How Decodable Do Decodable Texts Need to Be?: What We Teach When We Teach Phonics

  • 19 October, 2019

Teacher question:

I know phonics should be taught explicitly and we have looked through several sources to determine the patterns to teach in first grade. I have been pouring through leveled texts and have found a high concentration of blends, digraphs, long vowel/silent 'e', and predictable vowel teams in text as low as levels 4 and 6. We are not teaching these patterns until well into the year, but expect our incoming first graders to read Level 3/4. 

We are usually about 10 weeks into the year before even starting blends. At that point the text level expectation is around an 8. So, we keep flagging kids for more phonics intervention based on a text level riddled with phonetic patterns we have not even come close to addressing. I am personally having issues with us teaching phonics patterns so far behind our text level expectation and then providing interventions for students without first providing instruction.

Our building data suggest that most of our first-graders are well beyond phonemic awareness and CVC patterns when they start first-grade. Is it really a good idea to spend our first 10 weeks of the year addressing these skills with the whole class? I have nothing against review, but 10 weeks out of 38 seems like a lot of time.

Shanahan responds:

There are really two questions here… one about how much review is appropriate and the other is about how well texts need match the decoding skills being taught.

I’ll answer the easy one first, and the interesting one next.

If kids can demonstrate that they have a good grasp of a skill, occasional brief reviews would make good sense—but not 50 days!

Carol Connors research is most apt here (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004). Basically, she and her colleagues found that if kids are lacking phonics skills and you explicitly teach them phonics skills, they do better. But if they are already relatively strong in phonics—as your boys and girls evidently are from your testing data—then they can make great progress (even in decoding), by being engaged in other more independent and meaning-oriented/reading-oriented activities.

That suggests to me that you have two legitimate options—depending on local teacher knowledge and management skills.

One reasonable choice would be the one I think your letter implies… there is no good reason to hold these kids back with regard to the explicit phonics instruction. Divide the groups in two and teach PA and CVCs to the lower level decoders and get on with blends and digraphs and complex vowel patterns with the more advanced decoders. Very reasonable approach and one very much in line with research on early readers (NELP, 2008).

A second possibility would be to stay with the current phonics instruction regime, but simply exempt the kids who have already developed the skills that are being taught. The ed exempt kids would do more comprehension, fluency, and writing work—while their classmates are  still working out those earlier developing phonics skills. (One of the cool things Connor and company found was that the kids with the relatively stronger phonics ability continued to make gains in their decoding ability). When the low decoders catch up, you can reunite the whole class for the next tier of phonics instruction.

What you don’t want to do is what you are doing now—wasting 10 weeks of instructional time that could be better spent for significant numbers of kids.

The second part of your question is, to me, the more interesting of the two. Should we allow/require kids to read texts that have spelling patterns that we haven’t yet explicitly taught?

It seems so logical that we would teach a particular sequence of phonics skills and that students would then simply apply these to the words with the spelling patterns that matched the skills already taught. And, it would make great sense to do this if decoding were that simple and that actual reading was just an application of “sounding out” abilities.

What is really going on in early reading is much more complex and wonderful than that.

Fortunately, the decoding system that readers must gain control of is much more complex and dynamic than even good phonics instruction may suggest. We don’t teach decoding as much as we provide useful cues to students that help them to figure out this aspect of reading.

That’s why no particular phonics sequence has proven to be superior to any other (NICHD, 2000). One might expect important learning differences due to the order in which the phonic elements and spelling patterns are taught or to the specific correspondences or patterns that are included in this instruction. But that isn’t the case.

That’s why kids with more advanced first-grade decoding abilities increase their decoding competency faster when working with text than from explicit phonics instruction (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004) and why the spelling patterns in the texts children read can have a bigger impact on their phonics development than the explicit teaching sequence (Guthrie & Seifert, 1977), and why word repetition in these early texts can be more potent (Mesmer, Cunningham, & Hiebert, 2012).

