Updated: Sep 13
Children are excited about learning to read. They believe that when they go to school they will learn to read and that is one of the best things about school. They will want to share what they learn with parents, grandparents, and siblings. As the parent, you have been reading to your child all their lives. Now it is their turn to learn how to read. They will want to show you how well they can read. It is important to choose books to read together that they can be successful with. If they are stumbling and struggling to read the book it will discourage both of you.
I know the feeling of picking up a book at the store and finding it frustrating. It said it was written for preschool - kindergarten age but it was still too hard.
That is why I am going to share with you 3 types of books and when to use them.
The first type of book I want to talk about is predictable books. Predictable books contain a lot of repetition and rhyme. They can be fun to read together and your child basically memorizes parts of the book so that they can say that part. They are great for enjoying books together and for listening for rhymes. You can read them to your child from birth and have fun learning about the rhythm of language with them. But even if they can repeat the words and "read" the book themselves they are probably not reading. They will likely be repeating the book from auditory memory.
Good readers do not memorize words. Instead, they learn to sound out the words. Predictable books are great for enjoying with your prereader but not for teaching reading skills.
The next type of book I want to talk about is leveled readers. Leveled readers are used in many schools. And they are easy to find in stores. Some are rated A-Z and others will say something like level 1:preschool-grade 1 on them. This can be very confusing and discouraging. Labeling a book level 1: preschool - grade 1 makes you think that it is so easy that even a preschooler could read it. Doesn't it? But no! It is full of high-frequency words and may contain multi-syllable words as well. It will not focus on any phonics rules but instead, have a variety of words. If your child is a beginner this will be a discouraging book for them. It is fine if you want to read these books to your child but don't expect your beginning reader to read them without help.
Leveled readers often have pictures that help students to guess the words. Children are encouraged to use context clues and first letters to help them figure out words. Good readers do use context to help them think about reading and make sure what they read makes sense. But this is only after they know how to read words. Using context to guess a word that you do not know how to read is a big problem. You do NOT want your child to get into the habit of guessing. Guessing is a hard habit to break. Good readers are not guessing based on context or picture or first letter sound. Good readers learn phonics rules and sound words out. Even if they can do it so fast that it seems like they have the word memorized.
I am linking here to a YouTube video that shows how leveled and predictable books encourage guessing and how you can be fooled into thinking your child is a better reader than they really are. This can be a big problem when your child reaches 3rd or 4th grade and begins to read more books with no pictures and harder vocabulary.
There are many great leveled books and you can have your child read them AFTER they have mastered the phonics rules and are able to sound out words automatically.
If you want to have your beginning reader read to you - not the other way around - then choose decodable books. Decodable books have controlled text. They start out easy and gradually get harder. They focus on one phonics skill at a time. Most decodable books start out with three-letter words with short vowels. Next, they will include digraphs and blends at the beginning and end of words. So those words will still be one-syllable words with short vowels but they may be 4 or 5 letters instead of 3. After that, they will probably introduce the silent e. And beyond that there will be vowel teams, r-controlled vowels, multi-syllable words, and more. Each book will include the concepts already taught but many of the words will have one featured new concepts. That way your child can learn one skill and then practice it until it is fairly automatic for them. Then they can learn another skill and practice it. You can even find chapter books that have only simple 1 syllable words.
Some people have criticized decodable books saying they are boring and not "authentic". For example, a decodable book may say "The pig did a jig." It would not say "The pig danced a jig." "Danced" would be too advanced a word to include. Some people feel that a decodable sentence like this sounds strange. They say this isn't authentic text because it isn't the way we actually talk. They would also say that children today are not likely to know the word jig. But the great thing is that any child who is able to sound out words with short vowels can read all the words. They can do this successfully without guessing or relying on context clues. That is what we want them to practice. You can explain to them what a jig is. Soon they will be ready to learn how to decode the word "dance" and they can begin to read "authentic" text after that.
Here is a list of just a few decodable books available that I am familiar with. There are lots more that you can find if you search for decodable texts.
The Bob Books - these books are the simplest books on the market that I know of. Inside the first book, it tells the sounds your child must know in order to read the book. The first book has only 4 sounds in the whole book. It's a book that is good for children who have a hard time and you want them to be able to successfully read a book.
Primary Phonics -If you need lots of practice reading 3 letter words with short vowels, Primary Phonics has 2 sets of 10 books with this pattern. Beyond that, there are more sets with silent e-books, vowel teams, blends, and more.
At High Noon Books you can begin to build your child's reading stamina by reading chapter books that are easy such as these sound-out chapter books. you can also find books that are easy reading level but of higher interest for older students. There are many choices of all types of books at high Noon Books. You can check them out here.
My favorite decodable books are from Flyleaf publishing. Right now they actually have their books online and they are free! You can check them out here. They include books that are very simple for the early beginner and go up to books with multi-syllable words. These books have wonderful illustrations. I use them all the time in my tutoring.
I hope this simple explanation of predictable, leveled, and decodable books will be helpful to you. But what if you have found the simplest decodable readers and your child is still struggling? What if your child sounds out all three letters in a simple 3 letter, short vowel word and then doesn't know what word they have just sounded out? That is exactly what happened to me when my first child was learning to read. In my next blog I plan to address this issue. Do you want to be notified when it comes out? sign up here and you will receive my 22 tips for helping your child become a better reader and also be notified when new blogs come out.