top of page

Building Strong, Confident Readers: Repeated Opportunities for Decoding Practice

While our individual memories of learning to read may vary, the process that our brains underwent to get there is remarkably similar. As Stanislas Dehaene eloquently articulates in Reading in the Brain, “Every child is unique…but when it comes to reading, all have roughly the same brain that imposes the same constraints and the same learning sequence” (Dehaene, 2009, p. 218).

Repetition is necessary to read automatically. In order to translate our speech into print (encoding/spelling) and our print into speech (decoding/reading), students must engage in repeated practice. Reading involves a surprising number of steps:

  • Students must perceive the graphemes on a page.

  • Students must connect these graphemes to the phonemes they represent.

  • Students must blend these phonemes together.

  • Students must recognize, or identify, a word.

It takes some time (and repeated engagements with these steps) before a word’s pronunciation, spelling, and meaning can become stored in the brain for automatic retrieval. This mental process is referred to as orthographic mapping, and both phonemic awareness and phoneme-grapheme knowledge facilitate this process (Ehri, 2014). Orthographic mapping has taken place in instances where we read quickly and automatically, seemingly recognizing words effortlessly and by “sight.”

While we know repeated practice decoding is an essential part of becoming an automatic reader, the number of repetitions needed varies from learner to learner. While some learners may only need to undergo this process a handful of times per word in order to recognize it “by sight,” other learners require significantly more repetitions. One estimate suggests the following number of repetitions is needed before a word can be recognized by sight (Montgomery, Ilk, & Moats, 2013, p. 66):

  • 1-4 repetitions for a gifted student

  • 4-14 repetitions for a typical student

  • 14-40 repetitions for a struggling student

  • 40-200 repetitions for a student with dyslexia or learning disability

With this in mind, today we will explore different ways to provide students with multiple opportunities for repeated decoding practice. The objective is simple: We must provide students with the repetitions they need to become automatic readers.


It is important to specify a condition that makes this repeated practice effective. When students are first learning to read, they need to be taught phonemic awareness skills (specifically, segmenting and blending individual sounds within words) in addition to phoneme-grapheme knowledge (connecting sounds within words to the letters that represent them). An effective way to do this is through explicit, systematic, sequential, and cumulative phonics instruction, in which students are directly taught letter-sound correspondences in a sequence that moves from basic to increasingly complex. For more information on this topic, check out our post on four key principles to guide foundational phonics instruction.

The activities suggested provide effective decoding practice in the context of instruction following a clearly outlined scope and sequence or progression of phonics skills. These activities would be far less effective when presented haphazardly, without a clear order and sequence guiding the instructional focus. Additionally, systematic phonics scope and sequences vary, so if you are utilizing resources from different programs that have unique progressions, it is important to examine these differences in advance to help fill in any holes existing for students.

If you are looking for a scope and sequence to teach beginning reading skills and don’t know where to start, we have attached our Level 1 Scope and Sequence (covering consonants, short vowels, and common consonant digraphs) below. We hope this helps you have a clear sense of direction for getting started!

Level 1 Scope and Sequence
Download • 26KB



Visual review supports student decoding at the smallest level of sound – the phoneme! Students view a card or slide, initially with a single grapheme, and produce the sound represented by the grapheme. For example, a teacher holds up a card with the letter p, and students say /p/. A teacher holds up a card with letters sh, and students say /sh/.

The key is to include just the concepts that have been explicitly taught. As you move along in your phonics progression and introduce students to an increasing number of concepts, the pile of cards used for visual review will grow.

This exercise is meant to be fast-paced and should only take a minute or two. The goal is to provide students with efficient, meaningful review of the letter-sound correspondences they have learned thus far, quickly increasing the repetitions they have accessing and producing this information.

If you are seeking phoneme-grapheme cards to use for visual review, check out our editable phoneme-grapheme cards here. These cards are compatible with any scope and sequence. Several versions of the cards are included, and some specifically support our next recommendation, blending practice.

While phoneme-grapheme cards are an excellent tool to have, they can easily be recreated at home or school with index cards and a marker. :) We also have free phoneme-grapheme cards for consonants and short vowels available in our free resource library to download. If you haven’t already, sign up for our email list here, and you’ll receive a password to access the library.

Piles of three phoneme-grapheme cards with green, yellow, and red "tap dots" spelling the word "hat."


