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2.4.7: School Readiness Focus: Language and Literacy

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    Language and Literacy: Book and Print Conventions

    Book conventions are the general "rules" for understanding how to read a book such as the parts of a book (front and back cover, pages, spine, etc.), where to start reading, the direction in which to read, the contents of the cover (title, author's and illustrator's name(s), etc.), and text features such as a table of contents or an index (read more about these in the Spotlight on Informational Texts). Print conventions include spaces between letters and words, punctuation, capitalization, and varying text styles such as italics or boldface. An overall strategy for improving children's ability to understand book or print conventions is to choose a few to label during your storytime each time you come across them.

    Studies have shown that young children spend very little time, as little as 2% of their total viewing time, looking at the words on a page during shared book reading (Evans & Saint-Aubin, 2011). To help build print awareness, you can use print referencing – pointing to target words as you say them, commenting on the way a word looks on the page and why it looks that way (such as larger or smaller words to show a character is yelling or whispering), or asking questions about the words or letters on a page (especially when sharing alphabet books). Print referencing during shared book reading may increase children’s print awareness, a foundational concept for early literacy (Evans & Saint-Aubin, 2011; Terrell & Watson, 2018).

    Some books lend themselves more easily to print referencing because they have higher print saliency, meaning more words or letters intentionally and noticeably stand out. To integrate highly print-salient books into your storytime, look for books with one or more of these print features (Terrell & Watson, 2018):

    Note that highly print-salient books on their own don’t significantly raise the amount of attention young children pay to the words and letters on a page (Evans & Saint-Aubin, 2011), but rather they can assist your use of print referencing which may support children’s development of print awareness.

    For more strategies for choosing books that support this aspect of school readiness, take a look at literacy expert Saroj Ghoting’s quick guide to choosing and sharing books based on the first edition of Every Child Ready to Read found at

    Language and Literacy: Five Practices: Read, Talk, Sing, Write, Play

    After in-depth research, the scholars behind the second edition of the Every Child Ready to Read initiative created a framework of five practices that children and caregivers can do together to promote early literacy: read, talk, sing, write, and play (Neuman, Moland, & Celano, 2017). These five practices can be incorporated into every storytime with any book, but you can give your storytime a boost by selecting a book particularly representative of one of the practices.

    Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) has annually given a Bell Award since 2013 honoring five books, one for each of the five practices, that support or model each practice particularly well (Depper, 2016). You can find a list of winners here: CLEL includes an activity sheet with each suggested book that you can use to plan storytime discussions, group activities, craft time, or caregiver take-home sheets (Depper, 2016). For more lists of books that easily promote the five early literacy practices and are recommended by librarians, take a look at Waterloo Public Library’s ECRR-inspired page:

    Language and Literacy: Phonemic Awareness

    One of the most important early literacy skills a child can acquire is phonemic awareness, the ability to identify, differentiate, and manipulate the smallest individual sounds (phonemes) that compose words in any language (Fresch & Harrison, 2013). Phonemic awareness is a type of phonological awareness, which is a broader understanding that language is made up of sounds (Riordan et al., 2018). Children demonstrate phonemic awareness when they can identify rhymes and alliteration (identical sounds at the beginning of words, e.g., cool cat), blend and split syllables, say the sounds that make up a word, or manipulate the sounds of a word to make a new word (e.g., change the /k/ sound in cat to the /b/ sound and say bat) (Fresch & Harrison, 2013).

    One type of book that stands out as ideal for increasing children’s phonemic awareness are books with rhyming text (Riordan et al., 2018). These can include collections of rhyming poems, especially nursery rhymes, as well as books in which the text is song lyrics. You may already know from experience and research has shown it – children love rhyming text! As you read, choose pages where you will pause to ask children to guess the rhyming words or to think of other rhyming words (Giles & Fresne, 2015).

    Another type of book that you can use to build phonemic awareness are books with repeated words or phrases (Giles & Fresne, 2015). Encourage children to listen for the repeated word or phrase and vocalize a related sound or perform a related movement each time they hear the word or phrase. Provide a scaffold to this listening skill or an accommodation by using a hand signal to encourage children’s participation.

    Language and Literacy: Vocabulary

    Choose books with three or more teachable words or Tier 2 words throughout the text that you can define and provide examples for. For more details on this strategy, check out the Language Modeling section of 1.4.3 Instructional Support Domain.

    2.4.7: School Readiness Focus: Language and Literacy is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.