Decodable vs Leveled Readers: What You Need to Know

Decodable vs Leveled Readers: What You Need to Know

With the wealth of literacy resources available to educators, determining which types of books to use with your students can be overwhelming. 

When using decodable books, leveled readers, and authentic books, you may find yourself asking: what are they, how do they differ, and where do they fit in effective literacy instruction?

Let's review their characteristics and roles.

What are the characteristics of decodable books, leveled readers, and authentic books?

In a recent Just Right Reader Science of Reading Symposium, Dr. Lucy Hart Paulson, Literacy Expert and Co-author of LETRS Early Childhood, explained the characteristics of decodable books, leveled readers, and authentic books, when to use them, and which one is critical for early reading practice.

Decodable Books

  • Contain words with phonetic patterns students have already learned
  • Sequenced with simple phonetic patterns (with a few high frequency words) and progress to more complex patterns
  • Pictures support the story, but not the specific words
  • Word reading accuracy is stressed
  • Used with beginning readers

Leveled Readers

  • Contain repeated and predictable text
  • Includes many high frequency words
  • Read using meaning cues, picture cues, and, as a last resort, looking at the first sound
  • Word reading accuracy is not important
  • The goal is comprehension
 Authentic Books

  • Written to entertain, inform, explain, or evoke a response
  • Used in read-alouds to build vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge
  • Contains complex sentences and text structures


    Read moreRead our article, Decodable Books: A Complete Guide, to learn about decodable books, why we use them, and how and when to use them.


      Learn more about the characteristics of decodable books, leveled readers, and authentic books:

      When should I use decodable books, leveled readers, and authentic books?

      As educators create a learning environment that empowers young readers, it’s important to know the role of each book in effective literacy instruction.

         Decodable Books

        • Practice reading phonics patterns and high frequency words
        • Develop word reading accuracy
        • Re-read to develop fluency
        • Discuss literal comprehension

        Leveled Readers

        • Read-alouds or echo reading
        • Facilitate oral discussion
        • Develop concepts of print

        Authentic Books

        • Build other language comprehension skills like inferencing or learning figurative language
        • Build background knowledge

            Where does each book fit in The Simple View of Reading?

            When referring to the Simple View of Reading, decodable books develop and strengthen word recognition, while authentic books and leveled readers are tools for developing language comprehension.


            Learn when to use each book type:

            Which type of book is critical for early reading practice?

            While all three types of books prove themselves useful in their own way, one is critical for early reading success- decodable books.

            We know from theScience of Reading research that students must be proficient in word recognition to be successful readers. That means students must gain the skill set to decode words by learning how sounds (phonemes) connect to written letters (graphemes) to form letter-sound relationships and spelling patterns.

            Following a rigorous phonics progression, decodables, such as Just Right Reader Decodables, provide the targeted decoding practice students need to become strong readers. 

            Discover the importance of decodable books:


            What makes Just Right Reader Science of Reading Decodables special?

            With extensiveClassroom Libraries andTake-Everywhere Packs, students have many opportunities to practice their decoding skills in engaging, connected text, which allows them to become strong readers. 

            Just Right Reader Decodables

            Our Decodables feature:

            • An extensive library of 750+ titles in English and Spanish
            • Engaging and relatable stories with diverse characters and vibrant illustrations that motivate students to keep reading
            • Research-based, rigorous phonics scope and sequence that aligns to all phonics programs and curriculums 
            • QR codes that link to memorable video lessons in English and Spanish

            Watch the full symposium with Dr. Lucy Hart Paulson here.




                 Dr. Paulson, Lucy Hart.Literacy Expert and Co-author of LETRS Early Childhood
            Symposium on How Do Decodable Books Fit in Learning to Read and Comprehend? What Science Says., January 9,  2024.

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