Designing Early Literacy Programs, First Edition: Strategies for At-Risk Preschool and Kindergarten Children

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Taking professionals and students step by step through conceptualizing, planning, and implementing an effective early literacy program, this book focuses on preventing reading difficulties and promoting success in at-risk 3-5 year olds. The authors draw on extensive research and many years of influential work in real classrooms. A comprehensive framework is delineated for helping young children construct meaning from different kinds of texts, develop key oral language skills, and learn concepts about print and the alphabet. Ideas for tailoring instruction to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse learners are accompanied by clear assessment guidelines. The book also offers practical, how-to-do-it suggestions for setting up literacy activities and arranging the classroom environment. Concluding chapters bring the authors' approach to life with vivid depictions of a preschool and a kindergarten classroom in action. Two invaluable appendices provide additional useful resources: reproducible sheets for conducting literacy assessments and a primer on phonics for teachers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Faced with the challenge of sound program design in early literacy, early childhood educators will find this book a rich resource. The book anchors understanding in the research foundations of literacy development, describes the features of deliberate and systematic instruction in early literacy, and articulates strategies teachers can use to create optimum conditions for young children to learn and achieve. As a text, it is suitable for use in professional development initiatives and in early literacy coursework in 4-year and 2-year teacher education programs."--Kathleen Roskos, PhD, Department of Education and Allied Studies, John Carroll University

"There is a critical need for a comprehensive and compelling early literacy book focused on at-risk children. Early childhood students, teachers, and administrators will learn from this book and love it! McGee and Richgels explain both the 'whys' and 'hows' of high-quality preschool programs. They provide cutting-edge concepts and strategies that demonstrate deep respect for all children's capacities to learn. This book will be useful to teachers, teacher educators, and educational leaders who plan, implement, and guide early childhood programs. I would recommend and use it in upper-level courses focusing on early/primary methods and on reading program development for at-risk children."--Penny Freppon, EdD, Graduate Program in Literacy, University of Cincinnati College of Education

"Designing Early Literacy Programs recognizes the complexities of young children's cognitive processes while learning to read and write. Presented are a framework for literacy learning and specific assessment and instructional strategies, based on significant lines of research, that emphasize clear, developmentally appropriate teaching within the context of authentic reading and writing tasks. Classroom descriptions of both preschool and kindergarten settings provide rich illustrations of teachers and children deeply involved in literacy learning. This book should be the centerpiece of preservice and inservice coursework in early literacy instruction."--Patricia L. Scharer, PhD, The Ohio State University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572308909
  • Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/30/2003
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 7.16 (w) x 9.74 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Designing Early Literacy Programs

Strategies for At-Risk Preschool and Kindergarten Children
By Lea M. McGee Donald J. Richgels

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2003 The Guilford Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57230-890-7

Chapter One

Classroom Activities That Expand Children's Vocabulary and Comprehension

The purpose of this chapter is to describe four instructional activities that are highly effective in helping children develop strategies for comprehending the written language of books and other printed texts. These activities strengthen children's awareness of how language and literacy are used, extend their vocabularies and syntax, and introduce children to new concepts and knowledge related to science and social studies content. The activities introduced in this chapter are reading books aloud, telling and dramatizing books, providing real experiences such as experiments and projects, and using shared writing.


As we described in Chapter 5, young children are experienced at using the contextualized strategies of looking around a shared context, listening, and connecting to figure out meanings communicated through spoken language. They rely on the give and take of conversation with others and on a shared context to obtain clues for understanding the message and the meaning of any new words. Therefore, the most effective way to read aloud tochildren is to intersperse conversation with the reading, not just to read straight through the book. We call this interactive reading (Whitehurst, Arnold, et al., 1994; Whitehurst, Epstein, et al., 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1999) because it includes a great deal of interactive conversation between children and their teacher.

Interactive Read-Alouds

During interactive read-alouds, the teacher and children make comments, ask and answer questions, and make predictions. In the following interactive read-aloud, Cindy (a preschool teacher) and Jeremie read and discuss the pop-up book Dinnertime (Pienkowski, 1980). In this story a series of animals (illustrated with large pop-up mouths) announce they will eat another animal (shown on the previous page of the story). The conversation (with the text from the book presented in italics) is in both Haitian Creole (Jeremie's home language) and English (Ballenger, 1999, p. 62).

Ms. Cindy: (reads first double spread of text) One day a frog ...

Jeremie: He got mouth?

Ms. Cindy: ... was sitting on a log catching flies when down came a vulture.

Jeremie: Cindy, he got mouth.

Ms. Cindy: Yes, they all have mouths (reads second double spread of text) Vulture said to frog "I'm going to eat you for my dinner [pointing to vulture] m pral manje ou (I'm gonna eat you) and that's what he did.

Jeremie: Li di li pral manje moun? (he said he will eat people?)

Ms. Cindy: Non, li mem, li di, "m pral manje ou" (no, that one he said, "I will eat you.")

Jeremie: Manje on frog (eat a frog?)

