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Emergent Readers

Page history last edited by Dave Koppenhaver 10 years, 7 months ago

What is Emergent Literacy?


Emergent literacy is all of the reading and writing attempts that children engage in before they read and write conventionally.  Here are some examples of emergent literacy: 

  • scribbling on a whiteboard and pretending to read it aloud,
  • opening a favorite book and reading it from memory rather than processing all of the words,
  • writing words using shapes that look like letters from a distance but are just shapes, not actual letters,
  • reading aloud McDonald's or Frosted Flakes or Lay's Potato Chips when seeing the logos.


What emergent literacy means in the Down Syndrome Reading Profiles Study is that the child failed to reach criterion at the preprimer level on the three assessments:  word identification, language comprehension, or silent reading comprehension.  It does NOT mean the child cannot read and write at all.  All of the children we have met were able to identify some words, answer some questions about what we read to them or what they read themselves.  They just weren't able to demonstrate their understanding at a high enough level to reach criterion.


We have provided information and resources below to assist these emergent readers in continuing to progress toward more and more conventional reading (i.e., an ability to read text independently with understanding).  If you have additional questions, contact David Koppenhaver, and the project team will do our best to assist you.


Basic Information


The ASHA website provides a basic definition to emergent literacy and offers suggestions of what parents can do to support emergent literacy (see bottom of the webpage). 


Literacy is all around us. Explore ways to incorporate environmental print.


4 Key Learning Activities


1) Independent writing opportunities.

For the emergent writer, independent writing means allowing children to explore writing in multiple ways. This is writing without standards. In other words, spelling and formation of letters & numbers isn't the focus during these activities. Instead, students are experimenting, learning about the tools, attempting letters/ numbers/ words, and building fine motor skills.

  • Give students opportunities to explore various writing tools (pencil, markers, crayons, sidewalk chalk, keyboard use on the computer/iPad/other technology tool.
  • Create and encourage opportunities for drawing and writing: drawing, computer art programs, painting, chalk/crayon drawings, whiteboards and markers, Etch-a-sketch, and others, and then ask your child to write about his/her drawing. 
  • Create a product:  While parents can make suggestions, the child should choose what he/she wants to write about. This can include writing about any personal experience, text, or other self-selected topic.  A few examples of independent products that your child can produce: writing a letter/email to brother/sister/grandparent, making a list of things to buy at the store, holiday experiences, school field trips, favorite storybooks, lists of interests, and more.


2) Shared writing opportunities.

While the ideas can be similar to that of independent writing opportunities, the overall idea differs in a very important way: shared writing involves sharing the experience with your child. During these activities, the parent is modeling the process and talking with the child throughout each activity. Here are a few ideas:

  • Language Experience Approach: This process is similar to dictation. When your child has drawn a picture, ask him or her to tell you all about the drawing or tell you the story. Write down the words that your child is saying and read it back to them. This process can be used when viewing photos of family trips or special events or parties.
  • Model writing: As you are preparing your "to-do" lists or composing an email, talk to your child about what you are doing. Read to them what you are writing. 
  • Model name writing: Ask your child to sign his/her name on artwork, stories, and belongings. AFTER he/she writes, then you can model how you write it conventionally.  We say things, while pointing to the two writings, like, "That says Travis.  This says Travis." Then we move on to the next activity.  There is NO drill and practice.
  • Create a book together. Allow your child to choose a topic for a book. There are many easy ways to compose a book, depending on your access to technology:
    • Many regular computer users have PowerPoint on their computers.  Create a book based on family photos by inserting these into slides. Similar to a Language Experience Approach, ask your child to tell you about the photos and record their words in one of the text boxes.
    • There are many free and inexpensive apps for iPads that enable story creation.  They can be downloaded from the iTunes store if you do not already have them.  These include:  Haiku Deck (free), our personal favorite Click n Talk ($2.99), Scribble Press ($3.99), Comic Life ($4.99), Kid in Story Bookmaker ($6.99).  If you have one, no need to get another. 
    • There are many free websites for creating personal texts with your child, including:  Bookr, Storybird, Storyjumper, and Zooburst.
    • TarHeel Reader: This free website is our favorite and allows you to create books based on your child's selected topic. Once entering the Passcode and receiving an account, you have many options for how to write a book with your child. After your child chooses a topic, you may:
      • Select photos and then enter the text based on what your child says.
      • Allow your child to enter text first, then model writing the text afterwards.  
      • Label the photos with one word (ex. apple, orange, banana)
      • Use simple sentence structures. Type "I see" or "I want" or "I love" then allow your child to finish the sentence. You type their response.
      • Use the structure of a favorite storybook and modify (ex. Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle):

                                       Color animal, color animal, what do you see?

                                       I see a second color animal looking at me.

                                       Second color animal, second color animal, what do you see?

                                       I see a third color animal looking at me.... 


In this brief article, three excellent writing strategies are shared: name writing, personal books, and picture drawing. 


The brief article, Learning Through Play, offers fun, parent-friendly ideas for letter recognition and emergent writing.


3) Independent reading opportunities.

In order to support reading independently, consider each of the points below: 

  • Where to Read:  Allow children to choose where they want to read. The options are limitless! Some children prefer to read in their room, under a table, in the beanbag, in the hammock, lying on the floor, to the dog, etc. 
  • What to Read:  Make sure that your home collection features many books with a high match between the picture and the text.
  • How to Read:
    • Have multiple options for students for reading independently: listening to a book on tape/cd/digital website. Reading along with books that the computer or a person reads aloud like:
      • Tumblebooks is a website that can be accessed through public libraries;
      • TarHeel Reader is a free website featuring a wide range of books. 
      • Storyline Online is a nice site for listening to actors read aloud wonderfully well, but many of the readings only share the illustrations, so a child can't read along.
      • Lots of read-aloud books have been uploaded to Youtube.  The ones we like best are read aloud expressively but not quickly.  They provide time for children to explore the illustrations.  They show the text clearly on each page, so students can read along.  Some examples include:  The Pigeon Wants a PuppyPete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes, or No David
    • Model the process. Read independently as your child reads. Talk about books. Have conversations about how the book you're reading relates to your life. Do the same with your child. 


4) Shared reading opportunities.

The interaction between a child and an adult looking at and reading a book together is shared reading (Ezell & Justice, 2005). This interaction supports emergent literacy by building oral language concepts and expressive abilities. There are a number of strategies that you can use to support this interaction with your child. 

  • Allow your child to select the book.
  • Encourage the interest of your child through books related to topics of interest. 
  • Support all communication: pointing at the pictures, text, etc. 
  • Make connections between the child and the story. 
  • Model questioning while reading (I wonder if he will go back into the woods.") 
  • Use digital materials occasionally, like WeGiveBooks, a wonderful, free online library with real kids' books (but no read-aloud option).

Many of the above strategies can be explained by using the strategy, CROWD in the CAR.


Teaching Students to Make Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, and Text-to-World Connections

To be added soon


More Resources

In this article, Getting the Most Out of Picture Books, three suggested strategies stand out:  Hook Kids with Illustrations, Bring Books to Life, and See the World.


This article discusses how to use Wordless Picture Books





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