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Decodable Books for Older Readers

Let’s face it. We just have not figured out how to “fix” every kid’s reading problems. And despite my “Decodable Books for Older Readers” title, decodable books aren’t the magic beans that will solve the different reading problems that struggling readers face. Our vulnerable older readers in reading intervention classes don’t always catch up to grade-level reading.

The research confirms this sad state of affairs. So few of our students who fall behind are ever able to “catch up” to grade level. Especially in reading. Only one in six students reading two or more grade levels behind by sixth grade ever catches up to reading at grade level.

Yes, we teachers aren’t the only ones to blame. However, we do have the tools to fix reading deficits for most of our older children, teenagers, and adults. Yes, reading is a complicated process. Dr. Louisa Moats labels it as “rocket science.”

Much of what we do is based upon what we think we can do.

I teach a seventh grade reading intervention class. My principal calls it ELA Support; however, we all know why students are in this class: they just don’t read or read well. Our district continues to promote a myriad of tracked classes and pull-out programs. At our site we have eight different ELA classes with fancy labels. Needless to say, we have not exactly bought in to the Response to Intervention model. Believe me, I’ve tried, but our district and site have not yet adopted my Reading Manifesto.

Last night at Back to School Night, a parent who has a child in this class, lingered after my presentation to express concerns about his child.

Having completed an initial round of diagnostic assessments just to determine whether or not my students should remain in this remedial class, I assured the parent that I knew some of his child’s reading issues and that we would make significant progress this year.

The parent checked my response with his previous experience.

“In fifth grade, his teacher told me that he would never be able to read well. He was tested for special education and qualified for the program. The resource teacher confirmed his fifth grade teacher’s diagnosis and tagged him with auditory and visual processing disorders. The resource teacher said that we should concentrate on developing ‘reading survival skills.’”

As my blood began to boil, I assured the parent that we were not going to band-aid his child. We would go in for surgery and fix the reading issues. I told him I believe in student-centered, assessment-based instruction and that I would individualize instruction for his son. The parent was admittedly skeptical but held onto a glimmer of hope.

He responded, “Well, we’ve tried for so many years. My son just does not believe he will ever be ‘normal’ and read like his peers. His self-concept is at an all-time low, especially after two years of using reading materials that make him feel like an idiot. But, to be fair, he is reading at that level. It’s just that he’s big for his age. I guess he and I just have to be realistic.”

So to summarize: The child, parent, and teachers all have set limits as to what they think the child can do. The child’s educational experience has set those expectations in stone.

I refuse to buy-in to this thinking. I want to make a difference for this student. I want to be an informed realist. It’s going to take work, and it’s going to take the right materials to make it work.

One of the parent’s comments stood out to me: “His self-concept is at an all-time low, especially after two years of using reading materials that make him feel like an idiot.”

That we can fix. According to my initial assessments, this child has severe decoding issues. I’ve developed a series of 54 decodable texts, along with my illustrator, David Rickert. These take home books are decidedly not juvenile. Think the old “Archie and Friends” comic books. Stories about teenagers. Stories with humor. Stories with some depth. But much more…

Here’s a description of these wonderful decodable books for older readers. If you teach non-primary remedial reading, you’ve got to get these 54 economical digital take home books for your students. For less than a buck a book, you can provide targeted practice in what your students need without treating them like “idiots.”

Decodable Books for Older Readers 

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The 54 Sam and Friends Take Home Phonics Books have been designed to supplement a systematic and explicit phonics program for remedial readers. Each illustrated eight-page book focuses on one sound with the most common sound-spelling patterns and two high-utility sight words. The sound-spellings are the same as those used in the Open Court reading program. Pennington Publishing’s remedial reading curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies uses the same research-based instructional scope and sequence.

The books are illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons are designed to be appreciated by older remedial readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Additionally, each take home book includes five SCRIP comprehension questions (Summary, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, Predict) to promote internal monitoring of text. The comprehension questions are ideal for teacher and/or parent guided reading instruction, readers’ workshop, literacy centers, and literature circles.

Plus, each take home book includes a 30 second word fluency practice on the focus sound-spellings and sight words with a systematic review of previously introduced sound-spellings and sight words.

Teachers are licensed to copy and distribute all 54 of these economical take home books for their own students. Each book has eight pages in 5.5 x 8.5 inch booklet form. Books are formatted to be copied back to back on two separate 8.5 x 11 pages for easy copying and collation. Just one fold creates the take home books. No stapling is needed.

Design and Instructional Components

Four formats are provided for the Sam and Friends Phonics Books: Google slides, tablet/iPad, phone, and print booklet PDFs.

* The Sam and Friends Phonics Books have been organized into five collections:

Collection A: Short Vowels and Consonants Books 1-8
Collection B: Consonant Blends and Digraphs (Part 1) Books 9-16
Collection C: Consonant Blends and Digraphs (Part 2) Books 17-24
Collection D: Long Vowels and Silent Final e Books 25-34
Collection E: r-controlled Vowels and Diphthongs Books 35-44

Collection F: Syllable Juncture and Derivational Influences Books 45-54

* The books are designed with highly decodable text to help readers learn, practice, and develop reliance upon the alphabetic code. Decodable means that a high percentage of words are phonetically regular. Perfect for Tier I and Tier II RtI, special education, ELD and SDAIE classes, and traditional reading intervention classes.

* The SCRIP comprehension strategies (Summary, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, Predict) are embedded within the text pages, not placed at the end of the book.

* The stories use non-predictable, non-repetitious, and non-patterned language to minimize over-reliance upon context clues and knowledge of text structure. The texts limit idiomatic expressions (ideal for English-language learners). Students will learn the alphabetic code with these books.

