Effective techniques for teaching with decodable text
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Effective Techniques for Teaching with Decodable Text

Jennifer Wick, Ph.D.

Thea Woodruff, Ph.D.


* Define decodable text
* Review research regarding decodable text
* Discuss using decodable text within the reading components
* Investigate specific strategies for using decodable texts
* Relate decodable text to other text types and structures

Features of Decodable Text

* A proportion of words with regular phonics relationships between letters and sounds
o Regular patterns recur in many different words
o Most regular patterns have one-to-one or predictable two-to-one letter/sound correspondences
o Specific universal word parts may be repeated often (rimes, bigrams, specific patterns)
* A proportion of words that match the relationships represented in text with those mastered by the reader (lesson-to-text match, instructional consistency, wholly decodable, text related)

Scaffolding with Decodable Text

* Decodable texts reinforce lesson-to-text matches from phonics elements to connected text reading
* Decodable texts provide a context for readers to implement letter/sound strategies
o Readers are encouraged to focus conscious attention on letter to sound applications
o Readers can apply phonics instructional elements to decodable text

Research on Decodable Text

* Students’ accuracy & word recognition skills positively, significantly correlated with reading more highly decodable texts (Hoffman et al., 2000)
* Readers’ performances on decoding & comprehension measures were superior when receiving direct phonics instruction with decodable texts (Foorman et al., 1998)
* Students involved in scripted phonics lessons supplemented with decodable books performed better in reading pseudo-words (Juel & Roper-Schneider, 1985)
* Students given explicit instruction in phonics & phonological awareness with decodable texts outperformed a less explicit phonics group that did not use decodable texts (Torgeson et al., 1999)

Research on Decodable Text (cont’d)

* 1st grade students received tutoring in a phonics program supported with high and low levels of decodable text practice
o These students outperformed control students
o There were no significant differences between high and low levels of decodable text used

(Jenkins et al., 2004)

Research on Decodable Text (cont’d)

* The majority of words in 6 first-grade basal programs appeared only once in each 6-week instructional block (Foorman et al., 2004)
* Texts from 3 basal programs (mainstream basal, combined phonics and literature, and phonics emphasis) were examined based on cognitive load, linguistic content, & shared vocabulary (Hiebert et al., 2005)
* Three randomly selected passages from 60 high-interest, low-level books were analyzed according to number of high frequency words, decodable words, sentences, and text coherence (Spadorcia, 2005)

Research Applications

5-step analysis to match decodable texts to phonics & reading instruction

o Inspect the phonics elements featured in a specific storybook.
o Compare the featured elements with the phonics knowledge of individual students.
o Use storybooks with phonics elements that students have mastered for independent reading.
o Select storybooks with phonics elements that students are currently learning for assisted reading.
o Before students read a storybook, review the book’s non-decodable words and pre-teach any that students do not already know.

(Jenkins, et al., 2003)

Decodability Rating Scale

* Highly Decodable Text
* Very Decodable Text
* Decodable Text
* Somewhat Decodable Text
* Minimally Decodable Text

(Hoffman et al., 2000)

Decodable Text &
the Reading Components

* How can a reading lesson be constructed using decodable texts?
* What considerations should be made for decodable text genres?
* What type of scaffolding should teachers provide their students during these lessons?
* What expectations and accountability will teachers implement during this instruction?

Attending to Reader, Text, & Task

* requires focus and attention by the reader.
* varies according to the reader and the text.
* represents a different segment of the main goal of text representation to reading accurately and fluently to comprehension.

* can facilitate letter-sound connections so students learn the decoding strategy & apply it in other word situations. (Juel & Roper-Schneider, 1985)
* comprises different elements, orthographic representations, & irregular patterns.
* contains a story/ information that must be understood & interpreted by the reader.

