How to Use Decodable Texts

In this post I’m sharing an instructional routine for using decodable texts.  You’ll also get details about my decodable passages and my decodable books with comprehension questions. Finally, I’ll leave you with FREE decodable passages and books that are perfect for your kindergarten and first grade classroom! 

For many years, I used leveled readers to teach my beginning readers. When they encountered an unknown word I encouraged them to use picture clues, think about what makes sense, or just skip it altogether! (EEKK!!) I now know these are unreliable and bad habits to start. Students who rely on these strategies struggle dramatically when faced with words in isolation, texts with no pictures, or multisyllabic words.  So what should we use to teach our beginning readers? The answer is decodable texts.  

A decodable text is a story that is controlled based on the phonics skills you have taught your students up to that point in your scope and sequence. 

The science of reading tells us that children progress at a much faster rate in phonics when the majority of the time is spent applying skills to authentic reading.  Application is how the skills stick. 

Decodable texts give students practice applying the skills that you have taught to real reading experiences. This connection is essential for building a faster foundation in early reading. 

In my last blog post I answered the question “what is a decodable text?” and explained why you should them with your beginning readers.  Today I’m excited to continue this conversation and take it a bit deeper.  I’ll explain when you should use decodable texts and walk you through an instructional routine for using decodable texts.  I’ll also share details about my decodable passages and decodable books with comprehension questions that bring more effective reading instruction to your classroom! 

When should you use decodable texts? 

First, it is important to ensure students are developmentally ready for decodable texts.  Decodables should be used once children have had explicit instruction with all letters and sounds that are included in the particular text.  They should have a solid concept of words and be able to accurately point to both single-syllable and multisyllabic words in a text.  

Decodable texts are best used directly after a decoding lesson where they have received direct instruction on a specific phonics skill.  This gives them the opportunity to see what they are learning as a real application.  This application is so important to ensure the skills you teach STICK! 

Finally, keep in mind you do not need to use ONLY decodables.  Decodable texts are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to your literacy instruction.  You will also be instructing with read alouds and other texts that allow you to expose your students to more complex concepts, text structures, and language.  

Routines for Using Decodable Texts

We know that students progress in phonics at a much faster rate when the majority of their instructional time is spent applying the skills to authentic reading and writing experiences.  According to early literacy expert, Wiley Blevins, at least half of a phonics lesson should be devoted to application.  This is where you use decodable texts.

Practice with decodable texts should take about 20 minutes. Split this time into before reading activities (about 8 minutes), during reading (about 6 minutes), and after reading (about 6 minutes). 

Let’s take a closer look at what happens in each part… 

Before Reading Activities for Decodable Texts 

First, prepare your students for reading by explicitly telling them what they are going to learn.  Tell them the sound you are focusing on in the text.  Say the sound together.  Show them words that have that sound.  

Spend time modeling how to blend words. Research shows that the more time a teacher spends on blending, modeling blending, and providing blending practice the greater the student gains! Allow students the chance to practice as you read blending lines together.  

Next, introduce the high-frequency words they will encounter in the text.  These are words you may have taught your students using the heart word method.  While parts of these words are decodable, there is also a part that students need to“know by heart”. They are words that students will not be able to fully decode.  Let students know they will these words in the passage.  

Finally, preview the text and access their prior knowledge.  While decodable texts don’t have pictures for students to rely on, you can still have discussions based on the title and the topic. If the text incorporates any tier-2 vocabulary words, quickly tell students what these words mean. Ultimately, you want to build their prior knowledge and give them the vocabulary they need to discuss the text.  

During Reading Activities for Decodable Texts

Now it’s time to read!  Students will read the passage a number of times to build their fluency.  

First, read the passage together with your students.  If students make mistakes, stop them immediately and correct the mistakes you hear.  Point to the missed word, state it correctly, have them repeat it.  Then blend the word again, go back and reread the sentence correctly.  

Read the passage a second time and with a focus on comprehension.  Reinforce the idea that we read for meaning.  

Finally, have students whisper-read the story independently or to a partner while you listen in.  Monitor students for any decoding challenges.  

After Reading Activities for Decodable Texts

After reading is the time to talk about the text and work on comprehension.

Discuss text aloud to work on oral comprehension.  Try to weave in any new vocabulary words students may have encountered in the text.  A second option is to have students answer written comprehension questions.  This allows them to transfer their phonics skills to their writing.  Encourage students to go back into the text to find evidence for their answer.  

My Decodable Text Resources

Excited about the idea of using decodable passages with your students?  Wonderful!  Concerned you don’t have the materials you need to get started?  No worries, I’m here to help you with two SoR-aligned resources! My Decodable Passages and my Decodable Books with comprehension questions have all you need to give your students a strong foundation in early reading!  

Each resource contains 60 decodable texts (passages or full books)that align with a research-based, systematic phonics scope and sequence (included).   

Included with each passage and each book:

💗 explicit lesson plans with suggested pacing

💗 activities for before, during, and after reading

💗 blending lines to practice skills and frontload before reading

💗 written and oral comprehension response questions specific to the passage

💗 audio recording for those students who may need extra support

💗 write and retell story response questions

💗 printable passages give students the opportunity to re-read and build fluency

The decodable passages and books are phonics-based texts. They contain target phonics skill words, previously taught phonics skill words, and irregular high-frequency words.

To help you begin to use decodable texts in your classroom, I am happy to offer these FREE decodable passages and 5 FREE decodable books! You’ll get decodable texts, explicit l

Grab them here:

Are you looking for more decodable text resources? If so, you’ll want to take a look at this blog post where I share a list of high-quality decodable books for students of different levels and ages.

The science of reading research shows us that the connection between what our students learn in phonics and what they read is imperative for building a strong foundation in early reading.

I hope the information and resources I’ve shared on decodable texts have motivated you to try them out in your classroom. They are a powerful tool that provides your beginning readers with the strong foundation they need for life-long reading success!


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