* The back page of each book introduces the focus sound-spellings and sight words and also includes a 30 second word fluency practice with phonics and sight words review.

* The books do not require a separate teacher’s guide. All instructional activities are included in the books themselves.

* These books are fun to read and fun to teach!

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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How to Teach Continuous Blending

Sam and Friends Phonics Books: Decodables for Older Readers

Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text. In this article, you will learn the basics of evidence-based continuous blending (also known as connected phonation).

A prerequisite (some would argue a byproduct) of learning the phonetic code is phonemic awareness. Before beginning phonics instruction, it is necessary to diagnose students’ phonemic awareness. If the following six whole-class assessments indicate mastery of only one, two, or three components, it would be advisable to delay phonics instruction until at least three components have been mastered. A terrific batch of phonemic awareness activities is listed here. If four, five, or six of the components has been mastered, it would be advisable to begin phonics instruction and concurrently “backfill” any unmastered phonemic awareness.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Give the Phonemic Awareness Assessments (see end of article), and record these results on the progress-monitoring matrix. Teach the phonemic awareness activities concurrently with the following phonics instruction. Have your students practice along with the “New Alphabet Song” to solidify their mastery of the alphabet. Secondary teachers may be in for a little shock regarding how many of their students are rusty or don’t know the song and letter identification.

Continuous Blending

A new research study on “connected phonation” (Gonzalez-Frey & Ehri, 2021) suggests that the synthetic phonics (blending each sounds-spelling) approach, known to be the preferred method of phonics instruction, can achieve quicker and better results by using connected phonation, also known as continuous blending. In this approach the student blends through each syllable, not isolating and putting together the individual sounds. In this quick video, Marni Ginsberg does a nice job of demonstrating this blending approach.

However, for students who still struggle with decoding and for all students who have progressed through and mastered basic phonics, many reading researchers and teachers recommend adding analytic phonics (comparing analogous onsets and rimes) to help students orthographically map these word parts into sight syllables. Following is noted reading researcher, Dr. Tim Shanahan on the value of this approach:

When children know their phonics skills but struggle to read or spell words, then working with word analogies and getting kids to thinking about alternative pronunciations of spelling patterns (bread, break, bead) is the way to go.

The idea of combining synthetic and analytic phonics instruction violates no research, and if done well, may help more kids to succeed https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/which-is-best-analytic-or-synthetic-phonics?fbclid=IwAR1mnr5iyehCD9epzUeXKuIC9dGlmqGq8wieyKUPVfuoGapQrMmWxc8yMGU.

Students can learn all of the common sound-spellings in just 18 weeks of instruction. Each day, blend 2 or 3 words from the previous day’s blending activity. Next, introduce 3–6 new words which focus on the lesson’s sound-spellings. Although some students may already have mastered the sound-spellings, this reinforcement will transfer to unmastered sound-spellings and boost reader confidence. Using a dry-erase whiteboard or display projector, write consonant sounds in black marker and vowel sounds in red. Make sure to clip, and not elongate, the consonant sounds. For example, don’t say “bah” for /b/. Follow this script for effective whole-class continuous blending:

About the Continuous Blending Instructional Sequence

This instructional sequence has been carefully designed to reflect years of reading research and teaching experience. This is the most effective sequence to introduce the phonics and spelling components. Here are some rather technical notes that make this instructional sequence superior to other instructional designs.

1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.

  • Weeks 1-3: Short vowels and consonant sounds
  • Weeks 4-5: Ending consonant blends and “sh” and “th” voiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 6-7: Beginning consonant blends, “wh” and “tch” consonant digraphs, “sh” and “th” unvoiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 8-9: Long vowel sounds and silent final e
  • Weeks 10-11: Long vowel sounds and r-controlled vowels
  • Weeks 12-13: Diphthongs
  • Weeks 14-15: Vowel-influenced and irregular spellings

2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.

3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.

4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.

5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.

6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Phonics Games

Learning phonics is the key to reading automaticity (fluency) for beginning and remedial readers alike. The research is clear that teaching the alphabetic code explicitly and systematically is an essential component of effective reading instruction. Now, this is not to say that there isn’t a place for some sight word and word family (onset and rime) instruction, but the primary means of reading instruction must be the sound-spelling system.

Plenty of phonics-based programs do a fine job of providing that systematic instruction. However, some do the basic job, but will bore both students and teachers to tears. Learning to read is hard work, but it should also be fun. Reading instruction that is interactive and enjoyable will teach positive associations with reading to both beginning and remedial readers. Simple drill and kill exercises simply will not.

These phonics games use the free Pennington Publishing Animal Sound-Spelling Cards. Of course, other phonics game cards such as the S.R.A. Open Court® or Breaking the Code® ones will do nicely. You will also need the set of free Consonant Blend Sound-Spelling Cards once the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards have been mastered. The phonics games are divided into Easy, Medium, and Difficult levels to allow teachers to effectively differentiate instruction. Using effective whole class diagnostic assessments such as the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment and the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment will inform the teacher’s choice as to which levels of games will be appropriate for each of their students.

Teachers may also wish to purchase the Reading and Spelling Game Cards from the publisher. Printed on heavy duty cardstock in business card size, these game cards will help your students master phonics, spelling, and sight words.

Each game card set includes the following:

  • 43 animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards
  • 45 consonant blend cards
  • 60 alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)
  • 90 rimes cards with example words
  • 108 sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards
  • 60 high frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words
  • 60 vowel and vowel team spelling cards
  • 90 consonant and consonant blend spelling cards
  • 30 commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences
  • 60 most-often misspelled challenge word cards

Download and Print: Phonics Cards (Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Consonant Blend Cards) Phonics Games (Easy, Medium, and Difficult Level Phonics Games) NSS (The Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap)

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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