Many teachers have already reorganized their leveled libraries. Sorting books into bins labeled by theme or topic is time-consuming, but it’s not a difficult task. We immediately see that offering students more choice in their reading materials and teaching them to monitor their own reading for accuracy and comprehension is rewarding. However, books at the lower levels, “predictable books,” pose a challenge that is not so easily solved.
Problems with predictable books
Predictable books are designed to teach children not to depend on decoding to tackle unfamiliar words — they are purpose-written to teach children to predict, or guess words — so what children do with low-level books is not actually reading. Some students climb up the levels by transitioning away from picture-cues and predictable sentences, but others hold tightly to the guessing strategies that are reinforced by predictable books, and time with these books actually slows their decoding progress. For beginning readers, decodable books provide a more reliable path towards authentic texts, and using them for phonics instruction and fluency practice offers a “helps all, harms none” approach to teaching reading. But what, then, should we do with all our predictable books?!
Rethinking the instructional purpose
To repurpose predictable books for activities other than reading, we need to look at them with fresh eyes and new criteria. More important than the level stamped on the back cover is the contents inside.
We can ask ourselves, What are the features of this individual book that make it a useful teaching tool? A single book may have more than one useful feature and it might be repurposed for any number of language development, writing, or art activities.
We’ve listed out some of the features you might look for in predictable books and have drafted example activities to help with lesson planning.