Developing Early Literacy Using Storybook Companions
Early literacy development is critical to a student’s life long reading and writing success.
There are several components that need to come together for students to be able to read and write effectively and efficiently.
We absolutely LOVE using Storybook Companions (lesson activities that are created to use in conjunction with some of our favorite books).
For example, we love the book Dragons Love Tacos. It’s such a fun book to read along with young children because everyone can get a laugh out of this best-seller.
Today, we want to walk you through how we design our Storybook Companions. The great thing is that you can create similar activities for all of your favorite books, or if you’re not so much into the resource creation - you can check out our Storybook Companions on Teachers Pay Teachers or in our 5 Core Components of Literacy Membership Site.
Alright so let’s get into it…
What are the core components of effective early literacy instruction?
Well, we are so glad you asked…
1 - Alphabetic Principle
The alphabetic principle is understanding the relationship between letter symbols and their sounds. While some children may already know the alphabet song - the alphabet is about so much more. It's about connecting the letters to the sounds they make, and being able to sequence letters appropriately This is an important skill that students must have in order to easily move forward as a young reader.
We use several activities to target alphabetic principle:
The first is Match the Letter. This is a fun, simple activity to practice pairing upper and lower-case letters.
Next, is the Alphabet Sequencing Cards. There are three different sets of cards with varying levels of difficulty. Start with the green dragon set, move to the blue dragons, and finally the orange dragons for the most difficult. There is an additional set with no dragons which requires recognition and production of smaller letters.
Students will fill in the missing letter to complete each alphabet sequence.
It is important for students to learn this skill as sequencing is a task in which many students struggle. The goal is to get students moving away from simply singing the song and recognizing the pattern within the alphabet.
At first, students may need to refer to an image of the alphabet to recall or sequence the letters. They may also need to recite the alphabet to find the missing letter.
2 - Orthographic Knowledge & Visual Motor Coordination
Of course, we have to use complicated language because it makes us sound smart. But in all honesty the concepts aren’t complicated.
Orthographic knowledge means making sense of visually presented symbols we call letters.
Visual motor skills, also called visual motor integration, refers to the skills that combine visual skills, visual perception skills, and motor skills. So, the skills that use our eyes and hands in a coordinated way.
Hand-eye coordination is using the information received through our eyes to coordinate our hands with control, and handwriting is a major player here!
We use several activities to target orthographic knowledge and visual motor coordination:
You can begin by having your student warm up by tracing shapes or lines, in this story book unit we have students trace lines to match the cute dragons. It’s important to always reinforce a proper pencil grip as well as appropriate pencil pressure – not too much, but not too little, either!
Next, students should practice letter formation. Here, it is important to make sure students are forming their letters from the top down – not from the bottom up. Letters like a and d need to be a separate “ball” and “stick” not one, fluid motion or line.
Finally, students should work on “orthographic knowledge” by searching for key letters in a letter search. This visual discrimination piece is important when strengthening visual motor skills and orthographic competence.
Corrective feedback is so important at this stage.
Don’t let bad habits become permanent. If you notice an awkward pencil grip or incorrect letter formation, correct it and provide repeated practice of doing it correctly.
If letter formation is specifically difficult, provide activities where your student can trace the letter on a larger scale on glitter paper or in a salt tray. This tactile experience will help create muscle memory for making the letter correctly.
3 - Phonological Awareness
Phonological Awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds (or phonemes) in words. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. For example, the spoken word dog can be broken down into three separate and distinct phonemes or sounds; /d/ /o/ /g/.
Phonological Awareness includes work with rhyming, syllabication, and segmenting words by sound. All of these skills are about the sounds we hear in letters and words. When we begin to integrate letters into the mix, we are shifting into Phonics work.
Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness are often used interchangeably. Phonemic awareness activities fall within the umbrella of Phonological Awareness and refer to sound level manipulation instead of word or syllable level manipulation.
We use several activities to target phonological awareness:
We start with something like a game that requires our students to determine “How Many Syllables” are in a word and have them identify and circle the number of syllables they hear in the word. For example, taco has two syllables and sombrero has three.
Initial Sound Match is the next activity we use that we try to adapt in several ways. The goal here is to correctly hear and isolate the first sound you hear when you read a word – or as students recognize the word based on the picture. We lay all the cards out face up and have our students match the first sound they hear to the letter that makes the sound or sometimes we play a game of memory with initial sounds.
Last Sound is another activity we have students practice. We ask our students to say the name of each picture. Then, we ask our students to identify the final or last sound in the word. Finally, we have our students circle the sound they hear at the end of the word.
Phonological Awareness skills can be very challenging for some students. You may need to exaggerate or emphasize the beginning and final sounds for these games in order to help your student hear and isolate the sound.
When it comes to syllabication, it helps to clap the syllables as you break words apart. We find it helpful to model how to do this for your student and encourage them to do it with you as they syllabicate each word.
4 - Language Development
So one of the most important abilities that early readers need to develop solid literacy skills is knowledge of language. Language is important because reading is the printed form of our spoken communication. If students don’t have strong vocabulary knowledge and knowledge of the structure, form, and use of our language they will struggle to read or write effectively.
While vocabulary is not the only component of language we need to consider it is incredibly important and we have two types of vocabulary to consider.
Receptive language refers to the ability to understand information. It includes understanding the words, sentences, and meaning of what others say or what is read.
Expressive language means being able to put thoughts into words and sentences, in a way that makes sense and is grammatically accurate.
We use several activities to target language:
One of the most important things we like to address is Following Directions. This is a critical skill to be developed so that students can be successful long term. In our Storybook Units we provide direction cards that will give simple directions such as ‘put the blue dragon next to the hot sauce’ or ‘put the sombrero on top of the pink dragon’.
Sequencing is the next activity we like to target and we love using stories to help students learn to sequence. We read the story once, and then we go back through the story and ask our students to use the Sequencing Cards to re-tell or order the cards according to the story (sometimes they can do this from memory if they’re really good). This is a great foundational skill to build reading comprehension.
Comprehension and Vocabulary activities are also so important to follow up storybook reading. We ask questions based on the story and words that were presented in the text. We ask our students to choose card and answer a question from the story or to define a word that they heard during the reading. You can use predetermined questions or just ask things as you think of them.
Some of these activities may be hard and first, and that’s okay, the more you expose them to these types of activities the easier it gets for them!
So that’s it - those are the skills we work to target for our early literacy students. If you’re interested in checking out one of these activities we HIGHLY recommend >>>checking out this Dragon’s Love Tacos Storybook Unit<<< because it is SO FUN!
And if you’re looking for tons more activities for Early Literacy and beyond we’d love to see you in our 5 Core Components of Literacy Membership Site >>>learn more here<<< or check out this video where we walk you through the details of the site. We hope to see you there!