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For those who know how to read English, it doesn't seem much like a code. But for a young child, it can seem nearly impossible to crack the system of syllables and syntax that is language. The authors of the Explode the Code series of phonics instruction books approach the teaching of reading and writing practically, providing students with the skills they need to read and understand words. The process of decoding is the process of learning to recognize letter-sound relationships and letter patterns so that the learner can begin to read any word they encounter by putting the sounds together. Explode the Code uses a highly visual decoding system to aid such recognition.
This is one of the more amusing phonics programs we've seen. Instead of boring Dick-and-Jane illustrations and little moralistic stories, Explode the Code uses drawings by children to illustrate the words being taught; a few people say the pictures are hard to figure out, but for most it doesn't seem to be a problem. There are also ridiculous yes/no questions in most lessons that help students understand the differences between words (the subject matter of the questions is ridiculous, not their effectiveness or format). Overall, this is an engaging program for kids just learning to read or those in need of remedial-level work, and one of our most recommended phonics curricula.
How Do These Work?
Explode the Code is a series of consumable worktexts. Students should complete 2-3 levels per year. The first three (Books A-C) provide a foundation of consonant sounds, reinforcing sound-recognition with learning to write each letter in manuscript form and with exercises that emphasize critical thinking. These are generally appropriate for preschoolers, though you can start them later. Book 1 provides consonant review and moves on to short vowel sounds. From there, the series takes students through the different phonics sounds and blends, including suffixes and prefixes in the later books.
Besides the first three "primer" books, there are eight levels of Explode the Code. For each of the first five levels, there are also "half" levels, books which help teachers differentiate instruction for students who need additional reinforcement and provide extra drill and practice; these "half" levels are optional except for students who aren't able to retain everything learned in the primary texts. Each text follows the same basic format, with similar exercises that continue to increase in difficulty, as well as periodic cumulative review. Students are expected to actively engage with the material they're learning, by reading, writing, matching, spelling and copying sounds and words; instructions are simple and formats are consistent, allowing kids to work independently as they are able to read and comprehend on their own.
Kids can't really learn to read by themselves, so you as the teacher will need to participate in lessons. The teachers guides (one for levels 1 and 2, another for levels 3 and 4, etc.) offer a brief summary of the authors's philosophy of education, and include answers to exercise problems and notes for teaching each lesson. Lessons are typically about 8 pages long—some kids have no problem completing one lesson a day (or more), while others need to pace themselves a bit slower. While the teacher guides might not seem like much at first glance, there is a lot of information in each one. The student texts themselves are fairly self-explanatory, so the teacher guides may not be necessary, especially if the instructor is confident teaching phonics.
The four Beyond the Code books (to be used after every second Explode the Code text) follow the same phonetic structure as the Explode the Code series, but focus on reading comprehension. Each lesson contains stories with exercises that build the student's ability to retain what he has read and to use that information. While there are elements of reading comprehension within the Explode the Code series, it is more thorough in Beyond the Code.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is a very light-hearted curriculum. But it is also very effective—though the authors would prefer students smile through lessons rather than grimace, they also want to ensure that they learn how to read well. Those who have used the program say their kids have excellent spelling skills as a result, and many testify that their students actually want to do more lessons than they have to. This is good news for those who want their kids to enjoy learning, and not just to memorize the necessary facts.
This is not an elaborate system. There aren't hundreds of flash cards or rules to memorize, and there aren't a bunch of audio/visual materials to supplement the black and white texts. While some might feel their kids need those extra trappings, a minimalist approach seems more straightforward, and the uniform structure of each book should make for ease of use that will keep kids from frustration. After the last book in this series, your child will know how to read, so the possibilities from here are nearly limitless. One of the best choices would simply be to have them start reading great literature and helping them learn to analyze it. Once a child knows how to read, the most important portal to learning and understanding has been opened for them—it's up to you to keep it opened.
- Get Ready for the Code covers letters b, f, k, m, r, and t.
- Get Set for the Code covers letters d, h, j, n, p, and s.
- Go for the Code covers letters c, g, l, q, v, w, x, y, and z.
- Book 1 includes consonant review and covers short vowels.
- Book 1 1/2 covers the same material as Book 1.
- Book 2 covers initial and final consonant blends.
- Book 2 1/2 covers the same material as Book 2.
- Book 3 covers one-syllable words ending in a long vowel, including -y; silent -e words; digraphs sh, th, wh, ch, -ng, -ck; trigraph -tch; and diphthongs ee-ea, ai-ay, & oa-ow.
- Book 3 1/2 covers the same material as Book 3.
- Book 4 covers compound words; common endings -ful, -est, -ed, -ness; rules for syllable division between double & different consonants, with open & closed syllables, with syllables ending in -y & -le, diphthong syllables, and three-syllable words.
- Book 4 1/2 covers the same material as Book 4.
- Book 5 covers word families all-alk, old-olt-oll, ild-ind; qu words; three-letter blends thr, shr, scr, str, spr, spl; diphthong -ey; and three sounds of -ed.
- Book 5 1/2 covers the same material as Book 5.
- Book 6 covers vowel plus r words; ar, or, er, ir, ur, wor, war; diphthongs oo, ea, ie, oi-oy, ou-ow, au-aw, igh, and ew-ui-ue-ou.
- Book 6 1/2 covers the same material as Book 6.
- Book 7 covers soft c & g; silent consonants; ear, ei, eigh words; and digraph ph.
- Book 8 covers suffixes and endings.
Publisher's course description
Beyond the Code 3 Table of Contents
Beyond the Code 3 Sample Lesson: "Day Care for Dogs"
Explode the Code 1 Table of Contents
Explode the Code 1 Sample Pages
Beyond the Code 3 Table of Contents
Beyond the Code 3 Sample Pages
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