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(links to source documents are in the postings below)

1. Developing Early Literacy - National Early Literacy Panel (NELP)
2. Early Literacy Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years - Reading Rockets (NIEER)
3. Emergent Literacy Skills and Domains - Save the Children
4.  Reading to Young Children - Child Trends
5.  Language and Literacy Development in the Early Years: - Carmen Sherry Brown, Hunter College
Emergent Literacy

National Early Literacy Panel:  Questions and Answers

National Center for Family Literacy

“Conventional literacy skills are those that promote decoding, reading comprehension, spelling and writing. However, there are few programs and practices in the early childhood years that target these conventional literacy skills. Therefore, the NELP first needed to identify the skills and abilities that strongly predict later conventional literacy skills. In essence, the panel sought to determine the domain of emergent literacy skills. This determination led to its first question: What are the skills and abilities of young children (age birth through five years or kindergarten) that predict later reading, writing, or spelling outcomes?”

This was the second question of the panel: Which programs, interventions, and other instructional approaches or procedures have contributed to or inhibited gains in children’s skills and abilities that are linked to later outcomes in reading, writing, or spelling?

The NELP also identified two more questions it was interested in answering. These questions were specifically related to the interventions and practices identified in the second question with considerations as to whether the interventions and practices were more or less effective under various instructional circumstances (third question) and whether they work better with some types of children (fourth question). What environments and settings have contributed to or inhibited gains in children’s skills and abilities that are linked to later outcomes in reading, writing, or spelling? What child characteristics have contributed to or inhibited gains in children’s skills and abilities that are linked to later outcomes in reading, writing, or spelling?

The NELP found six literacy-related variables that consistently predict later conventional literacy outcomes. The six variables with moderate to strong relationships are:

  1. alphabet knowledge,

  2. phonological awareness,

  3. rapid naming of letters and digits,

  4. rapid naming of objects and colors,

  5. writing or writing name, and

  6. phonological short term memory.

Most of these findings are the result of a relatively large number of studies that included a large number of children. Consequently, the relationships between these variables and later conventional literacy outcomes not only are sizable, but also are likely to be highly reliable and stable.

A second set of important variables was moderately correlated with at least one conventional literacy skill, but did not consistently maintain this relationship when other variables were accounted for or when the variables had not yet been evaluated in this way. These five emergent skills are:

  1. concepts about print,

  2. print knowledge,

  3. reading readiness,

  4. oral language, and

  5. visual processing.

The NELP established that global oral language had a moderately weak relationship with later conventional literacy skills. A variety of skills, such as receptive and expressive vocabulary, receptive and expressive language, listening comprehension and syntax, comprise global oral language. Because it was not expected that oral language would be a weak predictor of conventional literacy, especially reading comprehension, the NELP examined the relationship of these finer-grained oral language skills in more detail.

This examination revealed that simple measures of receptive and expressive vocabulary had a relatively weak relationship with both the conventional literacy skills of decoding and reading comprehension, while more complex skills, such as definitional vocabulary, listening comprehension, and grammar, had significantly stronger relationships with conventional literacy skills. Such results are potentially instructive about the focus of early childhood education. They suggest that a focus on building vocabulary alone is unlikely to be sufficient for improving outcomes not only in literacy, but also in oral language itself.

The NELP found that explicit attempts to build coder-related skills; to share books with young children; to enhance oral language; and to use home, preschool, and kindergarten interventions all can be valuable paths to at least some literacy and language outcomes. The code-focused instructional efforts reported statistically significant and moderate to large effects across a broad spectrum of early literacy outcomes.

Code-focused interventions consistently demonstrated positive effects directly on children’s conventional literacy skills. Book sharing interventions produced statistically significant and moderate effects on children’s print knowledge and oral language skills, and the home and parent programs yielded statistically significant and moderate to large effects on children’s oral-language skills and general cognitive abilities.