Ms. Cindy: Yeah, li pral manje on frog (he will eat a frog)

In this interactive read-aloud Jeremie commented twice on the pop-up mouths. Cindy only briefly acknowledged the mouths, then quickly returned to reading the text. She alternated between reading the text in English and repeating the essence of the text in Haitian Creole. Jeremie signaled by asking a question ("he said he will eat people?") that he was confused about who the vulture was going to eat. It is not surprising that Jeremie is confused. The text referred only indirectly to the frog, which is not illustrated on this page. In order to understand the story, children must infer that the vulture is going to eat the frog (the text only says "I'm going to eat you for my dinner"). Jeremie's question shows that he incorrectly inferred that the vulture will eat people, probably based on his prior knowledge about dangerous animals. To clarify this misunderstanding, Cindy pointed to the animals in illustrations and made explicit which animal is going to do the eating and which animal is going to be eaten. Then, Jeremie asked another question, which served to confirm his understanding that the frog will get eaten, and Cindy's response provided feedback that he was correct. Cindy intentionally expanded Jeremie's language by recasting some of his language ("he got mouth?" and "eat a frog?") into a more conventional response ("they all have mouths" and "he will eat a frog").

The Teacher's Role during Interactive Read-Alouds

The teacher's role in interactive read-alouds has five purposes:

To prompt children's active involvement in constructing a book's meaning To clarify and extend children's understandings about the meaning of the book

To expand and extend the language of children's responses

To explain the meanings of some vocabulary included in the book

To prompt children to use new vocabulary in their responses

Interactive read-alouds allow children to construct more complete and accurate understandings of the book being read. Teachers help them do this by making comments, asking questions, and encouraging children to ask questions and make comments. Teachers listen carefully to children's questions and comments so they can provide clarifying information. Questions and comments that are particularly effective in prompting children's participation in interactive read-alouds are presented in Table 6.1.

Prompting Deeper Understanding and Interpretation

Teachers are careful not to make interactive book reading merely a question-answer activity in which teachers read and ask questions about the story content and children answer questions (McGee, 1998). Instead, the purpose of asking questions is to provide opportunities for children to take an active role in trying to understand the story, which is important because good readers are not passive. They do not merely read through the words of a book. Instead, as they read they engage in many mental activities, such as calling up prior knowledge about the events and objects included in the book, making inferences about why characters act as they do, predicting what will happen next, and monitoring whether their predictions were accurate, whether their inferences have proven to be true, and whether the text is making sense. For most good readers, these mental activities occur almost unconsciously-readers just seem to naturally make sense of what they read. But in the beginning, before children can actually read on their own, they need prompting to begin using these mental activities so that they will become automatic later when they do read.

Therefore, another of the teacher's roles in interactive book reading is to make sure children engage in mental activities. This is accomplished by selecting four or five places in the story to stop and ask one or two questions or invite predictions. This stopping to talk requires children to think, infer, predict, and reason. The places that teachers choose to stop and talk should be carefully selected. Teachers need to consider the overall meaning of the story or informational book. For example, The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a tale about greed and trickery. The troll would simply have eaten the first Billy Goat if he was merely hungry rather than greedy. The clever Billy Goats use the troll's greed to trick him into letting the two smaller Billy Goats cross the bridge safely. A teacher can help children think about the theme of greed by asking, "If he was so hungry, why did the Troll let the first Billy Goat cross the bridge?"

Another favorite folktale, The Three Little Kittens, explores the themes of children's desire to please their mother and a mother's use of punishment and reward to prompt good behavior. It includes the concepts of clean versus dirty and lost versus found. During an interactive read-aloud of The Three Little Kittens, teachers can draw attention to these concepts when they make comments such as "Oh dear, they've lost their mittens." They can pantomime being a kitten by frantically looking all around to locate the lost mittens. Teachers can invite children to put on pretend mittens, lose them, and then exclaim, "Oh, no. I've lost my mittens." They can invite children to make personal connections to the story by saying "I wonder where they lost their mittens? Where is a place you might lose your mittens?" or by asking "What do you think your mother will say when you tell her you've lost your mittens? What did Mother Cat in the story do to punish her kittens for being careless with their mittens?"

Effective interactive read-alouds arise from a mixture of child-initiated and -directed conversation and teacher-initiated and -directed conversation. Sometimes conversations do not go as teachers have planned. Children's comments and questions may propel interactive read-alouds in unexpected directions. For example, one teacher was reading Goodnight Moon (Brown, 1947) to a group of kindergartners. She had read this book every year of her teaching career and had a very good idea of the nature of conversation she expected. But this time, the conversation took an unexpected turn. These kindergartners noticed that Mother Bunny was having trouble putting all the babies (including the kittens on the rug) to sleep, not just the little bunny. These children argued that Little Bunny was the only baby being good-he was in bed, but the kittens would not settle down to sleep. Rather than interrupt her children's unexpected interpretation of the story and redirect their attention back to her planned questions, this teacher respected the children's thinking and followed their lead throughout the reading. She asked them to support their interpretations by using details from the illustrations and making connections to their own experiences.