In many Orton-Gillingham based and dyslexia therapy programs, visual review is followed by blending practice. After students recall familiar letter-sound correspondences, they then blend these sounds together to read syllables and words.

Like the visual drill, we recommend keeping this activity as fast-paced as is possible for your students. The goal is to provide students with practice reading as many syllables or words as they can. Students state the sounds represented by the graphemes displayed and then blend those sounds together. Just like with the visual review, new concepts can be integrated as students learn them, enabling students to “unlock” an increasing number of words.

There are several different ways students can be taught to blend sounds together. The most common method of stating each sound in isolation first before blending (/k/ /a/ /t/, cat!) may not always be the easiest approach for students to pick up. If you are interested in learning more about the different types of blending, stay tuned for an upcoming blog post addressing this topic.

Phoneme-grapheme cards can be used for blending practice. As students recall sounds within the visual review, cards can be strategically placed into three piles based on where the grapheme usually falls (e.g., grapheme -ck would be placed in the third pile, or the final position, because it occurs at the end of a syllable). These piles can then be flipped over and used to help students practice blending. After students state the sounds and blend a syllable together, one card can be removed from a pile to create a new word. (E.g., /p/ /i/ /ck/, pick! *change one card* /s/ /i/ /ck/, sick! *change one card* /s/ /a/ /ck/ and so on).

An alternative to using phoneme-grapheme cards is using digital blending slides. These slides often include both the visual review and blending portion of a lesson. They are beneficial because they require no preparation and can usually be projected so that students have an easier time seeing them.

Our digital blending slides for consonants, short vowels, and consonant digraphs include over 24,500 slides! Our goal was to create the most comprehensive, easy to use resource for educators that requires absolutely no preparation and provides students with research-based, progressive blending practice. While you certainly do not need to use all of these slides, we have designed it so that for every new grapheme introduced, students are provided with 200 opportunities to blend syllables and words togethers. Cumulative review is integrated throughout, and each concept is broken into four sets of slides, so you could easily break up your instruction throughout the week. We have also designed digital blending slides for additional concepts including initial/final consonant blends and suffix -s.

A practice blending slide spelling the word "nest" with dots under the n, e, s, and t. A horizontal line connects the s and t, the consonant blend.


When students practice blending, they are practicing reading words; or at a minimum, syllables. As this process becomes easier for students, they are ready to progress beyond reading syllables in isolation. Students can begin to read words, phrases, and sentences (and eventually, paragraphs and stories!)

There are a number of factors that dictate whether or not a student is ready for some of these more challenging tasks. If a student is having a very difficult time with blending slides, taking several seconds to recall individual letter-sound correspondences, or having trouble holding sounds in their working memory and blending them together accurately, they likely will not be successful with an entire sentence. In fact, depending on how difficult it is for them, this could lead to overwhelm. It is our job as educators to ensure we structure our lessons so that students are successful the majority of the time. We must progressively increase the challenge when students are ready, but it’s important that this is done in a way that students continue to see their own success.

When students are successful with visual review and blending, they are likely ready to read phrases, sentences, and even more! Students do not need to have learned all of their consonants or short vowels before they can begin reading words, sentences, and even stories. Once students have learned just a few letters, they can begin accessing this higher-level material.

There are many mediums available for students to practice reading word, phrases, and sentences. We often use our Decodable Word, Phrase, and Sentence Slides because they follow the same sequence and are aligned with our other resources, including our blending slides and decodable passages. Students start by reading ten words including the concepts they have learned so far, followed by five phrases, and then ten sentences. These numbers can of course be modified to match the student’s learning stamina.

Word, phrase, and sentence slides provide additional repetitions decoding words with explicitly introduced concepts, and they increase the load from visual review and blending practice.

A turquoise decodable word, phrase, and sentence slide displays the decodable sentence, "A red crab dug in the mud." A dot showing where to start reading is under the word "a."


The goal for most children learning to read tends to be this: They want to be able to pick up a book and read it independently. They want to understand the words on a page and be able to learn new information all by themselves. If you’re a parent and have ever heard the expression, “I can do it myself!” you will likely connect to this idea.

