6 Early Literacy Skills


Research shows that children get ready to read years before they start school. There are six early literacy skills that parents can incorporate into their children's daily lives to promote reading readiness. These six skills are Print Motivation, Vocabulary, Print Awareness, Letter Knowledge, Narrative Skills, and Phonological Awareness.

To learn more about each practice, choose one from the list below:

Print Motivation


Print Awareness

Letter Knowledge

Narrative Skills

Phonological Awareness

Print Motivation

Print Motivation is a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books and reading.

Why is it important? When the experience of sharing a book is pleasurable for both the parent and the child, the child will be more attentive and responsive. The more pleasurable book sharing is, the more regular and frequent an activity it will become. Children who enjoy books are more likely to want to learn to read, and to keep trying even when it is hard.

Activities to Promote Print Motivation

  • Read often and make it enjoyable. Young children have a short attention span, so keep reading activities brief and fun.

  • Make book-sharing a special time between you and your child. Get comfortable and cozy.

  • Let your child see you reading and enjoying reading.

  • Let children pick out books they want to read or have read to them.

  • Scatter books throughout your house, not just in your child’s bedroom. If books are handy, they are more likely to be picked up.

  • Always look at the picture on the front cover of the book together. It can be a great discussion starter about what a book might be about or why it will be a fun book.

  • Change your voice as you read aloud. Keeping books fun will keep your kids coming back for more.

  • Visit your public library often. Make it a special day or night of the week and make a big deal about it.

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Activities to Promote Vocabulary

  • Use words your child may not be familiar with when you talk.

  • Take time before or during the reading of a book to explain an unfamiliar word (do not replace unfamiliar words).

  • Talk about the different meanings of a word: wave, cap, bat

  • Add synonyms to exchange new words for familiar words.

  • Add descriptive words.

  • Talk about the feelings characters in the story might have, even if those words are not used in the book.

  • Read non-fiction books too. They have different vocabulary from storybooks.

  • After reading a book, go back to an interesting picture and talk about it, adding less familiar words.

  • Use words for things that happened in the past and will happen in the future.

  • For preschoolers, explain differences in words with similar meanings.

  • Show real items when possible (moss, mango); for babies and toddlers, point to and name objects.

  • Use specific words rather than “it,”, “this,” “that,” “here," “there”.

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Print Awareness

Print Awareness is recognizing print, knowing that print has meaning and understanding how books work.

Why is it important? The greater a child’s awareness of print, the more quickly and easily he can learn to read.

Activities to Promote Print Awareness

  • Use your finger to point out or trace words as you read them.

  • Point out print that is different sizes or colors and change your voice to match.

  • Using exit signs, stop signs, advertisements, menus, and other print in your environment is a simple and easy way to develop print awareness throughout your day.

  • Try starting off reading a book upside down. Does your child notice? If not, ask your child how we read books, wait a few seconds for an answer, and then show and tell! Flip the book the right way and start from the front cover.

  • Introduce a story by stating the title, then the author's name and asking your child, "What does an author do?" or “what does an illustrator do?” If your child doesn’t know, talk about what these two people do!

  • Let your child help you write out a shopping list or a to-do list. Talk out loud as you write down items.

  • With your child (as young as an infant,) read a simple book and point out pictures. If you can, find an actual object that looks like the picture and talk about them both. This will help your child begin to understand that pictures represent real things.

  • Label objects in your house and point them out as you move throughout the day. Label things like: the refrigerator, chairs, toys, bookshelves, beds, and other items you use during the day.

  • As your child gets older, point out not just words on a page, but punctuation as well. Point out a question mark and an exclamation mark and talk about why we read these sentences differently.

  • Read books with patterns and predictable events.

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Letter Knowledge

Letter Knowledge is the understanding that letters are different from each other, and that they have different names and sounds.

Why is it important? Children who know the shapes, names and sounds of the letters of the alphabet, and how to write them, have a much easier time learning to read.

Activities to Promote Letter Knowledge

  • Talk about and play with shapes! Learning about shapes is the first stage of recognizing letters for babies.

  • Young children usually learn the letters in their name first. They are their favorite letters! Write your child’s name where he or she can see it often and have them write their name in their own way.

  • Sing the alphabet song together and play with rhymes.

  • Read alphabet books together. As they get older, you can make an alphabet book with them.

  • Point out and name letters when reading books, signs or labels.

  • Play “I Spy” with letters in the car. Older children can find the letters in order from A to Z in license plates and signs.

  • Look for ways to play with letters - keep foam letters in the bathtub and magnetic letters on the fridge. Draw letters with sidewalk chalk or make them out of play dough!

  • Write words that interest your child using crayons or magnetic letters.

  • When your child is writing, encourage her to spell words by using what she knows about sounds and letters.

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Narrative Skills

Narrative Skills are the ability to describe things and events and tell stories.

Why is it important? Being able to talk about and explain what happens in a story helps a child understand the meaning of what he or she is reading. Good narrative skills lead to good reading comprehension.

Activities to Promote Narrative Skills

  • Read books with a repeated phrase. Encourage your child to say the repeated phrase with you each time.

  • Re-read books so that your child can become familiar with the story, making it easier to retell the story.

  • Have your child retell the story.

  • Encourage your child to tell you something from her own experience related to what happened in the book.

  • Use puppets or props to tell the story to help your child remember it; have your child use props to help retell the story.

  • Encourage your child to talk about the pictures in the book even if what she says is not in the story.

  • Ask open-ended questions, ones that cannot be answered with yes or no.

  • Talk about the pictures in the book and let your child tell you his thoughts and experiences.

  • Have your child draw pictures and ask her to tell you about it.

  • Encourage imaginative play - pretend play allows children the freedom to create stories on their own.

  • Label not just objects but also actions, feelings, and ideas. Happy, sad and angry are common feelings, but think of less common ones, too: embarrassed, quiet, sleepy, jealous, frustrated and others.

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Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is being able to recognize and play with the smaller sounds that make up words.

Why is it important? Children begin to read by listening to others read aloud, then recognizing sounds in words, sounding words out for themselves, recognizing familiar words, and so on. By engaging in word play, children learn to recognize patterns among words and use this knowledge to read and build words.

Activities to Promote Phonological Awareness

  • Starting at birth, share nursery rhymes with your child.

  • Read to your child. Even though your child may be too young to understand the content of what you are reading, he will hear the sounds and the rhythm of what you are saying.

  • Sing a lot of songs! Songs are one of the easiest and best ways to build phonological awareness. Many songs have rhyming words. Plus, in music, most segments of words have a different musical note, so it trains your child’s ear to hear smaller pieces of words.

  • When you are selecting books to read with your child, make sure you include ones that rhyme. Ask your librarian for some suggestions.

  • Make up silly words by changing the first sound in a word: milk, nilk, pilk, rilk, filk. These words aren’t going to make sense, but it shows your child that you can change words and manipulate them!

  • Say words with a pause between the syllables ("rab"and "it") and have your child guess what word you are saying.

  • Clap out the syllables in words or clap as you sing - this helps your child notice how the words are built of smaller pieces.

  • Play a word guessing game - say pieces of a word and have your child tell you what word it is. For example, say “rain” and “bow” and let your child put it together to be “rainbow!”

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© 2018 William P. Faust Westland Public Library