Building Vocabulary and Extending Language

Introducing and prompting children to use new vocabulary is also a critical component of interactive read-alouds (Cornell, Senechal, & Brodo, 1988; Hargrave & Senchal, 2000). Before reading a book aloud, teachers can select 8-10 vocabulary words or phrases to highlight during reading. The words and phrases selected should be those critical for understanding the story, those that children are likely to encounter in other books, or those that are more sophisticated labels for everyday objects and events. For example, a prekindergarten teacher selected the words and phrases owling, woods, feet crunched, Great Horned Owl, silent, clearing, echo, pumped its wings, and forest to highlight when she read Owl Moon (Yolen, 1987) with her 4-year-olds. As she read the book, she read the words and phrases in the text, then turned to look at the children to give in a few words a short definition or explanation, and then turned back to the text and read the sentence with the target word or phrase again. As she made comments and asked questions, she included target words and phrases ("I remember a time when my feet crunched in the snow") and prompted children to use them in their responses ("Who can remember what kind of owl they saw?") Children acquire new vocabulary when their definitions are highlighted, when teachers repeat them either during reading or in their conversation, and-most importantly-when they use the words themselves to talk about the book (Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Senechal, 1997).

Selecting Books for Interactive Read-Alouds

The most important step in interactive read-alouds is selecting an appropriate book. With today's large and ever-growing number of good children's books, both fictional and informational, on any topic, there is no reason to read anything but high-quality books. Good teachers take the time to preview, evaluate, and select before reading to children. They also read their selections ahead of time, so that their interactive reading can be fluent, understandable, engaging, and entertaining, and so that they know ahead of time when best to stop for conversation.

High-quality children's books are distinguished by richness of vocabulary, compliance with story grammar, congruence with children's world knowledge, and interplay of text and illustrations. These qualities provide opportunities to prompt conversation by saying "Quivering. That's a good word! Why do you suppose he was quivering when he saw the giant?" or "Oh dear! She has to get to the other side. How do you suppose she will solve that problem?" or "Have you ever heard of a tchotchke? What do you think that might be?" or "I wonder why he's hiding from Tony? What do we already know about Tony?" or "I think there's a clue in the picture. What do you see in the picture that tells you why she 'jumped for joy'?"

Books that are particularly appropriate for younger preschoolers include characters and activities that are familiar to children, texts with few words, and illustrations with direct relationship to the story line. However, any high-quality book can be shared with younger children if teachers adjust their reading. Beautifully illustrated storybooks with too much text can be told rather than read (see "Interactive" Storytelling section in this chapter). Books about unfamiliar activities or different time periods can also be shared with young children when teachers consider how to connect the unfamiliar locations or events to activities and people that are familiar to children. Teachers should not automatically assume that books with rare or unusual vocabulary, books about technical topics, or stories unfamiliar to children's everyday lives are uninteresting to young children (The Tale of Peter Rabbit written by Beatrix Potter in 1902 continues to be a favorite of children, including children living in inner cities!). However, children also need multiple opportunities to experience books that accurately reflect their culture as well as opportunities to experience books about the culture of others (Barrera, Ligouri, & Salas, 1992). Some books in the read-aloud program need to be carefully selected for their cultural relevance and authenticity (see Table 5.1 for a list of culturally authentic books).

Using Read-Alouds to Develop Concept about Stories

In Chapter 2 we described the concepts that preschoolers and kindergartners develop about stories (see Table 2.1 for a description of all the components of a concept about story included in a story grammar). Through listening to stories read aloud to them, children gradually acquire concepts about stories. Young children pay most attention to characters' actions in stories and less attention to the settings or internal thoughts and motivations of characters. Teachers can strengthen children's awareness of the components in stories by deliberately planning activities that draw attention to particular story concepts (Fitzgerald, 1989), including

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Stories have characters.

A story has a setting that tells where the story takes place.

The main character has a problem that needs to be solved.

The main character takes action to solve the problem.


Excerpted from Designing Early Literacy Programs by Lea M. McGee Donald J. Richgels Copyright © 2003 by The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Who Is at Risk for Reading Difficulties?: Implications for Early Literacy Programs
Chapter 2. Understanding Literacy Development
Chapter 3. Using Assessment to Make Instructional Decisions
Chapter 4. Language- and Literacy-Rich Classrooms
Chapter 5. Language Development: Gateway to Literacy
Chapter 6. Classroom Activities That Expand Children¿s Vocabulary and Comprehension
Chapter 7. Classroom Activities to Develop Children¿s Concepts about Print and Alphabet Letter Recognition
Chapter 8. Classroom Activities to Develop Phonological Awareness and the Alphabetic Principle
Chapter 9. Prekindergarten in Action
Chapter 10. Kindergarten in Action
Appendix A. A Primer on Phonics for Teachers
Appendix B. Literacy Assessments
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