Decodable texts are often referenced as “training wheels” when learning to read, and they are particularly important in the early stages of reading development. Decodable texts provide a controlled environment for students to practice the blending skills they have been working hard on, in the context of a story. Students are able to see how they can use the skills they have learned to actually read a story independently. They’re also able to continue the active, repetitive decoding process that facilitates the mental orthographic mapping process discussed earlier. They’re effortfully decoding in order to build that desired automaticity.

Again, students can begin this process very early. In SparkEd Literacy’s scope and sequence, we introduce decodable passages after students have learned only five concepts. Consider our very first passage below where students have only learned letter sound connections for s, i, t, a, and n.

Decodable passage reading: "Sit, Nan. Nan sat. Sit, Nat. Nat sat. Nan sat in it! Nat sat in it!"

While perhaps not the most riveting of stories, a child can read this passage and understand that the words they are reading truly do communicate information. What did Nan and Nat sit in? Why did they sit in it? This can often motivate our earliest readers.

There are lots of decodable passages available! The most important thing at the earliest stages of reading is to try and find passages that align with the sequence you are currently using for your instruction. At SparkEd Literary, we write at least two passages for every new concept introduced, and so far, we’ve written 74 stories total, covering consonants and short vowels, common consonant digraphs, consonant blends, suffix -s, and the floss rule! You can choose whether the story is presented as a book or a passage, and we include QR codes as well, so students can listen to the story read aloud after they have finished reading.

Some organizations also offer free decodable passages to add to your collection! At the end of our blog post, we have linked several places where you can find these passages offered for free.

Decodable passages are not meant to be forever. Once students have mastered some of the more basic phonics concepts and are progressing into more advanced ones, students should have opportunities to engage with texts that are not as controlled. This has a number of benefits and encourages students to exercise flexibility in the patterns that they know (this is something called set for variability, which we’ll discuss more in a future post). However, when students are just beginning to learn to read and we are trying to facilitate orthographic mapping and enable them to become fluent readers, as we’ve discussed, repetition is key. They need to decode words comprised specifically of the concepts that they know. The more they do this early on, the earlier we’ll able to remove their “training wheels.”

Front and back cover of black and white decodable book for students called "Quin and the Wish." Illustration of young smiling girl with curly hair with a thinking bubble showing money and a boat.


Repeated readings of texts have a number of established benefits. Tim Rasinski notes that repeated readings not only improve word recognition, accuracy, automaticity, and comprehension, but that what students learn through the process of repeated readings actually transfers to new texts (Rasinski, 2012).

An easy way we recommend encouraging this is for educators and parents is to have a “decodable passage folder.” After students read a passage once, they can place it within the folder. A routine can be established whether it’s in the classroom or at home before bed where students reread a passage they have read previously.

In order to make this activity more motivating, as students do not always want to reread a text, a visual component can be added to the passages so students can see how many times they have read the text. Our decodable passages contain three small circles with the numbers 1, 2, and 3, and we encourage students to color in a circle each time they read a passage with us or their parents. Additional reinforcements could be considered for what happens after a students has read a passage three times.


When learning any new concept or skill, games are always an excellent tool to increase student engagement and add more levity to learning. They can also be just as effective at facilitating decoding practice as any of the other tools we’ve discussed so far. Below, we’ll discuss two examples of games we’ve created and use with our students regularly. However, “gamifying” reading can be as simple of a task as taking a game you already have (e.g., Candy Land), and having your students/child read a decodable word, phrase, or sentence prior to taking their turn. It can really be that simple and can make a big difference, especially on a day where a student is feeling overwhelmed or low in energy.

Our two favorite games to use with our students are Roll and Reads and Decode and Dash. For both games, we have versions available for every single new phoneme-grapheme correspondence introduced. As discussed previously, use the version of a game that your student is currently ready for. Within our Roll and Reads, we have versions that include only words. We also have versions that include sentences. You decide what your student is ready for.

Roll and Read board game with six images of different dice rolls and a grid of thirty words with consonant blends. Three black and white stars are under each column of words.

Roll and Read board game with six images of different dice rolls and a grid of eighteen decodable sentences with consonant blends. A black and white star sits next to each decodable sentence.

Likewise, for our Decode and Dash board games (operating essentially the same as Candy Land), we have word and sentence versions available for each concept.

Board game titled "Decode and Dash." Colorful dots arranged in a pattern with brown ladders and "minus one" circles changing path of players.


