Decodable texts

What are decodable texts?

Decodable texts are specifically written for beginning readers as they are developing their blending and segmenting skills and their knowledge of the alphabetic code. Decodable texts support students as they practise by using a continuous meaningful text.

Decodable texts contain a very large percentage of words that incorporate the letter-sound relationships that students have been taught. Decodable texts increase in complexity as the student learns more of the phonetic code.

Watch the following video for a brief explanation of the purpose of decodable texts.

The purpose of decodable texts

Decodable text should be seen by teachers as another resource that they have at their fingertips that they can choose for effective reading instruction for their students. They're another tool in our toolkit that we would use for a very specific learning purpose for a short period of time for effective reading instruction. We plan for guided reading sessions often with carefully considered small groups of students who have similar learning needs.

At that point in time, we determine their learning needs and make decisions about what next to place our focus on thinking about what will make the most impact on their learning and to respond to their emerging reading behaviours. Once our next lesson focus has been planned, we carefully select the right text that will support that lesson focus and the explicit teaching that will go with that. If that focus is on the strategy of blending through words and practicing taught letter sound relationships, then the ideal resource is a decodable reader, as they've been written for the specific purpose of supporting this learning.

Students who are learning letter sound relationships really need that opportunity to practice what they're being taught, whether it's in that guided reading situation or practicing their reading independently. Decodable readers have many opportunities to practice the targeted letter sounds, and good ones will even have the targeted letter sounds represented in a variety of different words in all positions within a word, a large percentage of the text will be able to be decoded independently by the student, as they will only have the letter sounds that have been taught included in the text and the decodables that are available these days often contain a simple or even sometimes more complex storyline.

So the decodable texts still lend themselves to providing opportunities to model comprehension and for students to have chances to practice things like reading to punctuation and rereading for meaning, and self-correcting and so on.

So students are building up those necessary flexible strategies. The Kinder readers will follow a sequence of letter sounds. These start with simple single letter sound relationships, and often follow well-known letter teaching sequences like the satpin, the S-A-T-P-I-N-M-D, et cetera, or the Carine order, A-M-S-T-I-F-D-R-O, et cetera, which are taught in clusters of letter sounds.

So the first readers in a series of decodable texts, no matter which sequence they use, will have a small amount of simple CV or CVC words, which are made up of those first few letters in the sequence, along with some high frequency sight words. The high frequency words are important.

They help the text to make sense and give students a chance to practice reading those words that they are also learning. So those first decodables in a series will be very simple because of the very few words able to be made by those first letters in those sequences, and will often sound a bit contrived. But due to the cumulative nature of learning letter sounds in an explicit and systematic way, the next books in the series will feature all of the letter sounds of the previous ones, plus the new ones that have been introduced to the students.

So by the time students are onto more complex combinations like our digraphs, then the texts are increasingly more complex and lexically dense. So more known letter sounds means you can make more words, even though you may notice numbered levels on sets or series of decodable texts. These are only devised by the publisher and in no way are they linked or married to any other levelling systems that you may be familiar with, such as reading recovery or PM levels.

Really, you were choosing the book for the opportunities it gives the student to practice the letter sounds that they are needing and not for its level. So we really need to be selecting on the basis of what those kids need to learn and to practice. So selecting for the content and where they are up to in learning those letter sound relationships.

Decodable readers can be used in many different ways within the classroom. That can be part of guided reading sessions with small groups of students with explicit instruction. They can be used for independent reading by students where they're getting many opportunities to practice and practice, and they can be used as take home readers. However, we do need to keep in mind that decodable readers are a short-term strategy for that very specific purpose of practicing letter sounds.

And once that is within a student's control, then we can be moving them on to reading a wide variety of different texts, and their focus can shift to other components of effective reading instruction.

Decodable texts in the classroom

This series of videos explains the role of decodable texts in developing reading skills and provides classroom examples.

