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Preschool/Emergent Literacy Classroom

Normal Literacy Development
Children begin to develop literacy skills at a very young age.  Children begin to “read” stories and “write” before the age of 2.  At this point in time they start to acquire the skills necessary to become literate and subsequently successful academically.  For many children these skills are not acquired for one reason or another.  In these cases the children become “literacy impaired”.  Unfortunately, the lack of literacy skills is often not identified until the students are already failing academically. 

Below are several sub-groups of children that may be part of the literacy impaired group.  Many of the kids with literacy difficulties cross over between these groups or can fit in to more than one group.  It is sometimes difficult to determine where a child fits best, but may help to guide teachers and therapist to a therapeutic route that best fits the child’s needs.

Nonverbal children
Nonverbal children and children with severe speech and language difficulties who utilize AAC systems typically have delayed literacy development.  These children often have medical and physical issues that overshadow academic development.  Families and schools are not able to spend time in shared book readings, doing literacy based activities and developing an interest in books and reading and writing.  These students who have physical disabilities may not have the ability to grasp a pencil or crayons and practice writing and creating. These children are often language delayed.  The other issue that nonverbal children often face is being taught to read in a fashion that does not match their learning style.  Because they do not have the ability to speak these kids are supplied with vocabulary on AAC systems.  The vocabulary that they are provided with is typically whole words or phrases and very often does not include the alphabet.  The students do not get to experiment with sounds and manipulate them in a bottom-up learning style.  Many educational programs gear their curriculum to bottom-up learners and teach reading skills in this fashion.  This is very difficult for the AAC user to understand and learn from.  There is also a very big difference in having the alphabet representation and having an actual phonological representation.  A phonological representation in which the child is able to manipulate separate phonemes to make words and sounds is difficult to have on an AAC device.  Recent studies have shown that AAC users have deficits in the area of phonlogical recoding and may attribute to the difficulties in reading and spelling.  (Vandervelden & Siegel, 2001)

Language Disordered Children
One of the largest populations of literacy delayed children are the language disordered children.  These children may have an internal system that is organized differently than a standard learner and again may have difficulty adjusting to the teaching approach that is being presented to them.  These groups may be children that were late talkers or nonverbal during critical periods of language development giving them an impaired phonogical system. 

Speech Disordered Children
Children with severe speech disorders such as developmental apraxia of speech can have a non-typical phonological system or lack of phonological awareness that may impede their literacy development.  Prior to learning to spell and read children need to understand the alphabetic principle, meaning that spoken words are made up of phonemes that can be manipulated.  Approximately 25% of students in the first grade have difficulty with phonological awareness and subsequently have difficulty learning to read and write.  These children have difficulty with phonological awareness because of their inability to produce and discriminate between the individual sounds.  These students may learn initial reading skills using sight words and picture cues, but as concepts become more abstract they lack the ability to decode words. There is special concern for these children if they are being taught to read and write using a phoneme approach.  Children with sound symbol relationship difficulties are not always able to make the leap. 

Severe Profound Mentally Disabled
This population is always going to have difficulty with literacy concepts, however their literacy abilities are often much lower than their actual cognitive abilities.  This can often be attributed to a lack of exposure.  These students may have pre-vailing medical issues that take up instructional time.  They may also experience barriers such as the attitudes of others that it is a waste of time to expose these children to literacy and teach them reading and writing skills. 

The following is a list of proposed techniques to aid in the literacy development of children in the typical preschool classroom. 

Strategies for Increasing Literacy Awareness

Receptively (Reading and Story Comprehension)
Establish a communication theme based on a literature theme.  Use themes created by stories to guide interactions between students.  Set up pretend play, creative and academic activities that relate to the theme introduced in stories.  This allows students to practice using vocabulary and concepts that may have been introduced in a story and have a hands on, visual and auditory means by which to learn these concepts.  Children should be encouraged to act out scenes from the story and even use the actual language from the story.  All activities should include picture symbol vocabulary lists with the written words present to aid in the children’s semantic learning.  This can be done similar to a “wall of words” in which the words are listed with pictures and large print up on the wall for all of the children to reference.  Or it can be done on an individual basis giving each child his or her own reference list.  When individual reference lists are made each child has the opportunity to take these lists home and use them as a reference in a different context.  This is a nice way for teachers to bridge the home-school gap.  Picture symbol communication aids should also be provided as necessary for all of the contexts.  These symbols are necessary for children with AAC needs, but are also helpful to other children.  They can help the children understand the meaning of the words through a visual mode. This also gives children with speech difficulties the opportunity to combine their speech and symbols or use multiple symbols to develop concepts. 

