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Have you ever thought about how kids learn to read?
Phonics, right? After all, I’m going to share some resources for finding decodable books later in this post.
Actually, phonics is just one part of the puzzle.
Kids problem solve as they’re reading using three cueing systems. Here they are:
a) Semantics (meaning) – what makes sense
“The boy bought groceries at the store” makes sense. “The boy bought gorillas at the store” does not.
b) Syntax (grammar) – what sounds right.
“My friend came to visit me” sounds right. “My friend came the visit me” doesn’t.
c) Graphophonics (phonics) – what looks right.
When readers have a good understanding of phonics, they correct themselves when what they say doesn’ t match the print.
What should kids try first when they’re stuck on a word?
First, kids should think about what makes sense — using the first letter(s) as a clue. This helps keep the fluency of their reading and helps keep meaning at the forefront. Along with that, kids should correct themselves if what they read doesn’t sound right. Phonics is something kids should use when they still need help figuring out a word.
Use mostly leveled readers.
The bulk of the reading instruction I did in the classroom and now at home with my children is with leveled readers. These books have familiar sight words and a lot of longer words that children may not be able to read in isolation but can read with picture and meaning cues. Several systems exist for leveling books. I prefer the leveling system by two educators named Fountas and Pinnell.
For the very earliest readers, leveled books must be purchased online or in teacher stores. As children become better readers, it is much easier to find leveled books at the library. (For example, leveled books start at Level A. Frog and Toad, an easy reader, is level J.)
The books pictured above are from Scholastic book orders, The Wright Group, Newmark Learning, and Reading A-Z.
Use some sight word readers.
Sight word readers are similar to leveled readers when they are part of a leveled set. Like leveled readers, children usually need to figure out a lot of the words by using context. Unlike most leveled readers, sight word readers identify which new words are being taught in each book– words like the, a, what, etc.
The sight word readers pictured above are part of my free emergent reader collection.
Use a few decodable readers.
When I was teaching a parent told me that she was teaching her daughter to read before first grade, but lamented that she had such a hard time finding books that only had the phonics patterns she’d introduced. My heart sank!
Decodable readers are very useful for building up phonics skills, but if they are used in isolation, children do not learn to correct for meaning or syntax.
Why the lesson on how kids learn to read?
I want you to understand that I use phonetic readers in limited amounts and as part of a well-balanced approach to reading instruction.
Now, disclaimer aside, let’s look at…
Where to find decodable books for teaching short a
You can find these printable readers for short a on Reading A-Z. It’s hard to call decodable books “great” because there’s only so much you can do with a limited set of words. But as far as decodable books go, these are pretty good. The illustrations are cute and colorful. The stories are all right.
Reading A-Z, however, is more than all right. It’s a phenomenal website with all sorts of printable books for kids learning to read. The website has small collection of decodable books, a giant collection of leveled readers, and more. The best part? You can view every book before you download it.
You can get a free trial and download a few books every day for a week — or spring for the yearly membership at $90.
2) Zac the Rat (download on the Starfall website)
This book can be printed in black and white from the Starfall website. I believe you can only find one book for the short a sound. Zac the Rat is an okay story as far as decodable books go.
Starfall also sells its books in paperback and full color. But the books quickly move to the next level, so you will not get a lot of reinforcement for each short vowel.
3) Scat, Rat! by Becky of This Reading Mama
I am using This Reading Mama’s reading curriculum for preschoolers called Reading the Alphabet with both of my preschool boys. We love it! Becky (a reading specialist and mom) has designed a curriculum that beautifully balances sight words and phonics.
She has a sight word reader for each lesson and a phonetic reader for each of the five short vowels. Because she uses sight words as well as decodable words, this book is not stilted and strange like many phonetic books. You’ll find this book in Lesson 7.
4) Hap and Cap, by Margaret Allen
This book is part of a series called Dr. Maggie’s Phonics Readers. As far as phonics readers go, these are pretty good. The pictures are great and the text isn’t too bad.
However, you will not find a large selection for each short vowel. The books advance very quickly — too quickly for kids just learning new words.
5) Pam and Sam, Hap Can See, In My Hat & Jan and Dan - (printable books from Hubbard’s Cupboard)
These are free black-and-white readers made with MS Office clip art. They don’t tell much of a story, but they are short, sweet, and free. They’re mixed with a few simple sight words so that your child does not have to laboriously sound out every single word.
Nice for kids who know a few sight words but are just starting to sound out words. And if you need more word family resources, Hubbard’s Cupboard has a ton!
6) Jan and Pam & The Van (Sizzy books)
You can download these free black and white readers at funphonics.com. Fun Phonics has two books for each short vowel and a set of books combining all the short vowels.
Since the books use a small set of sight words, they are easier to read than some other decodable books that you find. However, be aware that the stories jump around and are quite contrived. One book jumps from “Dad has a cap” to “Jan (the cat) has a bag.”
No real rhyme or reason, but they will give free phonics practice.
7) Fat Cat on a Mat (Usborne phonics readers)
Usborne phonics readers have cute, kid-friendly pictures and pretty good stories considering they’re phonics readers.
8) Beginner Phonics Book 1 (download at Progressive Phonics )
These I like! What’s great about this series is that your child can read them together with you. The short a words are big and red, so that your child chimes in when you get to them.
Since the adult reads the more challenging words, your child gets phonics practice and gets to read a story that isn’t stilted or contrived. Love them! The best part? You can download them for free.
9) Mat, Sam, Dot, Mac (Bob Books set 1, beginning readers 1-4)
Bob books have a huge following and have helped many children learn to read. So it might be strange to hear me say that I don’t really care for them.
I think the pictures are poor and plain, and the stories themselves often do not make sense.
One nice thing, though, is that there are a lot of books for each sound; the series doesn’t move too quickly as many phonics readers do. I prefer not to own them, but I get Bob books from the library on occasion.
10) Rat Naps, Fat Cat, Crab Trap, The Plant (Now I’m Reading books, by Nora Gaydos)
These are quite challenging phonics books. “A tan fat cat ran fast” and “The plant snaps and traps a ham, a clam, and the jam” can be laborious for a brand-new reader.
I wish the books had more sight words mixed in, because the pictures are wonderful and the stories themselves not too bad. I actually own several sets of these books and recommend them for beginning readers who have been sounding out words for a while.
The link I provided gives you the first set, of which Rat Naps is one of the books. You would need to purchase additional sets to get each of the other titles.
So there you have it — over 25 books to help you focus on the short a sound. If you’d like some hands-on games and activities to do more word family work, be sure to check out my five free learning centers!
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