That’s why studies have found no particular learning benefit from limiting young children’s reading to decodable texts alone (Jenkins, Peyton, Sanders, & Vadasy, 2004), why constraining texts to match immediate pedagogical goals may have long-term, negative, unintended consequences for students’ word reading abilities (Venezky & Johnson, 1973), and why research supports developing a “mental set for diversity” rather than a “mental set for consistency” in young readers (Gibson & Levin, 1975).

That’s why descriptions of children’s actual decoding development are so much more complex than a typical phonics curriculum (Ehri, 2014).  
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here.

  1. Explicit phonics instruction is important. Research is overwhelmingly clear that such teaching increases the chances that kids will develop these complex word reading abilities. I certainly wouldn’t delay such instruction until the skills being taught would match well with the available texts.
  2. We want beginning reading texts to be reasonably simple for kids to read—and amounts of repetition along with relatively easy decodability are valuable keys to ensuring such simplicity (much better than those schemes that encourage kids to guess at words or to rely on the pictures to figure out the words or that are so highly predictable that looking at the words isn’t required).
  3. But as reasonable as it is to provide kids with some reading practice with texts that employ the specific phonic skills being taught, these decoding instruction/text reading connections can be a bit looser than that… having kids reading both decodable texts and controlled vocabulary readers, for instance.

Obviously, the situation you describe cannot be adequately analyzed at this far remove. It is certainly possible that the decoding demands of the texts could be too demanding given these students’ decoding abilities… or it could be, that though those texts use some spelling patterns the kids haven’t yet had the opportunity to study, they still may provide a sufficient amount of support (through tools like frequent repetition of some of these harder words) that would provide a perfectly adequate learning context.

My advice: watch how well the kids do with the texts rather than trying to achieve a particular level of decodability. If the kids are struggling with those early texts, consider finding something a bit more decodable for those initial readings or experiment with accelerating the introduction of new phonic elements a bit. Perhaps a more rapidly paced curriculum would do the trick.

I’m not worried that kids who have only been taught the CVC pattern will confront CVCe words in their texts.

But am concerned if they are struggling to read those texts with a reasonable degree of fluency. It would certainly be possible to find more decodable texts, but it would also be possible to use texts that do a better job of limiting the proportions of new words that are introduced and that increase the amount of word repetition (

We teach phonics… and kids learn to decode. Those aren’t exactly the same thing. Like with all complex learning there is usually not a simple one-to-one relationship between what we teach and what the learner has to actually do to implement or imply that knowledge. Phonics instruction reveals to kids that there is a system and that they need to pay attention to it. Such instruction cues them in on what some particularly useful patterns may be (good morphology instruction does the same thing). The sole use of texts that match the decodabilty skills already taught tend to be too much of a good thing. They give kids what is probably useful practice with the skills learned, but they likely discourage young readers from noticing other patterns.

That’s why it is so important that we not overly constrain the decodabilty of the texts that young children read, and why I recommend using a combination of both highly decodable texts and controlled vocabulary readers. We want kids actively looking to see spelling patterns, including ones that have not been taught.


Connor, C.M., Morrison, F. J., & Katch, L. (2004). Beyond the reading wars: Exploring the effect of child-instruction interactions on growth in early reading. Scientific Studies in Reading, 8(4), 305-336.

Ehri, L.C. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 6-21.

Guthrie, J.T., & Seifert, M. (1977). Letter-sound complexity in learning to identify words. Journal of Educational Psychology, 69(6), 686-696.

Jenkins, J. R., Peyton, J. A., Sanders, E. A., & Vadasy, P. F. (2004). Effects of reading decodable texts in supplemental first-grade tutoring. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8(1), 53-85.

Mesmer, H. A., Cunningham, J. W., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). Toward a theoretical model of text complexity for the early grades: Learning from the past, anticipating the future. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(3), 235-258.