Fluency grids are another tool we use to provide students with additional decoding practice. Fluency grids involve a student reading just a few words, repeatedly, in a different order each time. The intention is to provide those repetitions with the goal of a student building their word-reading fluency (essentially, they may read the words faster on their final repetition than they do on their first repetition).

While we typically use these activities as quick, one-to-two minute practice opportunities, there are different ways these grids could be used. Here are three ideas:

  • Students could use a fun wand or other pointer as they read each word.

  • Students could use a colorful tool to cross out each word as they read.

  • Students could read one word and cross if off. They could then find all the other instances where that same word appears, reading it each time.

If you do use a variation, the most important thing to keep in mind is that students should be reading each word aloud, multiple times! We want students to be engaged as actively as possible while they are learning to read (just circling the same word repeatedly without actively decoding it would not be nearly as beneficial as naming the word, or sounding out the word, each time).

We have created fluency grids targeting consonants, short vowels, and consonant digraphs, in addition to consonant blends, suffix -s, and the floss rule.

We also have 48 short vowel fluency grids available in our free resource library to download! If you haven’t already, sign up for our email list here, and you’ll receive a password to download these fluency grids.

Fluency grid with consonant digraph "sh" focus; five rows of five words including "sh" in different orders in each row. Star in top righthand corner with consonant digraph "sh."


Word chains are another tool to provide students with practice decoding (and they can also be used to help students practice spelling, as well).

In a word chain, students read a word. Then, in the next word that follows, one letter-sound combination has changed. An example of a word chain students might read is:

hat → hit → wit → wish

There are numerous ways to modify word chaining activities to make the activity more meaningful/engaging, especially when the emphasis is on spelling. The suggestions below are specifically for decoding:

  • Instead of having a list of words printed out, this activity could be done using magnetic letters to emphasize the switching of a single letter-sound correspondence.

  • Students could be asked to switch a letter-sound correspondence themselves and state the new word they have made.

  • Students could be presented with two images following the word. After they read the word, they could circle the picture that the word describes.


While not the emphasis of today’s blog post, reading and spelling, or decoding and encoding, have a reciprocally beneficial relationship. Teaching students how to segment the sounds in words, and translate this into writing, supports decoding. This instruction should not be omitted but instead prioritized within a comprehensive foundational skills reading program.

We recommend students regularly engage in an auditory review/spelling deck activity. Students are provided with a sound and represent the multiple ways they know how to spell this sound in writing. The more concepts students learn, the more ways they will ultimately know how to spell a sound. For example, after hearing sound /k/, at first, students might say: c /k/ and write the letter c. Eventually, they might say c /k/, k /k/, ck /k/, writing three representations down, instead of one.

We also recommend students regularly engage in spelling dictation practice that directly targets the concepts they are learning. To learn more, click here our recent blog post all about about how to build strong, confident spellers!

Two spiral notebooks open display student writing sheets and dictation pages. Pages include a variation of lines and boxes for students to write, and rewrite, six words. One template includes space for sentence writing with a "CUPS" checklist.

In conclusion, repeated practice decoding is an essential part of becoming an automatic reader. There are many different ways we can provide students with this repeated practice. A main priority in the early stages of reading is ensuring that the opportunities we provide our students with are aligned and follow a sequential, systematic, and cumulative progression. The more we can do this early on for our students, the faster they will learn their foundational reading skills, the more confident they’ll become, and the sooner we’ll be able to introduce them to more authentic and challenging reading experiences.


Written by: Taryn Quaytman & Rachel Draper

Copyright © 2023 SparkEd LLC



Graphemes: The smallest functional units of written language that represent phonemes, or individual speech sounds. (e.g., p, sh, ai)

Phonemes: Individual speech sounds; the smallest units or building blocks of language.

Phonemic Awareness: An ability to distinguish between and manipulate phonemes in words.


Looking for free decodable passages? Here are some passages below!

*Note: Remember to consider these within the context of your overall instructional progression. We have not ready every text within these sets and are not providing recommendations for a specific set or sequence here.





Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain: The science and evolution of a human invention.

Penguin Random House.

Ehri, L. C. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 5–21.

Montgomery, P., Ilk, M., & Moats, L. (2012).A principal’s primer for raising reading achievement. Cambium Learning Group/Sopris Learning.

Rasinski, T.V. (2012). Why reading fluency should be hot. The Reading Teacher, 65(8), 516-522.

bottom of page