* brings varying amounts of word knowledge & language skills
* falls somewhere on the developmental continuum
* has varied interests, understanding, prior knowledge, & motivation
* may be struggling. Therefore, instruction must include reflective, systematic, consistent, and responsive teaching. (Mesmer, 1999)

The Task…

The Text…

The Reader…

(adapted from Johnston, 1998)

Teaching Phonics Using Decodable Text

* Allows students to practice using the phonics knowledge/skills they have been taught
* Some students need more practice opportunities than others
* Be sure to allow for corrective, immediate feedback during this practice
o From teacher
o From peer

Teaching Fluency Using Decodable Text

* Allows students to become more automatic with phonics knowledge/skills they have been taught
* May use decodable text rather than authentic or leveled text to ensure a student practices fluency at her instructional/ independent level

Connecting to Vocabulary through Decodable Text

* Basic vocabulary may be taught when using decodable text
o Especially true for English language learners or students with limited oral language skills
* Examples
o /o/ words: spot, slot, rob, top, hog, fog, off, odd
o /a/ words: pat, slam, rag, cap, lap, tack, past
* Decodable texts provide more exposure to new vocabulary words, which can facilitate students’ remembering new words (Hiebert et al., 2005)

Connecting to Comprehension through Decodable Text

* Basic comprehension instruction can be conducted through using decodable text
o Especially true for early grades (K and 1st) or students struggling with comprehension
* Examples:
o Retell
o Sequencing
o Answering literal or possibly inferential questions
o Practice in asking questions at different levels
o Self-correcting to ensure understanding

Grouping to Use
Decodable Text

* Decodable text is for practicing and applying skills…

Therefore, try using it within different grouping formats

* Whole group -- choral reading text with entire class

BUT think about other types of groups…

Grouping for Guided Practice with Decodable Text

* Teacher led same-ability small group
o Choral reading text aloud with teacher and small group
o Echo reading with teacher
* Mixed-ability small group (e.g., center)
o Choral reading text aloud with small group
o Taking turns echo reading as small group
* Partner work
o Echo reading with partner
o Repeated reading with partner

Independent Reading with Decodable Text

* Have student practice reading decodable text on own
o Orally (whisper voice)
o Silently
* Before student practices independently, make sure student demonstrates mastery of reading text with support

Decodable Text Related
to Other Text Types

* Predictable Text
* Transitional Text
* Decodable Text
* Leveled Text
* Authentic Text

Text Types: Accessibility
and Complexity

(Adapted from Brown, 1999/2000)

Predictable Text

Transitional Text

Decodable Text

Leveled Text

Authentic Text


Low High


Low High

Readers Need to READ

* Students who are exposed to more text instruction and are required to spend more time reading have more opportunities to learn new words and practice learned strategies (Hiebert et al., 2005; Juel & Roper-Schneider, 1985)
* A comprehensive understanding of the reading process supported by programs, instruction, and materials that enhance and promote learning to read can significantly influence students’ reading achievements across time (Spadorcia, 2005)


* Using particular text types and attending to complexity and accessibility of text at different times in a reader’s development is a strong way to support his progress (Brown, 1999/2000)
* Focusing on the reader, the text, and the task can help teachers align instruction with decodable texts that students can read and enjoy (Jenkins, et al., 2004; Mesmer, 2001)
* Explicit phonics instruction supports reading development, but the impact of supplementing with decodable texts is still unclear

Conclusions (cont’d)

* More research needs to be conducted on the who, what, when, where, and why of using decodable texts (NRP, 2000)
* While there are no definitive statements regarding necessity and/or optimal degree of decodability, an “educated conclusion” can be made about the appropriate levels of decodability based on the reader, text, and task. (Beck, 1997; Johnston, 1998)
* Decodable texts provide a strong scaffold for teaching reading skills in phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Brown, 1999/2000; Mesmer, 2005)


Beck, I. L. (1997, October/November). Response to “Overselling phonics.” Reading Today, p. 15.

Brown, K. J. (1999/2000). What kind of text-For whom and when? Textual scaffolding for beginning readers. The Reading Teacher, 53(4), 292–307.

Foorman, B., Francis, D., Fletcher, J., Schatschneider, C., & Metha, P. (1998). The role of instruction in learning to read: Preventing reading failure in at-risk children. The Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 37–55.

Foorman, B. R., Francis, D. J., Davidson, K. C., Harm, M. W., & Griffin, J. (2004). Variability in text features in six Grade 1 basal reading programs. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8(2), 167–197.

Hiebert, E. H., Martin, L. A., & Menon, S. (2005). Are there alternatives in reading textbooks? An examination of three beginning reading programs. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 21, 7–32.

References (cont’d)

Hoffman, J. V., Roser, N. L., Patterson, E., Salas, R., & Pennington, J. (2000). Text leveling and “little books” in first grade reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 33(3), 507–528.

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.

