Learning to read is an important and crucial stage in any child’s life.
All About Reading and Explode the Code are two popular and highly-respected reading programs whose proven techniques and lessons have helped tens of thousands of students learn to read over the years.
Being excellent and reputable programs that, on the surface at least, appear quite similar, it can be hard for parents to choose between the two.
To help out, we’ve compared All About Reading and Explode the Code so that homeschooling parents can make a more informed choice.
What is All About Reading
All About Reading is a complete, mastery-based, Orton-Gillingham-inspired reading program that can help kids learn to read through comprehensive phonics instruction.
The program teaches students reading, vocabulary and reading comprehension by using clear instruction, illustrated readers, manipulatives and a variety of hands-on activities and games.
All About Reading is divided into two programs – Pre-Reading and Levels 1-4 and is taught in traditional book form.
What is Explode the Code
Explode the Code is a complete Orton-Gillingham-inspired reading program that helps kids develop reading skills through direct phonics instruction.
Its parent company offers three programs – Pre-Literacy Primers (Get Ready, Get Set & Go), Explode the Code and Beyond the Code – that together help students develop pre-literacy, reading, vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.
The program is available as both an online program and as a traditional paper-based program.
Grade Range and Course Structure
As full phonics programs, both All About Reading and Explode the Code are aimed at largely the same grade range – pre-K to Grade 4, i.e. covering the development of pre-literacy skills through basic reading fluency and comprehension.
Both All About Reading and Explode the Code divide their series up in order to cater to students of different skill levels.
Pre-Literacy (pre-K and K)
Both programs have specific books catering to students at a pre-reading level, i.e. students who are ready to read but haven’t started, where students learn things like the alphabet, print awareness (understanding how writing works) and phonological awareness (learning to identify and trace letters and their sounds).
All About Reading contains its pre-literacy teaching in a single course, Pre-reading, that contains its own teacher’s manual, student manual and assorted reading and teaching materials.
In contrast, Explode the Code divides its pre-literacy program across three primers – Get Ready for the Code (Level A), Get Set for the Code (Level B) and Go For the Code (Level C), each with their own particular lessons, activities and teaching plans.
Both All About Reading and Explode the Code do a good job at making sure that their pre-reading courses follow a similar teaching style as the main reading courses, a little teaching continuity that can be nice for those who plan on using the same program moving forward.
Main Phonics Courses (Grades 1-4)
Both All About Reading and Explode the Code generally aim their main reading courses at students in grades 1-4.
Like the pre-reading programs, the way in which these curricula are structured is a little different.
All About Reading divides its program across 4 levels, roughly one for each intended grade (or rather, the reading skills most students develop in each grade).
Each level is a self-contained course, with its own teacher’s manual, student packet, readers and teaching materials.
In contrast, Explode the Code is spread across 8 workbooks, roughly two for each grade, with separate teachers guides for every 2 books.
In addition to the main Explode the Code books there are separate so-called half-books and Beyond the Code books, which provide extra review and vocabulary/comprehension exercises, respectively.
Ultimately, which course structure is better obviously depends on the parent and their preferences.
Those who prefer more of an all in one pre-literacy package, a single course, and don’t want to deal with several smaller books and other courses might prefer All About Reading.
Those who prefer to divide up their pre-literacy learning into several shorter and more specific courses that focus on particular skills, and who don’t mind buying multiple books to do so, might prefer Explode the Code.
Similarly those on a stricter budget and who want to buy books piecemeal may prefer Explode the Code’s structure.
As parents are probably aware, learning to read has less to do with age or grade than whether a student is cognitively ready for it.
As reading programs, both All About Reading and Explode the Code really depend on parents assessing their students abilities and readiness, and because they have multiple levels, parents are free to start the programs based on actual skill rather than recommended age or grade.
To help out, both All About Reading and Explode the Code offer parents placement tests that parents can use to figure out which level of either series best corresponds to their students current abilities, if any.
All About Reading offers its placement tests for free as downloadable PDFs on its website.
In contrast, while Explode the Code offers a very short and quick assessment online, its various placement tests are contained in a printed book that is sold separately from the main series.
Look and Feel of Books
All About Reading and Explode the Code are quite different when it comes to the look and feel of their printed books.
In general, All About Reading’s books are colorful and quite interesting to look at and use. The Teacher’s guides are full color and contain lots of graphics and helpful drawings and the readers are fun to read and contain wonderfully illustrated, full color artwork.
In contrast, while the learning is certainly solid, Explode the Code’s books are a little more traditional and basic.
In general, they are printed in black and white with fewer and simpler drawings, while the teacher’s guides can be more text-heavy and contain fewer illustrations and graphics.
