Kelsie Syverson, EngEd 370, Chapter 5: Literacy Instruction for Beginning Readers and Writers

A Look at Literacy Programs for Beginners

Emergent literacy is a concept that supports learning to read in a positive home environment where children are in the process of becoming literate from birth. This will help children create schemas about reading and writing from personal experiences. Children are always becoming  readers and writers and that they are born ready to learn about literacy and continue to grow in their understandings throughout life. The challenge of working with beginners lies in scaffolding learning and weaving together experiences that build on children’s knowledge of language and their previous interactions with texts.


Beginners should be immersed in storybook experiences. These include read-alouds, read alongs, interactive writing, rereadings of favorite texts, and independent reading and writing. They help accomplish the following instructional goals:

  • To motivate beginners to want to read and write
  • to interest beginners in listening to, reading, and writing stories, with emphasis on predicting, sharing, and extending personal meaning
  • To help beginners understand what reading and writing are all about
  • To encourage beginners to respond to stories be drawing, writing, and dramatizing their explorations of texts
  • To invite beginners to construct meaning through the use of picture cues and storybook illustrations
  • To help beginners gain familiarity with “book language” and the meaning of terms that figure in literacy instruction
  • To teach beginners about directionality
  • To teach beginners the meaning of word and the function of space in establishing boundaries between words
  • To teach beginners alphabetic principles of written language
  • To teach beginners to predict words that “must come next” in a sentence
  • To teach beginners to recognize words that they are interested in learning or that occur frequently in meaningful contexts

These goals are not sequential in the sense that one must be accomplished before another is attempted.

Learning About Features of Written Language

Children’s understanding of the relationship between speech and print can be included in linguistic awareness, which children must develop. The purpose of reading is to communicate ideas. Children also need to become aware of the technical features of reading, this includes:

  • printed letters
  • words
  • sentences
  • syllables
  • sounds
  • punctuation marks

If children are to succeed in reading, they must acquire linguistic awareness and understand the language of reading instruction.

Assessing Concepts About Print

The Concepts About Print Test examines not only what knowledge of print children possessed but also how their understanding of print changed. This test is individually given to a child. The teacher engages the child in a conversation and asks the child if he or she will help in reading a story. The teacher can then assess the child’s concepts of print as they read the book together.


Learning About Letters and Sounds

Children must learn that a word can be separated into sounds and that the segmented or separated sounds can be represented be letters which is the beginning of phonics. Phonemes are the minimal sound units that can be represented in written language. The alphabetic principle suggests that letters in the alphabet map to phonemes. Phonics is used to refer to the child’s identification of words by their sounds. This process involves the association of speech sounds with letters.

Phonemic awareness refers to an insight about oral language and the ability to segment and manipulate the sounds of speech. Phonemic awareness includes:

  • Phonemic isolation: Students are recognizing individual sounds in a word
  • Phoneme identity: Recognizing the same sound in different word
  • Phoneme categorization: Recognizing a word in a set that doesn’t fit with the others
  • Blending: Requires students to blend a series of orally presented sounds to form a word
  • Segmenting beginning and ending sounds in words: Students can isolate sounds at the beginning and ends of words
  • Segmenting separate sounds in a word: Students can segment separate sounds in a word
  • Phoneme deletion, addition, and substitution: Students take away or add something to make a new word

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the sounds in our language. It’s the recognition that sounds in English can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts. Phonological awareness is auditory. Phonological awareness includes:

  • Sentences can be broken down into words
  • Words can be broken down into syllables
  • Words can be broken down into individual sounds
  • Words can begin or end with the same sound
  • The individual sounds of words can be blended together
  • The individual sounds of words can be manipulated (added, deleted, or substituted)

Phonological awareness also includes rhyming (rimes), alliteration (words beginning with the same sound), sentence segmenting, syllable bending and segmenting, and phonemic awareness.


We can also teach students phonemic segmentation by using Elkonin Boxes. Elkonin boxes follow these steps:

  1. Give the student a picture of a familiar object
  2. Next say the word slowly and deliberately allowing the student to heat the sounds that can be naturally segmented
  3. Now ask the student to repeat the word, modeling the way you said it
  4. Continue to model
  5. Walk the child through the procedure by attempting it together several times
  6. Show another picture and then the word
  7. Phase out the picture stimulus and the use of counters and squares

    Vacca, J. L., Vacca, R. T., & Gove, M. K. (2012). Reading and learning to read (8th ed.). New York: Longman. 

Classroom Application

I will teach phonological and phonemic awareness by showing how words can be broken down into smaller parts known as phonemes or sounds. Elkonin boxes can be used for this, especially words that have sounds that don’t make the typical sound of the letter if it were by itself. There are also concepts of print that I realized was important before reading this chapter such as knowing where the front of the book is. So, this is something to work on too.

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