Explode the Code Review


A lot of homeschoolers use Explode the Code for phonics practice. What is so special about Explode the Code? I think the answer is tw0-fold: scientific and simplistic.

Explode the Code was actually published as an extended practice workbook for special ed teachers to use with children having difficulty learning to read. But the rules of phonics present the structure of our language, and the systematic presentation of the rules in Explode the Code makes sense to nearly all learners. The book number has no relationship to grade levels, but rather, represent the sequence in learning the phonetic rules. Inside the back cover of any of the Explode the Code workbooks contains the Scope and Sequence grid that references the phonetic rules presented in each lesson. The sequence of skills builds on what has already been practiced. I would suggest that young, beginning readers start with the Before the Code books: A, B, and C. These books are made to be interactive between teacher and student, with both auditory and visual exercises in letter sounds and phonemic awareness within words. The lessons move from visual-copying skills to segmenting-blending skills to spelling words from a picture cue. This consistent presentation of words is followed throughout the series, adding reading comprehension skills at Book 6. Explode the Code is not just for young learners. The pictures and sentences in this series are funny and silly, appealing to upper elementary students as easily as the younger ones. I’ve heard 10 year-old boys chuckling over their work countless times at the goofy sentences. I would recommend that most elementary students, begin with Book 1, although a child who has had phonics instruction and needs to work on syllabication rules and develop multi-syllable spelling vocabulary could jump in at Book 4. The half levels are meant for students who continue to need additional practice on the rules of the previous book. The half level books contain the same phonics rules with additional words for those rules, yet students are still moving forward and feeling the sense of completion and satisfaction that comes with success.   The sequence of skills, the explanation of phonics rules, and the effective practice for students of many ages are due to the science behind this series.

The science would be lost, however, if it weren’t for the simplicity of the design. The lessons have a consistent progression in the presentation of words. The pages have extremely simple instructions, even though it is quite apparent on each page what the student is to do. The pages have no more than 10 items per page with borders and plenty of white space. Books 1 through 4 have primer lines with the dashed middle line for students who are working on handwriting and spatial awareness. Books 5 through 8 have single lines for answers, but leave plenty of space for students who still write in large letters. This series does not include items in cursive writing, although students can respond in cursive since space is adequate for responses. Each lesson ends with a spelling test formatted with a picture cue that had been presented somewhere in the practice pages. There are Code Cards and a Wall Chart that can be purchased to follow Books 1 to 3. However, the rules and words presented are so simple and straightforward, that a teacher can easily make posters or flashcards for direct instruction. The end of each book has a post-test that assesses the long-term retention of both reading and spelling skills. I suggest that a child who gets an overall score of less than 90% or struggles with any one particular section of the post-test would benefit from completing the subsequent half level book.

While Explode the Code is designed from the science of systematic, intensive phonics research and its design is beautifully simple, I would also caution home educators or classroom teachers from using Explode the Code as the sole source of phonics instruction. Multi-sensory, direct instruction in the rules of phonics and practicing of both decoding and spelling words in their phonetic patterns has proven to be the most effective method of teaching kids to read and spell. Explode the Code is a wonderful support for that instruction, but as a workbook series, it cannot help but fall short of the multi-sensory aspect without the verbal instruction that comes from interaction with a teacher. Combine the two aspects and you will have a powerful curriculum that builds great readers.

You can order Explode the Code materials at: www.heart4teaching.com. If you have questions, feel free to post them or email us.


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  1. Pingback: Institute for Excellence in Writing~ Level C « Mission Possible

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