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Picture Books vs. Decodable Readers

posted Dec 16, 2016, 9:24 AM by Christine Roman

December 16, 2016

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Do you often wonder why your students, especially in grades K-2, come home with photocopied paper books?  Does it seem like some children are “natural readers” while others struggle and reading needs to be explicitly taught?  What is the difference between these decodable readers and picture books?

Decodable readers are books that have controlled text.  Decodable books are books that contain only phonetic elements that the student has already learned and basic sight words. For example, a child at the beginning stages of reading who has learned the short vowel sounds could decode simple words like hat, bed, and pig, but might have difficulty decoding words like see and owl.  A student at a higher reading level might be reading a decodable book with vowel teams like AI or OA and be able to decode more complex words like snail and goal.

Selecting books can be tricky as publishers will often call books a beginning book or decodable book but only half the words in the book are decodable.  In reading, we want children to feel and be successful as they read.  We do not want students to become frustrated and start to guess at words.  We want students to use their knowledge of phonics and their word analysis skills to decode unfamiliar words. As they are able to figure out every word in a book, they feel successful, which in turn helps them to build fluency and develop good reading strategies.

Example text from a decodable reader: “Ted got his red cap back.  The red cap had a rip in it.  It was not a big rip.  Ted can fix his red cap.”  Example text from a picture book: “On Friday he ate through five oranges, but he was still hungry. On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami…” As you can see, there is a large difference in the word selection and phonics rules within these two texts.

What should I do as a parent?

Every night, have your child read to you and spend some time reading to your child.  Incorporate both decodable readers and picture books into your nightly routine.  Have your child read the decodable books and celebrate his/her success!  Together, enjoy the picture books from authors like Mo Willems, Mary Lyn Ray and Marty Kelley.  Even as your child gets older, spend time together, snuggled under a blanket, reading chapter books like Tuck Everlasting and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Reading at home not only can positively impact your child’s academic success, but also develop a special and lasting bond between a child and parent. 

If you would like more information or assistance in selecting books for your child, please reach out to your child’s classroom teacher, our literacy specialist, Carolyn Mallahan, and our ICT teacher, Christine Roman.  Also, we have a great relationship with the Gordon-Nash children’s librarian, Christine Hunewell.  Our town’s library is open Tuesday-Thursday, 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m; Friday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m; Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.  The library is closed Sunday and Monday.