How to Determine the Decodability of a Text

As we explained in a previous post, decodable texts are one of three types of important texts for beginning readers.  Decodable texts help build important neuronal pathways mapping sounds to print.  When students have an opportunity to apply their new learning to connected text, it builds confident, capable readers. When selecting decodable texts to reinforce phonetic knowledge, teachers must keep the students’ understanding in mind.  For example, while “line” is a decodable word (following a CVCe pattern), it is not decodable to a reader who has not yet learned that pattern. Read on to discover how to determine the decodability of a given text.

A guideline to determine whether or not a text is decodable is that more than 50% of the words must be decodable.  (page 217, A Fresh Look at Phonics: Common Causes of FAILURE and 7 Ingredients for SUCCESS, Wiley Blevins) To determine this percentage refer to your phonics scope and sequence.  Choose a text, and mark all the words that can be sounded out based on the elements taught thus far.  Add up the total number of decodable words and divide it by the total number of words.

Please refer to this partial scope and sequence for the text examples found below:

CVC words – cat, him, led

CVC words with digraphs – fish, chop, when, that, pick

CVC with glued sounds (an, am, all) – ran, ball, jam

CVC with glued sounds (ang, ing, ong, ung, ank, ink, onk, unk) – hang, long

CVC words with blends – swim, jump, fast

CVC with silent e – bike, wave, stone

Scenario 1:

The teacher has taught the closed syllable CVC and the closed syllable with digraphs.

The following text has been marked using the sample scope and sequence as a reference.

Tim and Jane had fun at the lake. 

They dug in the sand and swam in the water. 

They played all day at the lake.

When the sun went down Tim and Jane went home.

The bold-faced words are considered decodable.  The words ‘and’, ‘swam’, and ‘sand’ are not yet decodable because they contain blends and glued sounds, neither of which has been introduced.  The words ‘Jane’ and ‘home’ are not yet considered decodable because the silent e rule has not yet been taught.  Therefore only 11/35 or 31% of the words are decodable.  This text is not considered decodable and does not contain a sufficient number of words to reinforce a student’s understanding of CVC words and CVC words with digraphs.

Scenario 2:

The teacher has taught up to and including the silent e rule.

The same text has been marked using the same sample scope and sequence as a reference.

Tim and Jane had fun at the lake

They dug in the sand and swam in the water. 

They played all day at the lake.

When the sun went down Tim and Jane went home.

The number of words considered decodable has jumped to 24, increasing the percentage of decodable words to 69%.  This text meets the greater than 50% guideline and is considered decodable and appropriate for reinforcing phonetic skills.

Please note: The word ‘and’ is listed as a high frequency word on Fry’s First 100 Word list.  Initially, this word may be considered a sight word to help students read patterned texts.  However, once students have been taught the glued sound, ‘and’ can then be considered decodable.

For more information on this topic, please check out our post, The Benefits of Decodable Texts.

We use the following resources with our beginning and remedial readers:

image of the resource image of decodable digraph bundle cover

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