You get good at what you practise

Decodable texts give students an opportunity to practise their developing skills - with Dr Deslea Konza

A look at decodable texts

Exploring the features of decodable texts.

Using decodable texts in the classroom

A teacher uses a decodable text with a small group of students for explicit reading instruction

Decodable text example

Example of a decodable text.

Video: You get good at what you practice

You get good at what you practice. We are teaching children the letters of how to blend them together. Decodable texts match that. So decodable texts are generally, are, are written using the letters, our knowledge that the children have been, have been taught. There will inevitably be sight words and perhaps a couple of content words, but the large percentage of that text is material that they should be able to read on their own.

That is what will help them practice. You're giving them opportunities to practice what you've been trying to teach them. Of course, they should be being read to that. The children should be hearing lots of other stories so that they're building their vocabulary at their well knowledge and more sophisticated language structures. Because literate language books are always, have more sophisticated language than oral language, of course, that that should be happening.

But for their own little bit of a, of practice, they should start with decodable text. That is clearly where the evidence goes. And it's logical, isn't it? You get good at what, what you practice.

Video: Using decodable texts in the classroom

Okay. Are you ready? I want you to look at the first page for me, and I want you to look at the first two words, and I want you to read it for me. Okay. A hat.

A hat.

Good. Let's look at the word hat for a second and let's look at the, the, the, um, graphemes in hat. Everyone put their fingers under hats. Good. How many phonemes are in hats? Let's say it. Oh, go for it. Tell me. Hats.

Excellent. Did, did you count three? Yeah. Three phonemes in hats. Let's say them together.

Look at the last, the last grapheme. Say T. So it says well done when we blend those phonemes together, we have the word hat. And that's what we're going to do today. We're going to be blending our phonemes names together. Let's look at the next page. Can you read the next page? Uh, cat in a hat.

Beautiful turnover. Let's see who else is in a hat? cat .What? Goodness me. Let's, let's go read the next page. Cat in a Beautiful And the next one. Mouth. Oh. Could you check? Is it the first grapheme?

Oh, it's not, is it? We better check. Let's, let's put our finger underneath and let's look at the grapheme. I want you to say the phonemes that go with them. Rat. Good. Blending. Well done. We blend them back together. Rat. There you go. A Rat In a hat. Turn the page. Okay.

Let's look at the first word. Get your mouth ready. Blend the phonemes together. Girl. Girl, try again. Blend them together from the beginning. Let's start with the M. E. G, well done. Let's do it together. Mm. Good. Meg, this is, this is her name.

That's Meg. Okay. Let's start from there. Meg. Meg in a hat. Excellent Ah, kid. Ooh. Did you blend it together? Show me how you did it. Good job. Kid. Kid. A kid in a hat. A man in a hat

Well done. We saw some words in there. And you did a great job of blending those together.

Video: A look at decodable texts

Let's have a look through some decodable texts from various publishers, and let's see if they have the features that we really want to see in a good decodable text. Remembering that a decodable text allows students to practice blending and segmenting through the learnt phoneme-grapheme that they have been practicing in class. We want students to recognise and verbalise high frequency sight words with growing independence on continuous text.

First, the majority of words must be decodable, providing that the phoneme-grapheme correspondences have been taught. I'm going to refer to the phoneme-grapheme correspondences as GPCs from now on. It's just easier. So we're going to look at a book called My Hat, which I've chosen for my reader who has recently learned the GPCs of AHTB, L, G, T, and P.

We can easily see that a very high proportion of this text is decodable with words like hat, fat, big and bag.

My reader has also been practicing the high frequency sight words, my, is, and the, and I'm pretty confident my reader is going to manage this book. There's nothing in here that they haven't been taught, and they'll get a chance to practice what I've been teaching explicitly and they'll show me what they can do independently.

Now, most publishers provide a sequence of these GPCs, and let's look at this sequence from Little Learners Love Literacy. It's just here on the back, it shows the phonemes and grapheme that have been taught and which ones are the target for this particular title. And Decodable Australia shows the included or the target phonemes on the back as well. For example, this one indicates c with the ck. When you are looking at decodable text critically, make sure that the target phoneme is represented in a variety of words, not just the same word repeated a couple of times.