Multiple readings of books.  Students should be exposed to the books a number of times so that they are able to become familiar with the vocabulary, repeated themes, use of language, etc.  It has been shown that children, especially those with speech and language delays, are not able to grasp stories on the first reading.  This will allow students to comprehend, talk about and participate in the story.  It is particularly important to have continued readings of the story for children who do not attend group programs on a daily basis.  During book readings children should be allowed to participate actively.  They should be able to interject, predict what’s next, ask for repetition, etc.   Children utilizing picture symbols or augmentative communication devices should have messages in their repertiore that will allow them to participate and have some say in how the story is read.

Simplification of story plots. Some stories have good pictures and stories, but the language or vocabulary in the text is too difficult for students to understand.  Simplify the story by changing the text, retyping it and taping into the book.  There are many stories that students should experience for the purpose of having shared experience.  These are stories that most students have read or heard.  Students will use these or lines from these stories in their pretend play.  For example, when playing chase on the playground children would run away saying, “Run, run, run as fast as you can, can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man.”   Children without the experience of these “traditional” children’s stories will not understand this play routine and would not be able to participate in the pretend play. 

Use repeated line or repeated theme books.  The more predictable the book is the easier it is for students to understand.  It also allows children to say the lines that are familiar and take an active role in the book reading.  The can practice the words or phrases, whereas they may not be able to say a great deal of the lines of the text.  It can help to draw in children with cognitive disabilities because they can become familiar with the text.  There are many books available that fit these criteria. 

Use of props.  Using real objects or props to help illustrate the story may be helpful for a lot of children.  The prop will give them a three dimensional visual reference for the vocabulary.  It may also help keep them engaged and actively participating in the story.  Children with attention deficit disorders may be able to sustain their attention to the story with the aid of manipulatives.  The props should illustrate the story and should be used manipulated to aid in story comprehension. 

  View video on use of props.

Drama.  Acting stories out and demonstrating concepts and vocabulary will increase understanding.  Using the children as active participants is a good way to supplement book readings.  For instance, when reading Jump, Frog, Jump the children could take turn being the frog.  At the point in the story where the repeated line “jump, frog, jump” occurs the other children would “read” that line and the frog would jump out and chose the next frog.  This is a good way to teach children the power of communication at the same time.  Students who are beginning communicators will begin to see that their speech has a direct implication on the actions of others. 

  View video on drama use

Example of use of simplified text, drama and repeated lines:

The Gingerbread Man

Once upon a time, there was an Old Woman who was very hungry so she decided to bake some cookies.

She made a gingerbread cookie and put it in the oven.

When she opened the oven door, the Gingerbread Man popped out and he started to run.

Have the children imitate the Gingerbread Man running by moving their arms and legs while sitting in their chairs.  Encourage them to chant “run, run, run. . . “ as they perform the action.

The Old Woman yelled “Stop, Stop, Stop!”

The naughty Gingerbread Man said “Run, run, run as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me.  I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

Repeated Lines:
1. ”Stop, Stop, Stop.”
2. “Run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

Pause dramatically before reading each “repeated line” so the children have an opportunity to say the words with their voice, manual signs or communication aid. 

And he kept running.

Have the children imitate the Gingerbread Man running by moving their arms and legs while sitting in their chairs.  Encourage them to chant “run, run, run. . . “ as they perform the action.

Next the Gingerbread Man saw the Old Man.  The Old Man yelled “Stop, Stop, Stop!”

The naughty Gingerbread Man said “Run, run, run as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me.  I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

Repeated Lines:
1. “Stop, Stop, Stop”
2. “Run run run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

Pause dramatically before reading each “repeated line” so the children have an opportunity to say the words with their voice, manual signs or communication aid.

And he kept running.

Have the children imitate the Gingerbread Man running by moving their arms and legs while sitting in their chairs.  Encourage them to chant “run, run, run . . . .” as they perform the action.

The above sequence is repeated for each character in the book until the Fox appears, and the story is told as follows:

Finally the Gingerbread Man came to the river.  But he had a problem.  The Gingerbread Man could not swim.