Explode the Code vs All About Reading: How They Teach Reading
Orton-Gillingham Inspired Approach
When it comes to reading instruction, both Explode the Code and All About Reading are heavily inspired by Orton-Gillingham methods.
That is, both programs’ lessons teach phonics explicitly, with parents introducing and directly explaining various rules and strategies for reading.
Similarly, both programs ensure that their lessons are consistent and introduce material the same way throughout, which can help students feel more secure and comfortable with learning.
Both programs also ensure that their lessons are multisensory, with parents and students not just blending and decoding words and sounds but also having discussions (auditory learning) about the learning, listen to stories, drawing and tracing letters (tactile learning), using flashcards and matching activities (visual learning) and more.
Finally, both programs make sure to structure their lessons in a way that makes them sequential and cumulative, i.e. students in both programs start off with the simplest rules at any given level and incrementally build their way up to being able to tackle more advanced reading challenges.
With all that said, although they are broadly similar in their approach to reading instruction, All About Reading and Explode the Code do differ quite a bit in the way they go about doing it.
Although both All About Reading and Explode the Code include a good deal of multisensory activities in their lessons, they do differ a little in how much hands-on learning they include in their coursework.
While both programs make use of things like flashcards, letter tracing and charts, in general All About Reading offers a little more in the way of hands-on learning activities.
In All About Reading, the use of letter tile manipulatives are a central component to the program and students and parents frequently play games or do activities with cards, charts and more throughout the series.
Parents might, for example, throw down a series of word cards and have students play “swat the word.”
Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension
More than just being simple phonics programs, All About Reading and Explode the Code also directly teach vocabulary and reading comprehension.
All About Reading integrates vocabulary and reading/listening comprehension into its lesson structure, with various activities and games designed to introduce and explain new words and test a student’s understanding of the readings.
Students might, for example, draw the meaning of a word, build sentences with new vocabulary, answer questions about a reading’s storyline and so on.
Explode the Code is also very strong when it comes to developing vocabulary and reading comprehension skills and also has dedicated sections for vocabulary and comprehension in its teacher’s guides.
Explode the code also offers more direct comprehension, vocabulary and reading work in its supplementary books, Beyond the Code, which are sold separately.
Both Explode the Code and All About Reading recognize that some students need to periodically review concepts and skills to really let them sink in.
Although All About Reading is a mastery reading program, letting students work on one concept or topic in reading instruction before moving on, it makes a strong effort to integrate a dedicated review section to each of its lessons that takes place before any new material is introduced.
As a result, in All About Reading students frequently get the opportunity to brush up on things like letter sounds, phonic rules and so on.
Explode the Code also integrates a review session before new material is introduced, but generally goes a little bit further.
Each workbook in Explode the Code also comes with a pre- and post-test, to make sure that students are ready for/have understood the material in the book.
And, as with Vocabulary and Comprehension, Explode the Code also offers a supplementary and optional “½ series” of books (also sold separately) that offer additional practice exercises for further review.
Readers and Reading Practice
Being reading programs, both All About Reading and Explode the Code contain stories and compositions for students to practice and hone their new-found skills.
With Explode the Code’s Beyond the Code reading practice, each book in the series contains about 3-7 stories, most of which are aimed at kids with amusing topics and settings.
Typically, these stories are short and compositions are short and are illustrated with simple, black and white drawings.
In addition to using these for simple reading practice, these stories form the basis of a variety of exercises that help students practice and understand phonics rules, learn new words and work on their comprehension skills.
All About Reading also has quite a bit of reading work in its courses, but it does so with separate readers.
Rather than being included in the student books, each level in All About Reading comes with two to four readers, each of which is more like a collection of short stories whose complexity and content matches the student’s level.
As with Explode the Code’s stories, these readers are engaging and fun to read, tending to use a good deal of humor and fun pictures as they go.
Unlike Explode the Code, however, All About Reading’s readers are more like little story books, being full color and containing beautiful and original hand-drawn illustrations for kids to enjoy.
Interestingly, and in contrast to Explode the Code, All About Reading also integrates a dedicated read aloud component to its lessons.
Designed to instill a love and enthusiasm for reading (and to hone their listening comprehension), Read Aloud Time activities allow parents to spend 20 minutes or so reading their favorite texts to their students, a sort of Charlotte Mason-style activity that can appeal to many homeschooling parents.
In our opinion, All About Reading and Explode the Code both do an excellent job at making phonics instruction a lot easier for parents.
In both programs, the teacher’s guides contain clear, step-by-step lessons that provide enough detail and guidance so that even those with little experience in teaching should be able to conduct lessons easily and effectively with no real prep work required.
As such both programs are essentially “open and go.”
The difference between the two largely lies in the amount of lesson scripting that they contain.
Broadly speaking, All About Reading’s teacher’s guides are more explicitly scripted.
