This is a question I found myself asking this week after watching an eye-opening video by Spelfabet called, “What’s wrong with predictable or repetitive texts?” I highly encourage you to watch the video, especially if you teach beginning readers.
Are Predictable Books the Right Choice for Beginning Readers?
I like this simple definition for predictable books from the Illinois Early Learning Project: “A predictable book is one that features patterns, sequences, and connections in the illustrations or words that enable children to guess “what comes next” in the story.”
Spelfabet’s video shows what a simple predictable text looks like to a beginning reader who only knows a handful of letter-sound correspondences. When a student doesn’t know the pattern or correspondence in the text the letters are substituted with WingDings, turning what appears to be a simple book from an adult’s point of view into indecipherable nonsense. The video also makes the point that the book can be “read” without even seeing the text. It can appear that students are reading, when in fact they are simply telling the story based on the pictures.
Watching the video, I felt like someone flipped on the light switch in my brain. “She’s absolutely right,” I thought. “How could a student practice reading when they don’t even need to look at the words or the letters to know what the book says? It must be so frustrating for a beginning reader to look at a book like that and not have the skills to decode the words. I can’t believe predictable stories are so common in classrooms!”
But then I started to think about other predictable stories. I remembered how much my nephew loved filling in the animal sounds when I read him his cardboard book about Old MacDonald’s farm, and how much students in my class loved shouting, “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down,” when the wolf’s part came up in Little Red Riding Hood. Surely, predictable books have their place, right?
I did some research, and they do. What matters is how and why predictable books are being used.
When Should Predictable Books be Used?
As Spelfabet says in the beginning of her video, predictable books, like the examples she uses, are often sent home with students for extra reading practice. Predictable books are not suited for this purpose because of the reasons her video addresses; the main reason being that they don’t give the student an opportunity to practice decoding words using the skills they have. For the purpose of decoding and reading practice, students should be using controlled readers or decodable books.
Predictable books should be used for shared reading or read-alouds. Used in this way they can help students develop vocabulary, an appreciation for reading and expectations of both spoken and written language. Shared reading done with predictable texts engages students by offering them opportunities to successfully participate in “reading”, even though they can’t yet decode the words. Many predictable books also incorporate skills like rhyming that will help students develop the phonological awareness skills necessary to become successful readers.
Check out these links for more on appropriate uses of predictable texts for pre- and emergent readers:
What are your favorite predictable books to use with your students? Share below!
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