Studies of preschool and kindergarten programs produced significant and moderate to large effects on spelling and reading readiness. Finally, language enhancement interventions were successful at increasing children’s oral language skills to a large and statistically significant degree. Together, these findings suggest that there are many things that parents and preschools can do to improve the literacy development

Post #1
Early Literacy:  Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years
Post #2
Early Literacy and Practice in PreSchool

Early literacy plays a key role in enabling the kind of early learning experiences that research shows are linked with academic achievement, reduced grade retention, higher graduation rates and enhanced productivity in adult life. This report synthesizes the body of professional knowledge about early literacy and offers research-based recommendations.

What we know:

  • Literacy development starts early in life and is highly correlated with school achievement.

  • All of the domains of a child's development —physical, social-emotional, cognitive, language and literacy—are interrelated and interdependent.

  • The more limited a child's experiences with language and literacy the more likely he or she will have difficulty learning to read.

  • Key early literacy predictors of reading and school success include oral language, Alphabetic Code, and print knowledge.

  • Well-conceived standards for child outcomes, curriculum content, and teacher preparation help establish clarity of purpose and a shared vision for early literacy education.

  • Increased demands for program accountability are often heavily focused on assessments of children's early literacy development.

  • Highly capable teachers are required to implement today's more challenging early literacy curriculum.

  • Teacher knowledge, respect and support for the diversity of children's families, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds are important in early literacy development.

Policy recommendations:

  • All children should have access to early childhood programs with strong literacy components that include clear adaptations for children with special needs.

  • Early literacy curricula and teaching practices should be evidence-based, integrated with all domains of learning, and understandable to staff members.

  • Early literacy standards should be established that articulate with K-12 programs and reflect consistency and continuity with overall program goals.

  • Early literacy assessment should use multiple methods and use the information to improve both teaching and the total preschool program.

  • Standards for early childhood professionals should require staff to meet early literacy instructional standards.

  • Parent involvement programs should have a strong early literacy component that guides parents and caregivers in providing early literacy experiences at home.

  • Support for English Language Learners should be specified and provided in both the home language and English where feasible.

A growing body of evidence shows that early learning experiences are linked with later school achievement, emotional and social well-being, fewer grade retentions, and reduced incidences of juvenile delinquency and that these outcomes are all factors associated with later adult productivity. Other research has identified key predictors for reading and school success.

An analysis of the research literature indicates specific skills and abilities of children ages birth through 5 years that predict later reading outcomes.

Key predictive skills and abilities include:

  • Oral language: listening comprehension, oral language vocabulary

  • Alphabetic Code: alphabet knowledge, phonological/ phonemic awareness (the ability to discriminate sounds in words), invented spelling

  • Print Knowledge/Concepts: environmental print, concepts about print

Other less significant indicators include: Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN); visual memory; and visual perceptual abilities.


Research establishes four major principles of early literacy acquisition:

Oral language is the foundation for literacy development.  Oral language provides children with a sense of words and sentences and builds sensitivity to the sound system so that children can acquire phonological awareness and phonics. Through their own speech children demonstrate their understanding of the meanings of words and written materials.

Children's experiences with the world greatly influence their ability to comprehend what they read. Reading involves comprehending written texts. What children bring to a text influences the understandings they take away and the use they make of what is read.

Learning to read and write starts long before first grade and has long-lasting effects. Learning to read and write is an ongoing process from infancy. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade. From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children's language and literacy is critical.

Children's experiences with books and print greatly influence their ability to comprehend what they read.  Reading with adults, looking at books independently, and sharing reading experiences with peers are some of the ways that children experience books.

Emergent Literacy Skills and Domains
Save the Children 
Post #3

What is Emergent Literacy? Emergent literacy encompasses the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that a child develops in relation to reading and writing throughout the early childhood period, starting at birth and before the onset of conventional reading and writing instruction (usually at school entry). Emergent literacy includes such aspects as oral language (both speaking and listening), understanding that print can carry meaning, as well as basic alphabet knowledge, and early phonological awareness.

Emergent Literacy Domains:  Emergent literacy skills develop across these five domains.  

Emergent Literacy Skills Help Even the Playing Field: Strengthening emergent literacy skills during the early childhood period can prevent future reading difficulties and reduce disparities. Children who begin school with less prior knowledge and skill in relevant emergent literacy domains, most notably general verbal abilities, basic phonological awareness, familiarity with the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading, and letter knowledge, are particularly likely to have difficulty with learning to read in the primary grades.

