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  • Mallory Foster

Ingredients of emergent literacy


Reading Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes at Story Time Yoga in Fort Lee, VA

Recently, I started teaching a Story Time Yoga class again, and I love it! Few things are as joyful as sharing stories and wiggles knowing that I'm helping kiddos gain literacy skills, develop mindfulness and self-regulation, and build fine motor skills, strength, and flexibility while acting like favorite characters from stories we read. How do we blend literacy in to daily activities to create literacy-rich environments and literacy-rich practices? Take a look back at this post on International Literacy Day 2018 for some of the basic info on emergent literacy and get some cool ideas for literacy activities for all ages. In this post, we'll dig in to the ingredients of emergent literacy: phonemic awareness instruction; phonics instruction; fluency instruction; vocabulary instruction; and text comprehension instruction.

  1. Phonemic awareness instruction: Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice separate sounds in spoken words. Dog would be broken into d/o/g, thanks would be broken into th/a/n/k/s. We can work on phonemic awareness by clapping syllables in stories you read or nursery rhymes. We can also do word sound matching games. Draw pictures of common words like dog, door, floor, fly, cat, hat and match them into piles that start with the same sound or end with the same sound. So you'd have piles like dog and door, fly and floor OR like door and floor, cat and hat. Rhymes are GREAT for this too! Here's a sample set of cards I made to sort into rhyming piles. This was inspired by the Words Their Way series.

  2. Phonics instruction: This one has a lot of fancy words - this is when kiddos start to match graphemes and phonemes, the written shape of letters with the sound letters make. We can work on phonics instruction with kids by pointing to words when we read and slow down a lot when we read some words to model making a letter sound and then blending groups of sounds. You can point to the word "world" and say, "Hmmm, lets point to each letter and name them: W, O, R, L, D. Now let's make the sound of each letter: w/o/r/l/d. Now, lets see if we can put them together: wor-ld, WORLD! Oh, like this picture of the earth! Our world!". You can make strips of paper with common words and clothespins with the same letters to match letter shapes. It is far better to start with a kiddo's name than the whole alphabet to start with letter recognition and awareness. Context is useful. Kids will feel more ownership over their learning and knowing their name is more helpful on a daily basis than writing the string of letters in the alphabet.

  3. Fluency instruction: Fluency and comprehension go hand in hand. Fluency is the ability to read accurately and correctly with pauses in the correct place and intonation that shows you know what the sentence is saying. For example, in the sentence for Henkes' Kitten's First Full Moon: "Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting", you pause after still and milk, you might stretch out "just waiting" to show that time is passing. This can be practiced by choral reading, so reading a line together. You can give a non-example of how to read the line, "Still there was the little bowl of milk just waiting" with no pauses. The more kiddos read with intonation and pauses, the easier it is to understand the words. In this line, with the pauses, we understand that the kitten has not gotten the bowl of milk, it's still there - how we read the line can help us understand that or not add to our comprehension. Kids who sound like robots when they read or who have to spend a long time sounding out each word are still working on developing fluency. The key here is reading, reading, and more reading and modeling intonation and pauses.

  4. Vocabulary instruction: Vocabulary instruction involves teaching words kiddos must know to be able to communicate, and then, explaining what new and different words we come across mean. For early independent readers, past the emergent literacy phase, we generally want to help them find books in which they understand 95% of the words on their own or they will struggle with comprehension and motivation. Sometimes, sight words come in to play to encourage retention of vocabulary. Doing picture and word matches can help kiddos make meaning of vocabulary words they are learning.

  5. Text comprehension instruction: This is helping emergent readers and all readers understand what they are reading. Reading comprehension is aided by having a reason for reading, whether that is to learn about a new topic, to enjoy a new story, or to answer a question sparked by the cover of the story. Then, as we read, reading actively is key. A great strategy here is a think-aloud (use the link to find great tips from the amazing Reading Rockets site!), where an adult shares what they think or ask themselves as they read, like, "Oh, that's a new word! I wonder what it means and how I can sound it out." Questioning strategies are very helpful here. We can share the cover of a book and ask what we think it will be about, we can pause while reading and ask what a character is thinking, we can discuss the adventure the character had after we finish reading.

Too long, didn't read? In summary, read! Share why you are reading, ask questions while you read, point to pictures and name them and then point to the word, sound out words together, point to letters within a word. Play with letters. Move magnets around on the fridge. Draw letters with chalk and line things up on them. Trace letters on the covers of books or draw them in dirt with a stick. Draw pictures and decide what letter they start with. Ask kiddos to tell you a story about what they drew, write down their story, read it back, and edit it if needed :). Sort words into piles that rhyme. Break up the sounds in a word and then see if you can put the sounds together. All of these promote literacy skill development and a lifelong love of reading. Need motivation? See if your library has a reading challenge like Appomattox Regional Library System's 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge, sign up for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library for free monthly books in some areas, find a story time at a library, bookstore, or community center near you - many are free and involve a craft :).

Reading with your kiddo at home? Drawing letters with chalk? Embarking on a reading challenge? Share the awesomeness with us via #watchwonderbloom.


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