Venezky, R. L., & Johnson, D. (1973). Development of two letter-sound patterns in grades one and three. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64(1), 109-115.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Nancy Oct 19, 2019 08:19 PM

Our administration believes that student results on the phonics and phonemic awareness subtests of the DORA (Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment) should be analyzed by the primary grade teachers and used as a baseline for our instruction and interventions in these areas. What do you think? (I won’t put in writing what I think!)

Timothy E Shanahan Oct 28, 2019 11:04 PM


I don’t know that specific assessment, but evaluating kids’ knowledge and abilities as the basis of teaching makes great sense. Obviously there are good ways and bad ways to pursue that idea, but avoiding spending a lot of time teaching kids things they have already learned or skipping stuff that should have already been learned are not bad ideas.


Julie Oct 20, 2019 03:07 PM

I appreciate your suggestion that we incorporate both decodable text and controlled vocabulary reading material with our beginning readers. I inhabit the learning disabilities/dyslexia world where the so-called sage advice is to limit our students to reading decodable text. I have tried this approach and found, for the child who presents a "dyslexic pattern," getting through a page of "decodable" text, can be grueling. When these youngsters have to expend so much attention and energy to decode minimal differences in orthography, they are frankly tapped out and have little in the way of mental resources to attend to equally important aspects of the reading experience. Our dyslexic children usually do have more difficulty with phonological tasks and they need a more support to map the phonology to the orthography to get them to the place of "instant" word recognition to enable them to engage in fluent reading with comprehension. I know extensive reading, in addition to explicit instruction, is key. Thus, I prefer to provide extensive word work, a little bit of decodable text practice, and plenty of reading from controlled reading material to allow them the authentic reading experiences they need to grow into more mature readers. However, much of the "dyslexia" world is still promoting almost exclusive use of decodable text for our struggling readers at the early stages. Anyone have thoughts or comments to add?

Nan Oct 20, 2019 03:11 PM

Thank you for sharing What an amazing resource! It's my new "Go To" for reading resources, and I could spend hours of hours here.

Harriett Oct 20, 2019 08:30 PM

Julie says: I prefer to provide extensive word work, a little bit of decodable text practice, and plenty of reading from controlled reading material to allow them the authentic reading experiences they need to grow into more mature readers.

I am currently working in small groups with 48 struggling first and second graders, several of whom are dyslexic. My formula is the reverse: a little bit of controlled reading material and plenty of decodable text practice. The range of decodables I use are excellent at representing phonics patterns for repeated practice while providing extensive exposure to a "normal" range of words to make the reading experience "authentic". Julie mentions the "dyslexia world". I have been to several conferences and will be attending the IDA conference in Portland. This "world" is worth listening to.

Tim, just as you have been doing us a great service by emphasizing the importance of on-level whole class instruction, you are also doing a great service by situating decodable text within the larger context of reading materials. Thanks!

Tim Shanahan Oct 20, 2019 09:23 PM

What a great insight about the fine distinctions required by decodable text...


C. Oct 21, 2019 12:59 AM

Sorry for the length of these posts, but this is why I am sometimes worried that kids who’ve only been taught CVC confront CVCe

After seeing the enticement, “Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!” at the bottom of the page, I felt emboldened to respond with some of my thoughts and wonderings based on this post, specifically in relation to requiring students to read texts with spelling patterns we have not explicitly taught. I am a very new teacher (3rd year). With, unfortunately, extremely limited academic knowledge and training in education. I teach special education middle school students.

This post felt relevant to a recent conversation I had in which I was opposed to using passages from a grade seven curriculum text to practice fluency with students--many of whom are on a first grade reading level. I give students access to grade level texts auditorily to practice comprehension skills and work on decoding and fluency with texts closer to their instructional level. Some disagree with this practice and the question came up, “How decodable should texts be?”

My main objection to using the proposed fluency passages in the scenario described above was the level of difficulty of the passages comparable to students’ current abilities (not that the passages weren’t decodable texts). I felt it wouldn’t be purposeful struggle. However, because the conversation turned to decodability and was relevant to this post, that is where I’ve turned my attention.