Jenkins, J. R., Vadasy, P. F., Peyton, J. A., & Sanders, E. A. (2003). Decodable text-Where to find it. The Reading Teacher, 57(2), 185–189.

Johnston, F. R. (1998). The reader, the text, and the task: Learning words in first grade. The Reading Teacher, 51(8), 666–675.

Juel, C., & Roper-Schneider, D. (1985). The influence of basal readers on first grade reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 134–152.

References (cont’d)

Mesmer, H. A. E. (1999). Scaffolding a crucial transition using text with some decodability. The Reading Teacher, 53(2), 130–142.

Mesmer, H. A. E. (2001). Decodable text: A review of what we know. Reading Research and Instruction, 40(2), 121–142.

Mesmer, H. A. E. (2005). Text decodability and the first-grade reader. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 21, 61–86.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Summary Report. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Spadorcia, S. A. (2005). Examining the text demands of high-interest, low-level books. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 21, 33–59.

Torgeson, J. K., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C. A., Rose, E., Lindamood, P., Conway, T., et al. (1999). Preventing reading failure in young children with phonological processing disabilities: Group and individual responses to instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 579–593.

It is important to point out that although these three research studies used decodable text to measure results in reading gains, none of these studies delineated between the phonics program and the decodable books used in accordance with the phonics lessons (regardless of if the phonics programs included the decodable books or they were brought in as additions and supplements).

This research study was conducted because unlike the research mentioned in the previous slide, the effects of decodable texts from those of other treatment components were taken into consideration.

79 first grade students were placed into tutoring groups in which they received instruction in a specific phonics program that was supported with high and low levels of decodable text storybook reading practice.

These first grade students significantly outperformed the 20 control students who did not receive any tutoring in phonics or storybook reading.

However, there were no significant differences between students who received highly decodable texts versus students who read only low decodable texts during the tutoring instruction. High decodable texts were operationally defined as texts in which almost all of the words could be read from letter/sound correspondence and word features taught within the phonics lesson. Low decodable texts were defined as texts that used fewer words that were decodable from the phonics instruction.

IN ADDITION, this study was replicated with similar results in 2005 by Heidi Mesmer at Oklahoma State University. Treatments participants in her study were found to apply letter/sound knowledge to a greater extent than the control participants and were more accurate in their word reading. In addition, they relied less on others for assistance during reading and self-corrected more often.

Further decodable text studies examined text, text structure, and specific words in basal programs and authentic texts in order to gauge decodability and readability at different grade levels

The first research study looked at 6 first-grade basal programs in order to analyze the types of words that appeared in them. Most of the words that appeared in the basal series were introduced in the story and never used again in each 6-week instructional block (Foorman et al., 2004). This indicates that there are many authentic words that are used in the basal programs that are introduced each week and then never revisited. While students should be introduced to new and different words often, it is important to include new words in other areas of instruction (vocabulary, comprehension) and then revisit those words after moving on to the subsequent stories.

The second study mentioned here looks at the analysis of 3 basal programs (mainstream basal, combined phonics and literature, and phonics emphasis) based on cognitive load & linguistic content. Hiebert et al. looked at interest levels of texts and the amount of new linguistic information beginning readers are exposed to through the different types of basal series and what types of linguistic content beginning readers are expected to be able to add-on to or adapt as they are reading through the basal content. This research is important because it encourages an understanding by teachers of the basal program and the content therein. While teachers do not need to analyze the programs as extensively as was done in this study, it is important that teachers are aware of the phonics elements introduced, the support of those phonics elements through the basal, and the authentic text that is used throughout the basal series.

The final research study mentioned here by Spadorcia looks at three randomly selected passages from 60 high-interest, low-level books. These passages were analyzed according to number of high frequency words, decodable words, sentences, and text coherence. While this research is similar to the previous analysis of content and readability, this study also clusters the findings of the passages between readability of text and text that supports different models of reading instruction. This being said, what is important, again, is that teachers are aware that different text supports different students’ abilities and different instruction goals and focus. This can facilitate teaching and learning using decodable texts and can aid in teaching students who need a lot of support during reading coupled with interesting and enjoyable text subjects.

This and other research on different levels of text structure in basal programs and other readers used during instruction encourage a deeper analysis of decodable texts and their use during instruction. Hoffman et al. looked into differing levels of text decodability and the impact for instruction.

