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Literacy Instruction Basics

Helpful Tips Anyone Can Use!

Learning to read is a vastly complex process, involving exercises ranging from vocabulary acquisition to developing inferencing skills. Speaking and listening (oral language) form the foundation for the process of learning to read. Achieving literacy takes time and hard work.

So how do you teach literacy? Thousands of highly trained professionals have made answering that endlessly complex question their life’s work, but to make it easy, we’ve distilled it down to a few simple, effective, fun pointers for getting started. Let’s jump in with some of the basics!

These are the essential components of literacy:

  • Phonemic awareness means understanding and using the sequences of sounds (phonemes) that make up spoken words.
  • Phonics refers to the correspondence between sound (spoken words) and spelling (written words).
  • Vocabulary means the words and word meanings a reader knows or must learn in order to comprehend a text.
  • Fluency means the ability to read well enough (syntax, speed, and accuracy) to support adequate comprehension. Think of it this way: when you don’t have to concentrate on decoding each word, you’re able to focus your attention on what the text means.
  • Comprehension refers to the ability to process and understand text using context and background knowledge. Comprehension is the reason for reading in the first place! Literacy ultimately means a reader using their experience to make sense of a text.

Vocabulary for Beginners

One of the best ways to teach reading is to focus on building vocabulary skills.

  • Make vocabulary learning fun! Use music, art, nature, food, or anything kids find entertaining.
  • Use pictures and actions to help illustrate and communicate the meaning of vocabulary words.
  • Play games to build vocabulary, from naming objects to playacting action words.
  • Encourage kids to interact verbally and engage in conversation often with you and others, which powerfully strengthens their existing vocabulary.
  • All these vocabulary-building experiences also help develop each beginning reader’s background knowledge, a fundamental part of comprehension.

Wordless Books

The simple act of telling a story creates important connections in a child’s brain.

  • Share picture books with little or no text and allow each child to “read” the books on their own.
  • Then ask each child to interpret the pages in their own words, and re-tell the story aloud to others.
  • You might not feel like you’re actively teaching vocabulary with this exercise, but this practice is powerful for helping early readers develop essential vocabulary skills.

Tactile Writing

These fun hands-on exercises can be a fantastic method for teaching spelling and phonics.

  • Use things that learners can touch, as a fun kinesthetic way to learn.
  • Write letters or words in mud, sand, soap suds, shaving cream, a bowl of rice, finger paint on a big piece of poster board, etc.
  • Make letters or words from yarn, rope, pebbles, or other things kids can easily handle.
  • Use magnetic letters to spell words and sentences on the fridge.

Phonological Games

It’s good for their brains to play these games, but they’ll never notice because they’ll be laughing too hard.

  • One person says a word, and the next person has to say a word that starts with the sound the previous word ended with (so for example, “boat” could be followed by “truck”).
  • Take turns calling out rhyming words, and make up gibberish words if you have to! Kids love it, and it helps teach awareness of word parts and sounds.
  • Teach each other classic tongue twisters and learn to say them faster and faster until everyone is giggling.

Story Prompts

What comes next? The ability to build on a story is a key component in reading comprehension.

  • Start your own made-up story, using a photo, drawing, object, or anything else that inspires you.
  • Then have kids create the next step in the story, taking turns if there are several students.
  • Keep adding to the story you’ve started until you feel it has reached its conclusion.
  • This exercise helps students learn about sequencing, a crucial literacy skill.
  • If you love your story, write it down, type it up, or “publish” it in a handmade book! Or, if everyone’s comfortable with it, make a video or audio recording of the story-telling process.

Remember, everyone learns at their own pace! No two kids learn the same way, so be sure to nurture each child’s journey toward literacy.

Literacy is our mission, and we’re constantly honored to have the opportunity to help you teach kids to read. Thank you for giving us the chance to be part of your literacy journey. Be sure to try these fun activities with your young readers!