Reading, how to teach -- decodable texts versus predictable texts
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Why I wrote this article

I wrote this article because my child was being taught the Whole Language system in school. I thought it was a poor way to teach reading. I used the decodable approach, and it worked much better. If your child is having trouble learning to read, I really recommend that you use the decodable text approach. There are many good resources on

Main Article

There are 2 main ways to teach reading.

1. Phonics system
The first way is to teach a student that every letter has a sound. Students say the sound of each letter, c-a-t, and blend them together to make a word.

This is the traditional way, and is now associated with a "back to basics" approach.

The texts used in this approach is called "decodable texts." This means each word is regular in terms of how it is pronounced. However, decodable texts include a short list (about 30) of common words without which it would be nearly impossible to write stories (for example, "to").

Decodable texts come in different levels. The simplest level uses only short vowels. A more advanced level, which is the most common level, uses short and long vowels. In most decodable texts, each letter can have 1 sound associated with it, or 2 sounds associated with it. So, the letter i can be short, as in the word "kit", or long, as in the word "kite".

2. Guessing system
The second main way is a combination of guessing and memorization. This approach emphasizes looking at words in their context, including looking at pictures in the book, to figure out what a word is.

This approach is called "Whole Language" and is generally associated with Noam Chomsky, who is a retired professor of linguistics at MIT .

Sometimes, the texts used in the Whole Language approach is called "predictable texts." You are trying to guess, or predict, what a word is from what is happening in the story, and what the pictures show.

In 1987, the state of California adopted the Whole Language system for use in Californian schools. After this adoption, student scores on reading tests fell. The Whole Language system was blamed. In the late 1990's the California legislature mandated more instruction using the phonics system. The debate about whether the phonics approach is better, or the Whole Language approach is better, took place nationwide.


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