You mention in your post that studies have not found a benefit to limiting young children’s reading to decodable texts alone. Two parts of that statement stand out to me--”young” and “alone.” I teach middle schoolers, so maybe that statement is directed more to early grade reading teachers, and I don’t want to present myself as arguing for limiting students to only decodable texts. My students read texts that are leveled in terms of difficulty but not strictly designed to be decodable. I do want to just summarize my beliefs as to the importance of decodable texts for students and to the importance of the careful selection of non-decodable texts with unfamiliar spelling patterns. I think this is especially relevant when working with students with disabilities impacting reading and/or students that have a history of academic failures.

C. Oct 21, 2019 12:59 AM

I know that studies have found no significant difference in outcomes for students using decodable vs. nondecodable texts, (Jenkins, Peyton, Sanders, and Vadasy 2004), and some interventions have shown to be successful when texts are leveled according to guided reading difficulty or other measures as opposed to decodability (Mathes et al. 2005) (Denton et al. 2010) (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). I would agree that there is no benefit in limiting students to decodable texts alone. I have limited knowledge of early grade reading instruction, but I imagine exposing students to the greatest variety of texts and words at an early age is beneficial. I do think that decodable texts are essential for reading instruction for students with disabilities, or, I would imagine, any secondary students with serious word reading difficulties.

I have noticed, and see research to support, that students often develop what I call “survival” skills to mask their weak word reading abilities. Often they will guess, based on first letter sounds, or use pictures and context to try to appear to have higher word-level reading abilities (Denton & Otaiba, 2011) (Gough & Walsh 1991). While I do think using context to correctly guess a word is not necessarily a bad skill for reading more complex texts, it doesn’t seem to sit at the crux of what reading proficiency is really about and an overreliance on guessing can interfere with the use of the actual decoding skills they have or are developing.

This is, of course, where their phonics interventions come in and where I see the benefit of using explicit, purposeful, and systematic phonics instruction that is designed to be sequenced with increasingly appropriate levels of difficulty. I know from classroom experience and research I have read that students with severe reading deficits need more time applying and practicing specific phonics skills (Denton & Otaiba, 2011). This seems especially true with students like mine who have co-occuring disabilities that often affect working and long-term memory. For this reason, I tend to be very careful about what texts I put in front of students (to clarify, I mean for independent reading--all my students have access to grade level texts but they may listen to an audiobook and read along).

C. Oct 21, 2019 01:00 AM

I know that students with severe word reading deficits need additional opportunities to practice new words before they are able to develop automaticity (Denton & Otaiba, 2011). To me, this indicates that decodable texts are necessary in early decoding development for students with disabilities that impact reading (and probably all students who don’t easily generalize phonics rules?). As students develop more word automaticity moving away from decodable texts would seem to be an appropriate next step. But without enough practice in the early stages, I would worry that students are not receiving adequate contextual opportunities for recognizing new words. I would imagine this could damage the development of their automaticity and fluency. Obviously, this doesn’t mean students are only using decodable readers, but rather that they would be useful and in some cases essential in the formation of word recognition in early decoding development.

You state “I’m not worried that kids who have only been taught the CVC pattern will confront CVCe words in their texts.” And while I don’t imagine encountering a word they have not learned to decode would shatter students’ abilities to become competent readers, there are some troubles I see arise when students encounter, for example, a CVCe word when they have only been taught the CVC pattern.

When I work on phonics instruction with students, they, of course, learn sight words as well as decoding strategies. The issue that arises when some students encounter an unknown word (for example, a CVCe word) is that they may try to apply the decoding skills we have worked on to figure out the unknown word. After all, these are the strategies I spend a good portion of our school day telling them to use! However, when the word is not decodable to them, this causes confusion and undermines the message that our language has a code that can be cracked, even by students that have in the past experienced little success with reading instruction.

