Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

What is Emergent Literacy

Literacy is an essential part of a child’s academic development. Literacy refers to anything related to being able to read and write. Literacy becomes a very important, if not the most important, skill in a child’s academic journey. Literacy is important in reading and writing subjects and is necessary for all other subjects, including math. Literacy can begin at the infant age. Children can have exposure to print in their early years that will later contribute to their academic success. There are several stages of literacy, and this lesson will focus on the emergent literacy stage. Emergent literacy often is most relevant in grades kindergarten through late first but begins when a child is born. These skills include oral language, concepts of books (holding a book, turning the page, reading left to right, etc.), examining illustrations, and various other skills that children may begin to grasp just through experience.

Students who have fewer resources at home may display more frustration in this literacy stage because of the lack of exposure to print at home. If a child can observe their caregivers’ reading habits, they are more likely to mimic the behavior. However, resources are limited in some areas, and it is harder for these children to be read to and physically hold books in their hands until they get to school-age. This practice is why educators provide children equal opportunities to learn inside the classroom because of this challenge of inequity among students.

A student could also still struggle in this stage, regardless of the amount of exposure they received in their infant and toddler years. These children can struggle with letter identification, letter-sound correspondence, or simply grasping the concepts of print mentioned above. It is also important to note that a child must recognize letters from the alphabet out of order.

Emergent Literacy Definition

Emergent literacy is the early stages of reading and writing. A child begins to feel comfortable holding a pencil, recognizing print and book concepts, becoming aware of letters and their sounds and word parts. Remember that print concepts can include anything related to the child’s interaction with a book; this will be explained further in Emergent Literacy Skills.

Children experience two phases in their reading journey. The first one is when they are learning to read, in the emergent literacy stage. In this stage, they are not expected to learn the material but rather develop the foundation required to do so. The second stage is reading to learn, which occurs in the early literacy stage. Students utilize text sources to learn information about a concept in the reading to learn stage. It is assumed that they already know how to read, and they are learning different reading strategies such as close reading, predicting, using text features, etc.

Components of Emergent Literacy

1. Oral Speech

  • A child can develop new vocabulary through listening and speaking.

2. Concepts of print awareness

  • These include aspects of identifying letters and illustrations on a page.

3. Knowledge about books

  • A child can navigate a book and gain knowledge through environmental print. Environmental print is any exposure to text around them. For instance, a child gains knowledge through environmental print when they see an advertisement on TV or a magazine.

4. Letter knowledge

  • It is the process of recognizing letters in context (such as a whole word) and isolation.

5. Phonological awareness

  • A child recognizes that words are made up of pieces and that there are many components to words, such as syllables and similar beginnings (onset) and endings (rime). This recognition plays a role when the student begins to rhyme in this stage.

Emergent Literacy Skills

During the emergent literacy stage, children develop these skills:

  • Being able to express an idea or explain a picture, generally developed through hearing the oral language, will play a role in the beginning writing stages, even if a child merely draws to express their ideas.
  • Letter-sound correspondence, which is matching the letter (grapheme) with its sound (phoneme). A grapheme is the visual symbol of the letter, and a phoneme is a sound a letter makes.
  • As mentioned earlier in the lesson, a child must recognize these letters out of order. Students often appear to understand letters while singing the alphabet but then struggle to identify a letter isolated outside of other letters.
  • Phonemic awareness or examining individual sounds in a word.
  • Knowing how to navigate a book, including turning the page, identifying the front and back cover, identifying an illustration or photograph, or one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is when a child demonstrates that they can point to words that are being read to them or ones they read themselves.

Emergent Literacy Theories

Whole-Language Approach

This emergent literacy theory is an approach that relates to the emergent literacy stage because it encourages students to view words as units rather than a string of letters that should be separated each time they attempt to read the word.

Stage 0

The child imitates reading behaviors, using imagination and pointing to pictures. The child can also almost write some letter-like forms while learning a proper pencil grasp.

Stage 1

The child can identify most letters and sounds and manipulate different sounds to blend them into a word. The child is also beginning to learn patterns in words and can identify common words known as sight words. Their letters become more readable, and they begin to identify and write the first sound they hear while labeling a picture.

Activities that Promote Early Literacy

Teacher assisting students in a reading small group.

Teacher helping students

There are a variety of activities that adults can do with children to help promote literacy skills. Some of these activities are:

  • Reading aloud each day to the child. While doing so, ask the child questions. Some examples could be to ask them what they think will happen next, tell what is happening in the story, or their favorite part. Showing the child how to engage with literature is key.
  • Encouraging the child to read a story aloud and retell it in their own way.
  • Inviting the child to identify the first sound of an object they see out in the world, such as in a grocery store.
  • Encouraging the child to practice their name, regardless of whether or not the handwriting is legible. It is important to note here that allowing the child to experiment with writing is vital for them to learn to express themselves through whatever way it means for them. Drawing is considered as writing in this early stage.
  • Blending out words with the child. Try the word dog and clap out the sounds (d/o/g).
  • Modeling to the child how to draw and label a picture; this will guide them in doing it on their own and eventually create and explain their work.
  • Demonstrating to the child that reading can be fun. If the caretaker has a positive attitude, the child will be more inclined to want to learn to do it themselves.

Lesson Summary

In conclusion, emergent literacy is an essential base for success in reading and writing. It is most prevalent from the ages zero to sometimes five or six, which is around first grade. Many components of emergent literacy have to do with basic foundational skills like recognizing letters and navigating a book. The main components of emergent literacy are oral speech, concepts of print awareness, knowledge about books, letter knowledge, and phonological awareness. Students’ emergent literacy skills will likely increase as they gain more exposure to text.

It is also important to realize that the different stages of emergent literacy can vary in length. There is no timeline for when a child will go from Stage 0 to Stage 1, and that it is sometimes a slow process. An important theory is the whole-language approach. It encourages a perspective of strengthening the foundations of reading before expecting students to demonstrate mastery of the material. Adults impact a child’s development with emergent literacy, and simply interacting daily with fun and meaningful activities can significantly increase the child’s chances of accelerating further with literacy. Building a strong foundation in letter knowledge and sounds, for instance, will give students the skills that they can apply to other aspects of literacy, such as blending words and experimenting with writing. Patience and repetition are key in facilitating this stage of learners, and the needs of each child will vary depending on their progress.

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