Due to many factors, including inadequate home literacy environment and lack of access to books, as well as a lack of early learning opportunities, children in low-resource settings and from high poverty homes tend to lag behind on these emergent literacy skills compared to their peers from higher-resource homes, which puts these children on a path toward early and enduring difficulties with reading.

Reducing the number of children who enter school with inadequate early literacy experiences is an important step toward preventing reading difficulties and enabling long-term school success. Though not a magic bullet, this would serve to considerably reduce the magnitude of disparities between strong and weak readers.

Emergent Literacy Defined.png
Reading to Young Children - Child Trends

Note:  As of December 2018, it appears Child Trends is not longer posting this document. 

"Children develop literacy skills and an awareness of language long before they are able to read.  Since language development is fundamental to all areas of learning, skills developed early in life can help set the stage for later school success.  By reading aloud to their young children, parents help them acquire the skills they will need to be ready for school."

Young children who are regularly read to have a larger vocabulary, higher levels of phonological, letter name, and sound awareness, and better success at decoding words. The number of words in a child’s vocabulary can be an important indicator of later academic success.  Children’s vocabulary use at age three is a strong predictor of language skill and reading comprehension at age 9‐10.  Further, vocabulary use in first grade can predict more than 30 percent of eleventh grade reading comprehension.

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin:  Young children who are white or Asian are more likely to be read to than children who are either Hispanic or black.  In 2007, 67% of white and 60% of Asian three- to five-year-olds were read to everyday by a family member, compared to 35% of black children and 37% of Hispanic children.

Differences by Mother’s Education Level:  Young children are more like to be read to if their mothers have completed higher levels of education.  In 2007, 74% of young children whose mother had graduated from college were read to everyday by a family member.  In contrast, 55% if children whose mothers had some college were read to everyday, compared to 39% whose mothers had only finished high school and 31% who mothers had not finished high school.

Differences by Poverty Status:  Young children living in poverty are less likely to be read to everyday by a family member than those children living above the poverty line.  In 2007, 40% of poor 3- to 5-year-olds were read to everyday, compared with 50% of children living at 100% - 199% of poverty and 64% of children in families at 200% of poverty and above.

Differences by Family Type:  In 2007, 62% of children with two married parents were read to everyday, versus 43% of children with one parent, and 24% of children with two unmarried parents.

Differences by Mother’s Employment Status:  Children with mothers working part-time (less than 35 hours a week) or not in the labor force are more likely to be read to everyday.  In 2007, 63% of children with mothers working part-time and 58% of children with mothers not in the labor force were read to everyday, compared to 51% of children with mothers working full-time and 40% of children with mothers looking for work.

Reading to Young Children.PNG
Post #4

"Language and Literacy Development in the Early Years:

Foundational Skills that Support Emergent Readers"

Post #5
emergent reading skills Brown.JPG

Phonemic Awareness

"Reading is a complex and multifaceted process that involves learning a

complicated and often confusing code of letters and sounds known as the alphabetic

principle. Research has shown that some children struggle with this element of reading

development because they have difficulty with phonemic awareness (NICHD, 2000;

NELP, 2008; Shanahan & Lonigan, 2013). Phonemic awareness is a subset of

phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to recognize, identify

and manipulate phonemes in spoken words. Research has found that this element of

reading is the single strongest indicator for a child’s success at learning to read (NICHD,



"Phonemic awareness is grounded in oral language and serves as the foundation for

reading development. Children who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken

words will have a difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to graphemes (a

letter or a number of letters that represent a phoneme in a word) when they see them in

written words. This pre-phonics problem interferes with the learning of letter and sound



"Knowledge of the alphabet and phonological awareness are both strong predictors

of later decoding and comprehension and teaching these in combination has a

consistently positive impact on improving students’ later decoding and reading

comprehension abilities (Shanahan & Lonigan, 2013). Phonological awareness provides

the foundation for phonics. Phonics, the understanding that sounds and print letters are

connected, is the first step towards conventional reading."

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