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Narrative Driven Decodable Books

A Game Changer in Early Literacy Reading Education

Narrative Driven Decodable Books
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How hard would it be to climb Mount Everest…blind? Particularly if you wanted to try something new but weren’t confident in your abilities yet. Inspiring stories of overcoming challenges typically follow a captivating and educational narrative arc. One that many decodable books used in classrooms fail to provide. Decodable readers are fundamental for building early reading skills. Unfortunately, they often lack a key element of every good book—a compelling story. 

Decodable texts offer young readers a systematic approach to practice and reinforce specific phonics patterns and high-frequency words. However, they often lack the engaging narratives found in both fiction and nonfiction alike. Narrative arcs captivate students by introducing characters and settings, developing plots, navigating conflicts, and reaching resolutions—elements often absent in typical decodable texts.

Decodable texts are more effective when they include compelling narratives, making learning meaningful and engaging.

Boosting Reading Success with Explicit Phonics Instruction and Engaging Narratives 

Do decodable books in your school enhance student knowledge and provide valuable insights about the world? For many classrooms, the answer is no. 

Decodable books allow students to apply the phonics skills and letter-sound correspondences they are explicitly taught to a connected text. Engaging narratives encourage students to move beyond decoding words on a page to immersing themselves fully in comprehending the story or topic they are reading about. By integrating structured phonics instruction with captivating stories, educators can create a reading program that develops essential decoding skills and fosters a genuine love for reading.

Nearly three decades of research support the use of decodable books. “To learn to read skillfully, children need practice in seeing and understanding decodable words in real reading situations and with connected text,” wrote Marilyn Jager Adams in her 1990 book,  "Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print".

Engaging narratives capture students' imaginations and keep them invested in the reading process. “Students shouldn’t read just to practice a sound. They should be reading for a meaningful purpose,” says Robin Rubenstein, Director of Curriculum & Implementation at Lavinia Group.

Interesting, relatable, and diverse stories can transport students to different worlds, introduce them to new ideas, and expand their horizons. These narratives make reading a rewarding experience, encouraging students to read more frequently and for longer periods.

Ensuring that phonics instruction is engaging involves carefully selecting decodable books that align with phonics curricula and offer stories and information that capture students' interests and expand their knowledge. 

Capturing the Interest of Young Readers 

Now, more than ever, stories matter. The National Literacy Trust 2023 Survey found only 43.3% of students aged 8-18 reported enjoying reading in their free time, the lowest since 2005. Even more concerning is only 28% of these students said they read daily.

More than two decades ago, educational experts and researchers began expressing concerns that decodable books were missing engaging elements. Research suggests an extreme focus on decodability likely affects student motivation. 

This concern is echoed by educators in the field. How did we get “weird” stories about cats and mats, with thin plots and stilted language? First-grade teacher Claudia Margaroli looks for decodable books “that you can actually use for comprehension,” she says, “rather than a weird story about a cat and a mat, where at the end nothing happens except that cat is on the same mat.”

Non-narrative decodable books often fail to capture the interest of young readers. While they may succeed in teaching phonics, they do not provide the same level of cognitive and emotional engagement as books with well-developed stories. 

“One of our decodable readers, ‘Duck in the Muck,’ from a pilot study we conducted last fall, is a first grade book about a little girl who sees a duck caught in an oil spill in her community and wants to do something about it,” says Rubenstein. 

“They take the duck home, wash it, and get others to help clean up the community on a larger scale. It's a great story that shows why community involvement is necessary. When something like that happens, it's not just one group or a few people who can solve it; it takes the whole community working together. My daughter, who knows the book, saw a commercial on TV for Dawn Dish Soap and said, ‘Oh my gosh, that's like the 'Duck in the Muck' book!’ Students value and appreciate decodable readers more when they feel purposeful and authentic,” shares Rubenstein. 

When selecting decodable books, look for stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end and relatable characters and themes, and avoid books that feel forced or artificial in their storytelling.

Laundry Day 13In the decodable book Laundry Day, a RedThread Reader decodable book by K12 Coalition, Max, a young child, helps his dad with the laundry. The book starts with a clear goal: go to the laundromat. The challenge in the middle: the bag is too heavy for Max. The solution: Max builds a wagon and uses it to transport laundry. The narrative arc in this decodable book incorporates practical life lessons about cooperation and helping at home. 

Building Knowledge: Everyone around the world cleans their clothes. But the way they clean their clothes depends on their culture, where they live, and what supplies they have. 

More than just an opportunity to practice foundational reading skills, this story explores how people do laundry around the world and poses an essential question: How does Max persevere to solve his problem? It's a question that children can relate to and see as applicable to their lives.

See a Sample of this Decodable Book

The Future of Decodable Books: RedThread Readers 

Recognizing the importance of narratives in decodable books is only the first step. Implementing this understanding into practice is where real change happens. 

Captivating stories should be at the heart of phonics education. While some companies build stories around letter sounds, we build letter sounds into captivating stories. RedThread Readers are an authentically multicultural decodable series. 

Diverse characters empower every child to see themselves as a hero in a journey. Our unique storytelling method weaves phonics concepts into captivating plots. Each book is rich in depth and meaning, sparking curiosity, accelerating phonics learning, and nurturing a genuine love for reading.

With RedThread Readers, students learn to read and fall in love with reading. Here’s how we achieve this:

  • Authentic Multicultural Narratives: Our stories feature diverse characters and real-world individuals and events, allowing children to see themselves as heroes and understand how people can make a difference and inspire others.

  • Integrated Phonics and Storytelling: We masterfully integrate phonics concepts with engaging narratives reflective of diverse cultures, ensuring each book is a treasure trove of depth and meaning.
  • Decodable Book Kits Built for Sharing: Our kits are designed for multiple educators within the same grade level, ensuring wide-reaching benefits and cost efficiency. Each kit includes 25 copies of each decodable book title, making it easy for students to apply the essential background knowledge they’ve gained to reading each decodable book successfully.
  • Extensive Library: With 170 RedThread Readers for grades K-2, students are introduced to two new decodable texts weekly that apply phonics-building skills within multicultural narratives, accelerating the path to reading proficiency.

By integrating these elements, RedThread Readers not only supports phonics instruction but also nurtures a genuine love for reading, ensuring that students are not just learning to read but reading to learn and enjoy.

Explore the benefits of RedThread Readers and see how our innovative approach can transform your classrooms.

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