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Preschool Language and Literacy Practices

By: What Works Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Education
The What Works Clearinghouse reviewed the research on two practices used in center-based settings with 3- to 5-year-old preK children, as well as a number of specific curricula. Positive results are shown for (1) Phonological awareness training and (2) Interactive and dialogic reading.

Preschool language and literacy

This visual diagram illustrates the "big picture" of the practices and can be used to engage preschool teachers in discussion about their instruction. Use the left side to discuss the continuum of phonological awareness skills, and the right side to explore ways to implement interactive and dialogic questioning techniques. The diagram can help elicit teachers' ideas about how to integrate these skills into classroom activities. Download diagram (577K PDF)

Recommended practices

Develop phonological awareness skills as a foundation for learning sound-symbol relationships.

Phonological awareness is the ability to detect and manipulate the sounds in words independent of word meaning. It improves school readiness skills and can be taught before children learn to read.

Teachers can help preschool children, ages 3 to 5, by providing phonological awareness instruction that is systematic and explicit, integrated into daily activities, including planned individual and group instructional sessions, and tailored to children's learning needs at all developmental levels. Students benefit when teachers use clear pronunciation of sounds and provide feedback to correct errors, including having children produce correct responses. Phonological awareness instruction can be combined with letter knowledge training to help children learn alphabet letters and make the explicit link between letters and sounds, which facilitates the use of letter-sound knowledge to read and build words. Students who develop these critical skills are better prepared for learning how to read.

Engage preschool children in interactive reading and dialogic reading to improve language and literacy skills

Preschool children, ages 3 to 5, develop early reading and language skills when teachers use interactive and dialogic reading strategies. In interactive reading, children talk with the teacher about the pictures and story; dialogic reading uses a more systematic method to scaffold adult-child language interaction around storybook reading.

Teachers can help children develop language skills by engaging them before, during, and/or after reading the text through explicit interactive techniques such as asking them to point to the story title, predict what might happen next, and retell story events. Dialogic reading can be used to assess and support oral language and vocabulary development through multiple readings, during which the teacher helps the child become the storyteller by gradually using higher level questions to move the child beyond naming objects in pictures to thinking more about what is happening in the pictures, and how this relates to his own experiences.

Intervention reports from the What Works Clearinghouse

Phonological awareness training

Phonological awareness training is a general practice aimed at enhancing young children's phonological awareness abilities. Phonological awareness refers to the ability to detect or manipulate the sounds in words independent of meaning. Phonological awareness is a precursor to reading. Phonological awareness training can involve various training activities that focus on teaching children to identify, detect, delete, segment, or blend segments of spoken words (i.e., words, syllables, onsets and rimes, phonemes) or that focus on teaching children to detect, identify, or produce rhyme or alliteration. Phonological awareness training was found to have positive effects on phonological processing.
Download full report (124K PDF)

Phonological awareness training plus letter knowledge

Phonological awareness training plus letter knowledge is a general practice aimed at enhancing young children's phonological awareness, print awareness, and early reading abilities. Phonological awareness, the ability to detect or manipulate the sounds in words independent of meaning, is a precursor to reading. The added letter knowledge training component includes teaching children the letters of the alphabet and making an explicit link between letters and sounds. Both skills are related to beginning reading. Phonological awareness training plus letter knowledge was found to have potentially negative effects on oral language, positive effects on print knowledge, potentially positive effects on phonological processing and early reading/writing, and no discernible effects on cognition.
Download full report (136K PDF)

Shared book reading

Shared book reading is a general practice aimed at enhancing young children's language and literacy skills and their appreciation of books. Typically, shared book reading involves an adult reading a book to one child or a small group of children without requiring extensive interactions from them. Shared book reading was found to have mixed effects on oral language and potentially positive effects on phonological processing.
Download full report (76K PDF)

Interactive shared book reading

Interactive shared book reading is a general practice that adults may use when reading with children and is intended to enhance young children's language and literacy skills. Typically, interactive shared book reading involves an adult reading a book to a child or a small group of children and using a variety of techniques to engage the children in the text. Interactive shared book reading was found to have mixed effects on oral language, no discernible effects on print knowledge, and potentially positive effects on early reading/writing.
Download full report (117K PDF)

Dialogic reading

Dialogic reading is an interactive shared picture book reading practice designed to enhance young children's language and literacy skills. During the shared reading practice, the adult and the child switch roles so that the child learns to become the storyteller with the assistance of the adult who functions as an active listener and questioner. Dialogic reading was found to have positive effects on oral language and no discernible effects on phonological processing.
Download full report (101K PDF)

What Works Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Education (2011)

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