While not the case all the time, nor for all students, some students feel confused and frustrated when they, for example, encounter a CVCe word or another word that breaks the rules they have systematically been taught so far. I think this plays into the importance of explicit instruction for many students. This is in large part why it may worry me in some cases that kids who have only been taught the CVC pattern will confront CVCe words in their texts. Confronting more advanced skills before reaching a certain level of proficiency and automaticity in prerequisite skills can cause some students to experience greater difficulty in improving their reading abilities (Denton & Otaiba, 2011). If I teach students a vowel sound, for example short “a”, and then they are exposed to a number of long “a” words, this does not reinforce their learning and may also confuse them. When we sit back down to review phonics the next day, I may start to hear long “a” sounds sneaking into short “a” words they decoded only a day ago and we have to go back over short “a” patterns.

You mention that “We want kids actively looking to see spelling patterns, including ones that have not been taught.” This makes sense to me as being aware of these patterns probably makes it easier to learn them later on. But, again, I approach the idea with caution when I think about my students--middle schoolers who have, in many cases, experienced a sense of failure in school in the past. When an eighth grade student on a kindergarten reading level tells you he will never be able to read, you want to ensure he can begin to achieve success in his reading growth before introducing challenges that may reinforce his feeling of hopelessness.

This is why I am such a proponent of systematic phonics programs or approaches. By teaching skills in a predetermined order and using decodable texts to give contextualized practice, students get the chance to generalize their previously taught phonics skills without the added difficulty of approaching words they can’t yet decode. These texts rarely require students attack “tasks when they lack the necessary subskills.” (Denton & Otaiba, 2011).

C. Oct 21, 2019 01:00 AM

I often still give students opportunities to see CVCe words in context through other types of leveled texts (and again through exposure to grade level material), but I am careful and purposeful about how, when, and why. And I usually offer the explanation, “this is a vowel sound we haven’t learned yet” or something along those lines to abate confusion.

I know you are advocating simply that teachers not use decodable texts alone and not that they be abandoned altogether. As you say, “[t]hey give kids what is probably useful practice with the skills learned, but they likely discourage young readers from noticing other patterns.” I realize also that in this post the question is specifically about young readers and I realize an often cited problem with decodable texts is that they deprive students of vocabulary and knowledge rich reading experiences. For my students, I try to address this concern by using audiobooks to provide exposure to knowledge and vocabulary rich grade level texts while removing the decoding barrier.

When I select independent reading texts for students, outside of curriculum and intervention readers, I consider decodability and text difficulty. I know that many students have had frustrating school experiences where they’ve been asked to read texts too difficult for them (Denton & Otaiba, 2011). For this reason, if I provide students with fluency passages or nondecodable texts to read, I ensure they are closer to students’ instructional reading level and that the percentage of nondecodable words is not too high. I want them to practice generalizing their skills in nondecodable texts, but I also know that this needs to be purposeful and strategic.

For many students, at the early stages of reading, I think it is important that they have some positive experiences and begin to develop the resilience they need to continue to learn. I do think decodable texts are scaffolds and it would be a disservice to limit student exposure to nondecodable texts. I just reiterate that in my classroom, and I imagine other classrooms too, the removal of these scaffolds must be purposeful and well-timed.

I want my kids “actively looking to see spelling patterns, including ones that have not been taught.” But I do not want students returning to ineffective habits (guessing or giving up). I want to balance strategically challenging students with giving them opportunities to experience word-familiarity in their texts. The goal is that, ultimately, they learn to read, but they also learn to associate reading with their own academic hard-work and eventual success.


Denton C.A., Nimon K., Mathes P.G., Swanson E.A., Kethley C., Kurz T., & Shih M. (2010). The effectiveness of a supplemental early reading intervention scaled up in multiple schools. Exceptional Children. 76, 394–416.