Not only do they contain step-by-step and detailed lesson instructions, but they contain full dialogue scripts that parents can read aloud, word for word, if they so choose.
As a result, parents who are a little less comfortable or experienced with phonics teaching might have an easier time explaining some of the more abstract and confusing ideas in English, as they can simply fall back on a ready script if they need it.
In contrast, Explode the Code’s teacher’s guides provide the same easy to follow, step-by-step instructions that All About Reading’s guides do, only without an explicit dialogue to follow.
As a result, while all the information and instruction is there, the program generally allows a lot more room for a more natural interaction and discussion between parents and students.
Online Learning and Use of Technology
One last difference between All About Reading and Explode the Code is in their use of technology.
While All About Reading does have a few apps associated with it (digital letter tiles and phonetic pronunciation apps, for example) it is, by and large, a traditional paper-based reading program, with students and teachers working out of printed student packets and teacher’s guides, respectively.
In contrast, Explode the Code is a little more technology-forward, offering a full online reading course in addition to its traditional, paper-based program.
A web-based version of its curriculum, Explode the Code Online provides reading instruction, adaptive exercises, animations and audio narration and turns the curriculum into more of a self-study reading program for kids, freeing up parents’ time a bit more.
Similarly, it also gives parents access to fairly detailed progress reporting, providing a lot of information on how students are developing skill-wise, their performance on reading exercises and offering fairly detailed suggestions for further practice.
Ultimately, although Explode the Code’s online reading program isn’t the most advanced out there, it can be a solution for parents who are themselves a bit short on time or who prefer their students to learn digitally.
Note: All prices correct as of writing, all prices in USD.
All About Reading Pricing
All About Reading Levels 1-4
All About Reading Materials package: $159.95 for each level
One Time Purchases:
Reading Interactive Kits (for Levels 1-4)
Explode the Code Pricing
Get Ready for the Code: $9.35 each
Get Ready for the Code Teacher’s Guide: $13.33
Explode the Code Workbooks: $10.60 each
Explode the Code (½) Workbooks: $10.60 each
Explode the Code Teacher’s Guides:$11.72 each
Explode the Code Placement Tests: $26.50
Beyond the Code Workbooks: $10.60each
Explode the Code Online: $30 for 12 months subscription
It can be a little tricky for parents to directly compare All About Reading and Explode the Code.
Levels in All About Reading are sold as all-in-one packages.
On the other hand, Explode the Code books are often sold individually, with parents being able to pick and choose what they need.
That said, Explode the Code books can be sold as different bundled packages, depending on the retailer.
When compared level to level as bundles, with all the necessary books and materials included, Explode the Code and All About Reading aren’t all that different when it comes to their pricing.
A level of All About Reading can cost between $99 (pre-reading) to $159.95 (Reading 1-4), and requires a one time purchase of its teaching kits, costing an additional $22.95 or $49.95.
As a result, on the low end it can cost around $122.90 and go to about $209.90, depending on the materials and kits chosen.
Explode the Code, meanwhile, can be found for about $195.28 for a complete grade level (2 books, teacher’s guide), including its ½ series for extra practice, and $131.68 without the ½ series.
In our opinion, All About Reading’s all-in-one packages can be a little more convenient to buy, while Explode the Code’s option to buy individual books can offer a little more flexibility, but the two programs are ultimately in the same ballpark, pricewise.
|All About Reading||Explode the Code|
|Explicit phonics instruction||✅||✅|
|Grades||pre-K to Grade 4||pre-K to Grade 4|
|Free placement test||✅||❌|
|Open and Go||✅||✅|
Bottom Line: How do I decide between All About Reading and Explode the Code?
Both Explode the Code and All About Reading are popular, proven and highly effective reading curricula that have helped thousands of students learn to read over the years.
Consequently, it can be hard to choose between the two and parents need to consider their students’ needs and their own homeschooling style and requirements before making a decision.
To help out, we’ve put together the chart below outlining some things parents might want to consider.
|I’m a parent and…||Consider|
|I would like a strong, proven method of teaching phonics||Either|
|I’d like to integrate my own reading and favorite books into lessons||All About Reading|
|I’d like a little more technological help in teaching or more independent learning||Explode the Code|
|I’d like to only focus on reading and phonics||Explode the Code|
|I’d like lessons with a lot more hands-on activities and games||All About Reading|
|I’d like to use richly illustrated and colorful materials||All About Reading|
|My student needs a lot of extra practice and review||Explode the Code|
|I would like to buy an all-in-one curricula package||All About Reading|
|I would like to pick and choose which books I need||Explode the Code|
|I would like a program that offers a complete dialogue I can follow to teach||All About Reading|
|I’m not sure about my student’s abilities or skills and would like a free placement test||All About Reading|
For More Information
To learn more about these programs you can:
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.