes). Over time, struggling readers understand and apply grade-level phonics and word-analysis skills when decoding words, ultimately reading with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

Where Can I Find Proven Decodable Resources for Struggling Readers?

Start with some of our best-selling decodable readers, like S.P.I.R.E. Illustrated Decodable Readers, Primary Phonics Readers, and the Alphabet Series. When you’re selecting decodable books for a student, all you need to do is ensure that the skills addressed align with those the child has already learned.

Teachers know instruction isn’t one-size-fits-all. That’s why EPS delivers customizable programs that you can tailor to on-level readers to meet their goals, while struggling students are able to keep up with the pace of the class. Our extensive library of decodable readers covers inspiring topics in science, articles on social studies, and literature in a variety of genres from biographies to poetry to Greek myths.

Leading the field of reading and intervention for more than 60 years, School Specialty offers curriculum that supports students across the full spectrum of reading abilities. Visit our ELA page to find instructional programs and resources your students are sure to love and check out our Insights page for more expert articles and tips!

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Decodable readers from a classroom favorite phonic program that has been promoting fluency in beginning readers for over 30 years.
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Intensive, multisensory intervention for nonreaders, struggling readers, and students with dyslexia.
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