Denton, C.A., & Otaiba, S. (2011). Teaching word identification to students with reading difficulties and disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 43, 1-16.
Fountas I.C., & Pinnell G.S. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gough P. & Walsh S.. (1991). Chinese, Phoenicians, and the orthographic cipher of English. In: Brady S & Shankweiler D, (Eds.) Phonological processes in literacy: A tribute to Isabelle Y. Liberman. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Jenkins J.R., Peyton J.A., Sanders E.A., & Vadasy P.F. (2004). Effects of reading decodable texts in supplemental first-grade tutoring. Scientific Studies of Reading. 8(1), 53–85.

Mathes, P.G., Denton C.A., Fletcher J.M., Anthony J.L., Francis D.J., & Schatschneider C. (2005). The effects of theoretically different instruction and student characteristics on the skills of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly. 40, 148–182.

Lauren Thompson Oct 21, 2019 02:00 AM

C., thank you for your careful thinking about the use of controlled decodable books for struggling readers. You write, "I want my kids 'actively looking to see spelling patterns, including ones that have not been taught.' But I do not want students returning to ineffective habits (guessing or giving up). I want to balance strategically challenging students with giving them opportunities to experience word-familiarity in their texts. The goal is that, ultimately, they learn to read, but they also learn to associate reading with their own academic hard-work and eventual success." Finding that balance for each student is key. This is simpler for me, as a dyslexia tutor, as I work with students one-to-one, or in small groups. I can keep careful tabs on how kids approach words with spelling patterns they have and haven't been taught. If students encounter the word "make" and say "mackee," or "mackeh," I will tell them that the e makes this a different syllable type than the closed syllables we've been working on, and that the e means that this word is read "make." If they encounter "make" a few more times, or encounter rime-family words such as "take" and "bake," and read the words with a short vowel sound, then I know that they are not ready to handle this new rime type. In that case, I will give them the correct pronunciation, so that reading and text flow isn't interrupted, and their cognitive/working memory load limits aren't taxed beyond function. But if they show signs of self-teaching by correcting themselves to say the words correctly, then I know that they are ready for more varied texts.

Teachers need to be prepared to determine the decoding/encoding/morphology skill profiles of their students. Some kids just need to be shown that there is a code, and that there is an effective alternative to guessing. These students may a rough start, but once they get going, they can self-teach with less assistance from a teacher. Other kids struggle very hard to read cvc words fluently. It's not helpful to give them texts with numerous words of more complex syllable types -- unless the teacher will read the difficult words for them. The cognitive load is too much otherwise. And it is counter-productive to give them Guided Reading-type pattern books, which only encourage guessing and other ineffective, non-text-centered strategies.

The main issue to me seems to be the difficulty of differentiating effectively in a classroom with a broad array of skill levels. Kids need to be regrouped frequently in order to move on to more complex spelling and morpheme patterns when they are ready -- not too soon, and not long after. To me, this is an argument for smaller class sizes, and more teachers in the room to effectively work with differentiated groups -- and teachers more knowledgeable about how English orthography works.

Tim Shanahan Oct 21, 2019 02:34 AM

C. — lots of interesting conjectures here, but none of them actually hold up when you try them out with kids and measure the results. I’ll always accept data over opinion in these matters. Your notion that ensuring that kids only see known patterns will lead them to look for patterns is the opposite of how it works... kids look for patterns to try to resolve complexity. Decodables create a situation in which kids would be foolish to look for patterns.

Also, you are cherry picking studies an attributing outcomes to them that the original researchers would not...and you are generalizing across levels of reading (beginning readers and middle schoolers)...



