Even though preschoolers and kindergarteners aren’t likely reading on their own, they are aware of books and how they work, which is formally known as the concepts of print.
Some concepts of print, according to Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell authors of Literacy Beginnings: A Prekindergarten Handbook, include the following:
- Even though the pictures have important information, you read the print.
- You start with the cover of the book and turn the pages by taking the right page and turning it over to the left.
- You read the left page before the right page.
- You look at the black marks, and the spaces help you notice the words.
- You read left to right across the print and sweep back to the left margin to read the next line.
- The story is over when you reach the last page (and something important happens).
- Words are made up of letters.
- There is white space between words.
- There are capital (uppercase) and lowercase letters in print.
- A word always has the same letters in it in order, left to right.
- You match one spoken word with one printed word (one-to-one word correspondence).
- The first letter of a word is important.
- You can notice words that start like your name. (110)
Other concepts of print not mentioned by Fountas and Pinnell, which we discussed in class, include the following:
- Books have an author and an illustrator.
- There is a correct way to hold a book.
- Books have front covers and back covers.
- There are different punctuation marks used that correspond with the text.
Even though students aren’t necessarily able to read a book, it is important that they know the way a book works and how to go about reading. Learning these concepts of print from an early age will facilitate their ability to read properly later on. According to Fountas and Pinnell, “the key is to make [students’] experiences meaningful and memorable. Even though three- or four-year-olds may not develop the full awareness of print…they should become much more sophisticated as they have experiences with print” (112). As teachers, we can facilitate students’ learning of concepts of print by completing read aloud and shared reading activities with them, and “we cannot assume that children will take on literacy behaviors simply because print is all around them…[but] our intentional acts of teaching will lead them to new understandings” (112).
Interactive read alouds are a wonderful way to support emergent readers and to provide students the opportunity to become familiar with concepts of print. It is important that teachers “choose simple stories that are easy to follow with the help of large, clear illustrations” (115). In choosing “…a wide range of interesting, beautiful books, [teachers] provide every child with a rich, shared literacy foundation” (114). In order for teachers to model concepts of print for early readers during interactive read alouds it’s important that children are seated so that they can hear and see the teacher, and the teacher should be able to see all of his or her students as well (116). It is important that children are engaged during read alouds, and teachers should therefore use their opening remarks to catch their students’ attention and draw them in. During the teacher’s opening remarks, he or she can call the students’ attention to the front cover of the book, as well as the author and illustrator’s names, thus demonstrating a few concepts of print. During reading, comments or questions should be encouraged using the turn-and-talk method and after reading, the teacher and students should discuss what was just read. An engaging, book related activity should also be planned for the students as an extension. It is important to put the books read during read alouds in the classroom library, so that students can become even more familiar with the books independently (118-23).
Shared readings are another wonderful way for teachers to support emerging readers and familiarize their students with concepts of print. In order for teachers to do so, it is important that “all [students] can see the art and the text, which is enlarged, and they benefit from the high support of unison reading. [This] experience provides a pleasurable model of reading and builds a sense of community” (125). Unlike the stories used during interactive read alouds, shared reading texts should be much simpler and shorter. During shared readings, the teacher leads the reading by speaking and pointing to the enlarged words with a long pointer as to not block the print, thus providing “…and opportunity to demonstrate what reading is really like as children notice various aspects of print and are able to say the words along with [the teacher]” (126). Children are able to see and learn how print works by watching the teacher move from word to word as he or she reads (demonstrating one-to-one word correspondence) and watching the teacher move through the book from left to right, and students will begin to “track print” in their independent reading. With shared readings, teachers can revisit the same texts with their students time and time again because “each time children revisit a shared reading text they will notice more…[and] will revisit it independently” (127). When a teacher revisits a text many times with his or her students, it’s important that the teacher begins to concentrate on teaching the children what to do with a text. For example, the teacher can call his or her students’ attention to notice punctuation, locate the first word in a sentence, and point out letters that are already known by students. The direct instruction of these concepts of print will facilitate students to perform these actions when reading independently.
Most importantly, “the goal [of both interactive read alouds and shared readings] is not to teach children to read individual words or to expect accuracy but to support the constant expansion of children’s awareness of language, sounds and print” (132). As teachers, we can assess students’ awareness of language, sounds and print by using a Concepts of Print Checklist assessment as seen below. This assessment tracks students’ knowledge of concepts of print in the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Columbia Teachers College also provides a Concepts of Print Checklist, as well as a Letter/Sound Assessment, that can be given to students. This checklist provides teachers with what to say to their students in order to see if they understand the various concepts of print. It is important that teachers administer these assessments to their students in order to see what they know and the areas that they need improvement in. These assessments allow teachers to better direct their mini lessons to focus on what students need to work on.
In my research for other ways to build concepts of print in the classroom, I found a beautiful anchor chart (see below) that a teacher can make with his or her students and keep on display in the classroom to remind children about some very important parts of a book. Creating an anchor chart with students allows for them to share in the learning as well as provide the teacher with information that was already taught to them in order to create the chart.
Using poems, rhymes, and songs is another great way to teach students about concepts of print. Directionality can be highlighted when reading a poem aloud to a class by using a pointer, like in shared reading, to show students that you read from left to right across the sentence and words have one-to-one correspondences. Spacing, capitalization, punctuation, and the return-sweep can also be addressed when reading a poem with students. The Youtube video below provides an explanation from a teacher regarding using poems in the classroom to promote concepts of print.
Some students need extra reinforcement regarding the concepts of print that can’t be given during whole-group instruction. In this case, teachers can pull small, guided reading groups of students, even at the prekindergarten level. In the Youtube video below, the teacher explains how she runs her concepts of print guided reading groups.
Teachers can also create a Concepts of Print Bingo Game for students to play. This is a fun and engaging way to increase their knowledge and help them to remember what was taught about concepts of print.