Practice Makes Perfect!

by Jeanie Hertzler and Mindy Bramer

Learning any new skill like piano, soccer, and baking requires lots of practice to become proficient. Once we have mastered a certain level of skill, we are able to broaden our practice to other musical piano genres, special soccer techniques, and varied baking styles. Until we become experts in our new skill, our lack of skill does not prevent us from enjoying and appreciating complicated musical pieces, professional soccer games, or five-star desserts! Reading is quite similar in these respects.

We need proficiency with both decoding and comprehension skills (see Simple View of Reading). Lots of practice is needed in order for students to become better readers. Decodable text sources allow students focused practice with learned phonics patterns and provides a controlled text environment to develop accuracy and fluency with those patterns. When young students are given decodable text, they are able to feel successful and in turn, become motivated to read more complicated books and stories. Readsters, LLC (2009) suggests using decodable text until students meet the following criteria:

1) Demonstrate mastery of decoding both real and nonsense cvc words in isolation
2) Can decode 2 and 3-syllable words in isolation that have short vowels or schwa
3) Score above first grade on a leveled reading assessment (Lexile 300+)

Comprehension instruction can begin even before students are able to independently read text. Children in the primary grades can benefit from listening comprehension instruction through teacher read-alouds until they have reached a level of decoding proficiency themselves (listed above). When students have reached this level of independent decoding proficiency, leveled text can provide students exposure to vocabulary and concepts.

The best way to decide what kind of text to use is to identify first what the purpose of the lesson will be. The table below serves as a guide for teachers to use in determining the most appropriate text to support student learning.

Text Type Features Purpose Examples/Resources
Decodable Text • high degree of letter-sound combinations that have been previously and explicitly taught
• focus is on phonetic patterns rather than on picture clues or context
Intended to have a student practice applying decoding skills in controlled text for the purpose of becoming an accurate and fluent reader Primary Phonics High Noon Books Reading A-Z West Virginia Phonics Lessons
Leveled Text • increasing levels of difficulty
• focus is on comprehension
• reader relies on context
• have strong support for the text from pictures
Intended to have a student read at his/her independent reading level in order to avoid frustration Reading A-Z AND Sample of popular publisher’s leveled text student reader

Linda Farrell (Readsters, LLC) Webinar:

Reading League Event November 10, 2016 Types of Texts Used in Reading Instruction:

PaTTAN Quick Pick
Decodable Text

Baker, S.K., Fien, F., Nelson, N. J., Petscher, Y., Sayko, S., & Turtura, J. (2017). Learning to read: “The simple view of reading”. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved from

Hunter, M. (2016) Decodable and Leveled Readers: Using them appropriately. Readsters presentation at the International Dyslexia Conference, Orlando, FL.

[The Reading League]. (2017, February 16). Reading League Event November 10, 2016 Types of Texts Used in Reading Instruction. [Video File]. Retrieved from

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