Sharon Oct 22, 2019 01:54 AM

And let’s not forget the wonderful children’s literature that can be used beyond the phonics lesson, throughout the day. I do teach explicit phonics; and we also explore Caldecott Medal winners and books just coming out in 2019 by our favorite authors. Some students revel in learning words they see in authentic text, such as emergency, crocodile, ambulance, astronomy, vehicle, dinosaur, parachute, astronaut, torpedo, elephant, ballerina, porcupine, snorkel, Jupiter, gymnastics, and planetarium, before necessarily mastering the phonics rules involved. They LOVE big words, especially ones that have to do with topics that fascinate them, and especially when they can use them in telling their own stories in writing. I have used Rosalie Fink’s research, starting with her 1995/1996 “Successful Dyslexics: A Constructivist Study of Passionate Interest Reading” (Journal of Adolescent Literacy, 39(4), 268-280) and her follow-up studies (along with many other professional resources, of course) to guide my teaching. My data analysis is consistent with Fink’s.
Yes, in my class we apply phonics principles we have learned to quite phonetically-regular names such as Piglet, Roo, Kanga, Tigger, Owl, and Winnie. And then we follow those characters on some wonderful adventures around Pooh Corner and into the Hundred Acre Wood!
I follow your advice to “watch how well the kids do with the texts rather than trying to achieve a particular level of decodability”) and my students have taught me that all kinds of texts—decodable, predictable, diverse, award-winning, illustrated, and culturally relevant-- can peacefully co-exist and work together in my classroom. No format or type is dangerous to the young minds of my emerging readers; none is excluded or censored or banned. There are no battles; there are no reading wars in my classroom. We embrace all. And we are happy and successful readers.

Sharon Oct 22, 2019 02:25 AM

Dear Tim, I sent a post a little while ago that I would like to take back to revise. I realized I consolidated some things from my past classrooms with what I do now in different settings, and I would like to clarify that. I don't want to mislead anyone. Thank you for helping me out.

Harriett Oct 22, 2019 02:27 PM

In the Ehri article you cite she refers to the importance of having students pronounce new words to help retain them in memory, which was part of a study with fifth graders. Likewise, in Equipped for Reading Success, David Kilpatrick has a chapter recommending orthographic mapping activities for beginning readers, and one of these is to introduce words orally first. He says:

Page 56: Rather than introduce a word in print first, present it orally. Then, you direct attention to the various sound properties of the oral word (e.g., how many syllables, beginning, middle and ending sounds, etc.). When introducing a new word, whether in a story, a spelling list, or as a vocabulary item, have children concentrate on the oral properties of the word before showing it to them in print. Then when they see the printed form of the word, they are in a much better position to map the oral phonemes of the word onto the written letters used to represent that word.

Harriett Oct 22, 2019 11:46 PM

And then there's this from the ILA conference with reference to beginning reading:

"There is also evidence that suggests other factors in the text that are important: The diversity of genres represented, natural language, and the degree the text is engaging the kids, (Nell) Duke continued. In her opinion, the most promising work in the area is what is currently referred to as multiple criteria texts, which focus on decodability but do not stop there. She recommends educators learn more at"

Kerry Dec 08, 2019 02:48 PM

I really enjoyed this article. Can you clarify for me what you mean by controlled vocabulary readers? Thank you!

PersonLShirts Jan 07, 2020 02:22 AM

hey yall

phonics are cool

Sam Bommarito Aug 31, 2023 08:26 PM

About this item from the bibliography: Jenkins, J. R., Peyton, J. A., Sanders, E. A., & Vadasy, P. F. (2004). Effects of reading decodable texts in supplemental first-grade tutoring. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8(1), 53-85. I know this is now an older post (I'm writing this comment in 2023!). Are there newer studie's about decodables? I ask because decodables today are much improved over decodables circa 2004. BTW I see decodables as one important tool, but not the one and only kind of text to use. I think that tracks with remarks you've made about folks who call for using them for years and who "make stuff up" in order to justify that position.

Timothy Shanahan Aug 31, 2023 08:51 PM

No, the role of decodables has not been studied much and certainly no studies as good as this. While I think it is quite reasonable for kids to get concentrated practice with the phonics they are being taught, it would really be helpful if someone would conduct studies showing that having this supplement to explicit phonics instruction is beneficial.


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How Decodable Do Decodable Texts Need to Be?: What We Teach When We Teach Phonics


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