Beyond phonics: reviewing the readers and reading programs

Q: Beyond phonics, how can I help my child become a fluent reader?

“Once beginning readers have acquired the skill of “mapping of print to speech” (phonological awareness and decoding ability) and strong word recognition ability, reading comprehension and other higher-order reading activities can then follow. To become skilful readers the child must learn to do this through practice that reading becomes so automatically and rapidly that it looks like the natural reading of whole words and not the sequential translation of letters into sounds and sounds into words.” Tips
from “
Reading: The First Chapter In Education” from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.


Beyond phonics, some sources for “readers for practice” are:
1. The Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) is the UK’s favourite reading scheme and mine too. The core of the Oxford Reading Tree program are its graduated series of exciting and gorgeous readers, all beautifully illustrated in the traditional English line-and-watercolor style. Kids grow with the characters Biff, Chip, Kipper, and their dog Floppy and make reading progress through the fourteen stages of the series. Early on, the stories focus on situations children recognize from their own experiences, such as
having a wobbly tooth, losing a favourite toy, and making a mess. The stories are carefully written using simple, natural-sounding language that children can understand. ‘Key’ words are repeated throughout the storybooks so that children gradually increase the number of words they can recognize and read. Wrens and Sparrows reader packages provide extra reading practice at the important stages; the Woodpeckers set develop the ability to link sounds and letters (phonics) and supports work on
developing essential phonic skills through workbooks and anthologies of stories and rhyme; Robins, Jackdaws, and  Woodpecker books provide a challenging read for fluent readers. With many intriguing titles such as “A Day in London”, “Victorian adventure”, “The Magic Door”, “King Arthur” this series is definitely not inane reading. One teacher in an
international school here told me the teachers would fight to look at the latest readers when the packages arrived! ORT is a very complete reading program with a whole array of complements available: teaching guides, workbooks, alphabet friezes, the most glorious poetry anthologies. My only complaint, it has TOO MANY components and is very pricey. Still you can opt to buy just some of the books. See
OUP site for info. Available in Japan, request for a catalog from OUP Tokyo / 2-4-8 Kaname-cho /Toshima-ku Tokyo / Tel: 03…; Fax:03-5995-3415 or get it from Yurindo bookstore off the shelves.

2. The Sonlight Curriculum Language Arts curricula includes short, controlled-vocabulary readers that reinforce the specific letter sounds and letter combinations that they have been studying. First Grade continues phonics instruction using self-published “I Can Read It! phonics book” and the child will be reading the carefully-controlled, phonically-correct stories in “I Can Read It!”. Beginning with short-a words only in the first lesson, this book progresses very methodically through all the short vowels, consonant blends, and so forth. The stories in the book actually have plots with real conflicts, climaxes, and
conclusions and characters who actually do things. There is also an original reader called “The Best Trick” for additional practice in basic decoding skills. After The Best Trick, fun but sometimes phonically-“incorrect” Easy Reader books such as Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Stop That Ball!, The Cat in the Hat, are used to more delightful practice reading. Order online at 



3. Miscellaneous readers for reading practice: Bob Books for Beginning Readers (Scholastic), 3″x5″ little books in sets;
black and white cute cartoons “Mac had a bag” ‘Mag had a rag” “Mac sat on the rat” and the like. Order from major catalogs, online bookstores Phonics Practice Readers in sets (short vowel/long vowel/blends/digraphs) choose from series A or B. These are colour, cheaper than Bob books, and have lots of books in each set for lots of practice. Available from from Montessori N’Such Catalog Order from Website: Fax: (703)205-0889 or email:



4. Other reading programs popular with Christian homeschoolers include:  Abeka readers and Christian Liberty Readers, reviewed at Cathy Duffy’s site.

— Abeka’s Basic Phonics Readers Set at $11.40 and other readers are available from Do a search for Reading.
— Christian Liberty Press carries Adventures in Phonics workbook series (A and B), and several readers (Hearts & Hands $6.00, Kindergarten Phonics Readers (4 Books) $11.00; Lessons from the Farmyard $3.50, Meeting New Friends $6.00; Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 1-5 $6.00/ $3.00 /$3.50 / $4.00 / $5.00 ; Beautiful Stories for Children $7.00; Child’s Life of Christ $3.95.) Available from Christian Liberty Press

5.  Phonics Readers by Modern Curriculum Press. Order from Rainbow Veritas Press Phonics Museum readers. Order their gorgeous readers separately from the program. Available from Veritas Press.


6. Online reading programs Reading provides over 2,000 downloadable leveled readers for an annual fee starting from around US$50. The books come with lesson plans, worksheets and assessments.

7. Recently I’ve been using a resource with my students that I thought some might find useful for their children. Children could choose their own books to read for pleasure and parents could make available these stories for English work. Grades K through 6, there are quick reads (postcard size), chapter  books and one side of A4 type reads – both fiction and non-fiction, also those choose your ending story mazes, which are popular. The stories are usually interesting and funny for the children, but they follow up with some multiple choice that works on various different aspects – text analysis, vocabulary, meaning etc. By no means perfect (the questions are a bit limited, there are occasional typos and an annoying habit of asking children to check the meaning of a word in the 19th paragraph, with no easy way of working out which is the 19th paragraph) but they are affordable for most ($3.00 per month) and there’s a wide selection that is constantly updated. They are popular with the children I teach. I laminate them with the stories on one side and the questions on the other. They like answering the questions too and I make self-check cards available. — reviewed by Janina

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