* Highly Decodable Text: high-utility spelling patterns (e.g., CVC), short, high frequency words (e.g., the, was), and some inflectional endings (e.g., plural words). This is the type of text to be used with beginning and struggling readers looking to make sense from text and be successful in reading.
* Very Decodable Text: vowel and consonant combinations (e.g., boat, shop), simple compound words (e.g., baseball), simple contractions, irregular story feature words (e.g., character names). This text is also useful with struggling and beginning readers and can help carry beginning readers into the next stage…

3. Decodable Text: one- and two-syllable words with common spelling patterns, less common rimes (e.g., eigh), and more difficult function words (e.g., their, through). This text structure uses phonics elements that are introduced and reinforced through phonics instruction. This is the type of text that Juel and Roper-Schneider were referring to in helping beginning and struggling readers transfer techniques in letter-sound correspondences to reading more difficult text structures.

4. Somewhat Decodable Text: requires higher decoding skills in order to access text, more derivational affixes (e.g., pre-, -able), and some infrequent words and longer, non-decodable words. This text is for readers who are able to use their decodable skills in addition to prefixes and suffixes and other transferable word parts.

5. Minimally Decodable Text: a wide variety of spelling patterns, longer and more irregularly spelled words (e.g., thorough, saucer), and a full range of derivational and inflectional affixes. This type of decodable text is for readers who are progressing in using and transferring text and phonics elements to new and even more difficult words.

IN ADDITION, in 2001, Heidi Mesmer synthesized earlier research on analyses of words in texts and concluded through her synthesis that research foci should include 1) experimental examinations of readers’ interactions with decodable text; 2) inspection of readers’ behavior as they read text with varying degrees of decodability; and 3) operation of text decodability with readers of varying abilities.

When planning instruction using decodable texts, it is important to consider many instructional elements and desired goals or lesson outcomes. Specific components of reading that can be taught and enhanced using decodable texts are phonics and word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Through careful consideration of students’ prior knowledge, text genre, lesson goals, and individual as well as group accountability, decodable texts can provide a strong and specific scaffold during reading instruction.

Ask for specific differences in readers, different text types and structures, and different tasks that may be assigned given a text or a reader (for example).

Predictable texts emphasize rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. As students develop their reading skills and move from the pre-alphabetic to the partial alphabetic phase, as described by Ehri (1998), they begin to rely more on their limited but developing knowledge of letters and sounds. Predictable texts assist in scaffolding the reading that students at this level are able to engage in and can be best used to facilitate lessons in vocabulary and comprehension.

Transition texts provide a bridge for students in Ehri’s partial alphabetic phase to the full alphabetic phase, where students have a deeper understanding of letter/sound correspondences and are able to blend sounds together and chunk word parts in order to read simple text. Transitional texts are useful in phonics, word study, and fluency lessons.

Decodable texts provide another scaffold for students moving from the partial to full alphabet phase as students learn to decode words, recognize more irregular words, and synthesize words using chunking techniques with text that is written to balance word control with natural-sounding language. Decodable texts enhance reading instruction in phonics and word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Leveled Text types provide a strong support for readers in the full alphabetic phase who need different levels of text difficulty with less word control and even more natural-sounding language examples. Leveled texts generally requires students to have more sight word knowledge and prior knowledge as well as the ability to use more complex spelling patterns while reading. Because these texts should be selected carefully to align with students instructional levels, these texts are essential in structuring lessons in phonics and word study, vocabulary, comprehension, and can be essential in the development of oral reading fluency.

Finally, authentic text types are considered to be the most difficult for students to read and are often read to students by teachers or more advanced readers. Because authentic texts are not controlled for word choices or sentence structure, they can provide examples writing that includes complex information and many writing styles. Instruction using authentic text can require even more scaffolding by the teacher and can generate strong vocabulary and comprehension discussion and lessons.

This diagram is a rough sketch of the progression of text scaffolding that moves readers from easier, more highly accessible texts to texts that are more complicated in their design and therefore accessible to readers as they develop their skills and progress from word decoding and low numbers of known irregular words to stronger decoding skills, greater accuracy, and more scaffolded exposure to multiple texts.

The impact of students’ inability to read at an appropriate level is magnified every successive year, while the opportunity to remediate the situation is lessened each year (Spadorcia, 2005)

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