A sentence is only decodable if the student reading the sentence has had previous exposure to the sounds and spellings in the sentence. One of the biggest challenges in early reading instruction is to get your students decoding through knowing the sound-symbol correspondences instead of encouraging guessing.
If students fall into the habit of guessing, missing the word or using just the initial sound, they wander down an avenue that ultimately becomes a dead end. These habits are hard to break and can initially make a student or parent think they are a reader.
Choosing appropriate word lists, sentences, passages, and books is part of the long game.
Decodable sentences and texts don’t work by magic or have overnight success. But used in conjunction with explicit phonics instruction and later explicit spelling instruction, these texts set the right conditions for students to flourish and become fluent readers.
Decodable texts should be written with a controlled vocabulary using only the sounds, spellings and high-frequency words previously taught. As students learn more about how the alphabet code works, the complexity of the text should change.
Choosing decodable texts that closely align with your scope and sequence will enable students to practise and apply their newfound knowledge and skills. Decodable texts are a bridge to fluency. The end goal is automatic, fluent reading that supports students in choosing whatever book intrigues them.
As Stanislas Dehaene points out in his book, Reading in the Brain:
“There is no point in describing the delights of reading to children if they are not provided with the means to get there.” Pg 219
Students need lots of decoding practice. Decodable text can come in many forms, not just a book. In the clinic, I use a variety of word lists, sentence strips and passages to engage students in rereading various materials in different ways. In the beginning, my students read sentence strips until they have the skills and knowledge to move on to little decodable books. This supports their increasing knowledge and skill in the foundation stage. A whole book can be daunting at first!
Using a variety of decodable texts lets us move in small cumulative steps before making a big stride in development. All the tiny steps taken week upon week eventually help them reach a fluent future.
Here are 5 ways we use decodable sentences in my clinic
Read and Draw
Once we have read the colour-coded sentence strips together, we use the mat to reread the sentence before writing it. This also provides the opportunity to discuss unknown words and meanings.
We also use read and draw grids. This is not art class! The picture making is a scaffold for a conversation. The discussion about the sentence matters. This discussion with an adult will fuel vocabulary development and comprehension as the pictures are created together.
Children need lots of repetition to build their skills to become fluent readers. Playful activities that make conversation will help engagement.
Repeated reading is a brilliant strategy to support fluency. The thing is, it doesn’t excite all children after reading. Use a word sort activity as the reason why a text or decodable sentences must be read again. Go on a sound hunt or spelling hunt and use transparent counters or highlighters to mark the words before writing them into a sort it grid. Discuss the spellings as you sort the words.
Play a Game
My decodable sentences come in strips and cards - the same but different! An easy trick to get students to reread connected text quickly and easily. The use of cards and a track game instantly adds an element of fun. Track games and sentence cards are also great homework activities to play with a family member.
We also love to use all packs of sentence strips with a spinner for decoding practice. The addition of a spinner and a scorecard creates a game.
This is how we play.
Spin and read the number or direction. Read the correct sentence and note down the number. If you spin a number again, reread the sentence. We also play that if a person has to reread, they also must add to the sentence.
Pam has six jam buns because she went to the bakery.
I bought ten big tins of beans from the grocery store.
Get the pack of free spinners and decodable sentences on my shop page.
After reading sentences, expand the sentence by using conjunctions. This way, you combine phonics instruction with writing instruction. Initially, when teaching about conjunctions, we use Post-it notes or cards with just one or two conjunctions.
Once my students know what to do and how to use conjunctions, we then move on to using conjunction activities. We love to add conjunctions to a cube to use with a track game. A game provides the right setting to discuss if the conjunction can be used to add extra information — if not, we discuss which conjunction is the best fit. We also use this conjunction board so my student can choose the best conjunction to extend the sentence.
Decodable sentence packs are the perfect bank of sentences to use for dictation to assess a student’s sound-spelling knowledge after explicit instruction informally. The sentences can be shortened or added to depending on the student’s needs.
Decodable sentence strips are a brilliant resource when teaching, reviewing and consolidating alternative spellings
of the alphabet code.
All students need lots of repetition to decode words to read and retrieve spellings to write automatically. Sentence strips are a cost-effective resource to send home so students can review the target sound-spellings previously taught.
My students get a weekly home pack to use in between sessions that contain decodable resources that fit with the current session and retrieval practice resources that support their using and applying skills and knowledge from previous sessions.
Premade sentences and printable resources are a time saver. My mission is to support all teachers and parents with evidence-based practices and easy-to-use resources so that your time is better spent teaching your students at their point of need.
Check out my sentence packs.