Concepts, Strategies and Skills Needed to Become Effective Readers

Functions and Value of Print

Perhaps the most important concept that children need to develop is what is frequently referred to as the functions of print. When children understand this concept, they have begun to understand that printed language is related to oral language, that print is a form of communication, and that print and books are sources of enjoyment and information (Brown, 1991; Heath, 1982; Schicken- danz, 1978; Teale & Sulzby, 1989). Children who do not understand the functions and value of reading are unlikely to become successful readers.

Oral Language and Listening Skills

Oral language is the critical foundation upon which reading and writing build. Glazer (1989), Strickland (1991), and Teale and Sulzby (1989) have all discussed the critical importance of oral language as it relates to beginning reading and writing. Learning the meanings of thousands of words and developing an understanding of the way words are ordered to make sense (syntax) are extremely complex processes that take place in oral language development and transfer to reading and writing. Cognitive activities, such as understanding cause-and-effect relationships or chronological order, that are established through listening and communicated through speaking are the same cognitive processes used in reading.

All children who enter kindergarten have some foundation of oral language skills that can serve as a foundation for their reading and writing. Oral language skills can be expanded and further developed through listening activities, especially the reading aloud of stories, and eventually through reading experiences (Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Glazer, 1989).

There is a strong, significant relationship between listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Listening to stories is an excellent vehicle for expanding oral language patterns, for extending thinking skills, and for building vocabulary (Eller, Pappas, & Brown, 1988; Ellery, 1989; Leung & Pikulski, 1990).

Understandings About Language

To grow as readers and writers, young children must develop other understandings about language, often referred to as metalinguistic awareness. They must, for example, develop a concept of what a word is, both printed and spoken, and know how it is different from numbers, letters, sounds, and sentences. They must learn that print is read from left to right and from top to bottom (Downing, 1989; Yaden, 1989).

Learning Letter-Sound Associations

To grow as readers and writers, children must also develop an understanding of what Adams (1990) refers to as the alphabetic principle. When first introduced to print, children often think that the printed word is a concrete representation of an object. For example, they expect cat to be a longer word than mouse because cats are bigger and longer than mice (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Schickendanz, 1989). Instead, they need to develop the idea that spoken words are composed of identifiable sounds and, further, the idea that letters of the alphabet represent those sounds. In order to develop an understanding of the alphabetic principle, they must become familiar with letter forms (Adams, 1990; Barr, 1984; Schickendanz, 1989) and with the idea that spoken words have identifiable sounds in them -- referred to as the concept of phonemic awareness (Adams, 1990; Griffith & Olson, 1992; Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985).

Importance of a Rich Literacy Environment

All of these understandings and skills need to develop in classrooms that present a rich literacy environment, one filled with books, posters, art, children's work, and so forth (Morrow, 1989).
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