Then he saw the Fox.  The Fox said “Get on my back and I will give you a ride across the river.

The Gingerbread Man climbed on the Fox’s back.

The Fox turned around and went “Gobble, Gobble and he ate the cookie. 

The fox said “Yum!  Yum!  Good Cookie!”

After the phrase, “Good Cookie” we all pat our stomachs.  We liked to remind the children that after all the Gingerbread Man is only a cookie and cookies are made to be eaten.

After the story was finished, each child tqakes a turn being the Fox. Make a cut out figure of the Gingerbread Man and hve each child act out the final sequences of taking the Gingerbread Man across the water.  Each child takes a turn placing the gingerbread Man on his back or on his shoulder .  All group members repeat the lines “The Fox said get on my back Gingerbread Man and I will give you a ride across the river.  Then the Fox ate the Gingerbread Man and he said Gobble, Gobble. . . Yum, Yum . .  .  Good Cookie.”  As the Fox eats the cookie encourage each child to pretend to eat the Gingerbread Man cookie and pat their stomach saying “Gobble, Gobble. . . Yum, Yum. . . Good Cookie.”

Use of pantomime, signs and gestures.  As with using props and drama, signs and gestures will supplement comprehension.  Signing the ‘key concept’ words will help the student follow the story.  Pantomiming can be used in similar fashion to props to illustrate concepts to the more visual students.  The same gestures should be used in a consistent manner.
  View video on signs and gestures

Communication aids.  Communication aids can be a powerful tool for the nonverbal as well as the verbal child.  Using both low-tech and high-tech communication aids will supply the student with vocabulary, sentence structure, concepts and ideas.  Low-tech aids can include individual picture symbols, picture boards, etc.  High-tech communication aids are usually identified as electronic voice output communication devices.  It is imperative that the communication aid be customized to the child.  Each child should have access to vocabulary that is cognitively appropriate.  Devices should be as easy as possible for a child to access during literacy activities.  For example, a child using a dynamic display augmentative communication system may have all the vocabulary necessary to talk about the story, but have it on several different pages.  It would be better for the child to have one page specific to the story being read for the child to access.  This will make it faster and easier for the child to participate in the story reading.  No matter what type of aid is being utilized it should include content vocabulary that is specific to the story, such as key words or phrases, repeated lines, story characters, etc.  It should also include story vocabulary, such as turn the page, that was funny, I want to hear that again, I like that story, this is my favorite, etc.  It is important that children are able to comment about a story and use story vocabulary that verbal children often use.  The children need to have some control over the story reading and some ability to direct the reader to aid their story comprehension. 

View video on use of art activity

Use of computer software
® Many software programs will allow students to “read” a story that has been programmed.  There are programs that will simply read text that has been typed.  They will read and highlight the text word by word as it reads. The word by word highlighting is very helpful for non-readers and those with visual tracking disorders. The speed at which it reads, the voice that the computer uses, and other parameters may be altered to better meet the child’s needs. 

View video on using word processors
® There are programs that will allow students to add picture symbols to the text to aid in comprehension.  These programs will also allow highlight word by word.  The text of the story can also be printed off so that the student can have a hard copy to read independently and take home. 

View video on using Intellitalk 2

® Students are able to read books by simply activating a switch to change pages.  The story can be input into the computer with revised text and whatever pictures are desired (pictures directly from the story or simplified pictures).  Students are able to independently read the story, turn the pages and read along if desired.  This activity works well as a group activity that the students can share.  They can practice turn-taking skills and discuss the story as it is being read.  This activity can be used as a way to engage students in a literacy activity that promotes independent reading. 

® Students are able to utilize some programs to write stories independently.  Stories can be created that follow the theme of the story that is being read in group.  The students can chose characters to change the story or change the order in which the story is read.  Hard copies can be printed so the students can create their own book and it can be read by the class or taken home.  For example, when reading the story I Went Walking by      , the students can rewrite the story by changing the order of the animals that are encountered. 

View video on independent story writing

® Typing vocabulary from the story into a talking word processor is a good way for students to start to understand that the written word is associated with the spoken word.  It is also a good way for student to start to develop a sound-symbol relationship.

View video on sentence writing


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University of North Carolina
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University of North Carolina