An effective decodable text uses the target phoneme-grapheme numerous times in a variety of words with that target represented in different positions throughout the words. And when we look at the text, there are many opportunities to practice the ck with that grapheme in words like stick, stuck and rocks, if that's appropriate. This book by InitiaLit also follows a sequence which is shown on the back of the book.

Decodable text will also feature sight words from early on. They help the text make sense in this book, pip, is and the would be taught as sight words. Notice how the text, even though it's simple, it's written in complete sentences and it makes sense. It uses punctuation with a capital at the start and a full stop at the end. As my reader begins to learn more of these GPCs and more high frequency sight words, of course, the text will include more words and the sentence length will increase, and there'll be more words on the page as there are here in Ned.

My reader now has the opportunity to practice a return sweep. As more GPCs are taught, obvious, more interesting words can be created. For example, I like my room, but not when it is a mess. And here's another one at Sunset Pit packs up the cups, the rocks and the mud.

Mud picnics are fun. Let's tell mom.

We still have opportunities to learn about responding to other punctuations, such as speech marks, exclamation marks, and question marks. As we can see in this book from the series Dandelion Launches, there are also good little storylines to promote comprehension. This book 'Dad and his Hot dog' is a funny little story.

Please remember that these early readers, including decodable texts, do not proclaim to be fine literature. The purpose is explicit practice of what has been taught.

This text of dad and his hot dog is a personal favourite. It contains only 69 words, and it's about meeting dad at the hot dog van and dad getting mad because his hot dog was cold. So it reads, the man got my dad 10 hot dogs. Yes, 10. So this could provide the stimulus for discussion following after the text, is it fair that dad got cranky at the hot dog man? Why or why not? What could dad do with 10 hot dogs now.

There are also non-fiction decodable texts. These are from Oxford Reading Tree.You can also find free decodable texts online. One place is Speld.

So remember, be discerning, be clear about your target, and choose a text that provides opportunities to engage in learning that meets the very simple criteria of that a very high proportion of the text is decodable at least 80%.

There is opportunity to practice the high frequency site words that have been introduced

That the position of the target GPC is in a variety of positions in a word.

And the target GPC is represented in a variety of words.

Decodable text gives students a great opportunity to demonstrate their ability to blend and segment through words on continuous text.

They can show you their growing mastery of responding to punctuation and concepts about print.

Video: Decodable texts example

It was Plant a Tree Day at school. Mr. Beam was teaching the children about seeds. See this teeny little seed here? It contains a teeny little tree. You can have one each. Plant them deep, keep them wet, and then, and then what? Mr. Beam said, Pip, just wait and see. Pip and Molly planted the seeds in a pea green pot.

Do you really think we can grow a tree? Maybe.

But for one very long week, the pots just sat there. There was no tree to be seen. This is silly. Keep them wet and wait. Then one happy day. In the second week, pip saw a teeny green stem peeping out of the pot, and Molly saw a soft green leaf. You have a tree, said Mr Beam.

"Yippee!" said Pip and Molly. But the next day, the teeny green stem and the soft green leaf had vanished. Molly was very sad. Oh dear. She said, and a little tear fell down her cheek. Hmm said Mr. Beam, it looks like snails. To me. A soft green leaf is a yummy treat for snails. They have teeny little teeth that go munch, munch, munch. And if we look and eek, Molly was screaming, Mr. Beam, look three fat snails were sneaking along Mr. Beam's feet.

No need to scream, said Mr. Beam, we will let these greedy snails go free. There is plenty to eat in the street, but can someone please tell me how did they get in?


Teachers talk about how they use decodable texts in their classrooms to practice the strategies students are being taught in this podcast (listen on SoundCloud).

Professional learning

Related topics



  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
Return to top of page Back to top