curriculum review: Explode the Code

We’ve been using the Explode the Code series of workbooks this year.

Explode the Code, Book 1   -              By: Nancy Hall

Eliza has completed book 1 and 2 and is halfway through book 3.  I ordered them as a supplement to the language/phonics program we would be doing when we started last fall and they quickly became a primary tool for us.

I would not say ETC is a comprehensive program for phonics or spelling, but it does cover those disciplines in wonderful bite-sized ways.  It also gives your child handwriting practice.

ETC assumes when you start book 1 that your child knows their consonant sounds, but does a brief review of them in the beginning of the book.  It then moves to the vowel sound ‘a’ and, by the end of book 1, covers all the vowels, with the child spelling short one-syllable words from the get go and progressively incorporating the new vowel sounds.

Book 2 covers initial consonant blends and final consonant blends.  Book 3 reiterates all the skills taught so far and moves on to one-syllable words ending with a long vowel (such as -y and silent -e words).  It also teaches digraphs (-sh, -th, -wh, -ch, -ng, -ck) and trigraphs (-tch, -ee-ea, -ai-ay, and -oa-ow).

Also, there are Explode the Code primers which teach the consonant sounds in order to prepare for the basic Explode the Code.  Furthermore they have ETC books 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, etc.  These in between books provide extra practice for the student who needs it.

The ETC series has 8 books total that range from dipthongs, word families, three letter blends, soft c and g and suffixes/endings.  I’m not sure if we’ll continue on with it or not, but for this Kindergarten year, ETC has been invaluable for phonics reinforcement and basic spelling.

The workbooks are not overwhelming.  The pages are easy to complete and really boost the child’s confidence.  Eliza has felt very competent to work in them independently and we have found 2 pages per day to be manageable and suit our needs.

If you have a preschool, kindergarten or 1st grade student (depending on their abilities) these first Explode the Code books may be useful for you to check out.

7 thoughts on “curriculum review: Explode the Code

  1. I’ve used these with my 5 kids who can read, and about to start another one. Along with reading with Mom (to mom with mom helping) this has worked with all the “styles” we have at our house. I love how they can do it independently as they get older. Glad you like them, too! I use them with the Sonlight’s “I Can Read It” phonetic readers – they aren’t perfect but they have worked for us – and they coordinate (theoretically) with the progression of ETC.

  2. We used the Sonlight’s “I Can Read It” this year also. The readers are kind of annoying, but now that we’re through them, I must say.. they worked! So, I’m sure we’ll use them again with the ETC as well.

    Good to hear you’ve used ETC and it’s worked through different kids’ styles. I wasn’t sure about that.

    Have you used them all the way through book 8?

  3. hi abigail! i found your blog on facebook and have enjoyed reading the last few posts! we’re not at the kindergarten level yet (bryce is 2) but I am making mental notes : ) -julia

  4. Hi Julia! I enjoyed looking at your blog! Always fun to find fellow bloggers..

    And it’s never too early to start exploring and taking mental notes about all the curricula out there! Good for you.

  5. We do the 3 primer Get Ready for the Code books the year before I am ready to start working with them on actual sounding out. We do ETC 1,2, and 3 the year they do I Can Read It. The following year they do ETC 4,5, 6 on their own (of course I check it, but don’t need to help). I’ve never even looked at 7 and 8 or the half ones. After I Can Read It we go through all the “readers” of real books that Sonlight sells – First, Second, Intermediate, Advanced, (which we own all of them) etc plus all the fun books they can stand from the library. We have many favorite series books (gasp!) like the Cam Jansen Mysteries, The Third Grade Detectives, American Girls, Etc. I have a sheet with all the titles printed out on them and the kids can just highlight them with markers at completion. It’s pretty satisfying for them to really see in print how many books you’ve read. They don’t have to read them in order – just pick from the list from their level. Sometimes, odd things come up. This year my 10 year old (he’s done now…and as an aside, I did not start teaching him to read until two years ago because he wasn’t ready until he was 8.5 then he was really ready) and my 8 year old (she’s at Helm’s Deep) both decided to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy so they are “off list” and that’s OK with me. 🙂 8 year old just took a break to read Pippi Longstocking because LOTR was getting a bit sloggy. It’s so much fun when they really take off! Whee! Just read back through my post and it takes the prize for most confusing of any comment I’ve ever made. Hope you can figure out all my parentheses and side comments.

  6. Our youngest daughter used all of the Explode the Code books. She had a good foundation at her Christian Kindergarten school, but the school she attended for 1st grade did not use any phonics. Then in 2nd grade we homeschooled. I let her choose her own phonics book (as long as it seemed like a good one).

    Even though most people do not do phonics past 3rd grade, and even though there was phonics instruction in our reading and English books, it seemed important to me for her to keep on with it in 3rd grade and a year or two beyond.

    So I think even older kids can benefit from Explode the Code if they don’t have a strong foundation in phonics.

    Thanks for opening up your blog to discuss curriculum!

  7. I LOVE Explode the Code books. My kids worked on them and made really great progress. It’s the best phonics program I know. I blog on this at

    I also used system of phonics poems. It was a fun way to read and practice phonics with my kids.

    Pragmatic Mom

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