Language Literacy

An Introduction to Language and Literacy:

Language development begins from the moment of birth and continues during the language learning years, birth to five years of age. However, researchers tell us that 80% of a child’s language is learned by the age of three.  Those primary years of language learning set the foundation for the next steps of language learning, emergent literacy and then learning to read. Breaking the code and becoming a reader would normally happen around the age of five when the child goes to Kindergarten. If a child has a language challenge, for any underlying reason, and is delayed in the development of language, he/she will be at risk for learning to read. Language challenges/delays are like cracks in the foundation that can’t support the higher structures of learning --- print awareness, sound/symbol relationship, sight words, decoding, comprehension, to name just a few. Foundational language skills and reading are the basic building blocks for academic success.

 Why is literacy so important and what are some statistics regarding literacy?

The U.S. Dept. of Education (2004) found the following:

  • 40% of students across nation read at a basic level.
  • Almost half of students living in urban areas cannot read above the basic level.
  • 70% of low income fourth graders cannot read above basic level.
  • 25% of school children in early grades struggle with reading.
  • Reading and writing skills – devastating lifelong impact- 75% of school dropouts report reading problems.

Others found the following:

  • Half of the adolescents with criminal records have reading difficulties (Learning Disability Basics, 2001).
  • A child who is not fluent reader by 4th grade is likely to struggle with reading as an adult (International Dyslexia Association, 2001)
  • 73% of second grade poor readers- history of spoken – language deficits or phonemic awareness challenges in K. (ASHA, 2001) 

Emerging Reading and Spelling is Expected by End of K!!

Emerging reading means that the student can do basic decoding and demonstrate simple comprehension of basic questions.  The student can also use invented spelling to write simple sentences and complete spelling assessments. This is the expectation of the regular students.

National Reading Panel’s Basic Five:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Text Comprehension


Photo by HARR120N/iStock / Getty Images

Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of success in learning to read.

First level, children learn that the words they speak are made up of sounds.

NICHD, 2000b: Tells us five things about phonemic awareness:

  1. Can be taught and learned
  2. Instruction helps children learn to read
  3. Instruction helps children to learn to spell
  4. Instruction is most effective when it focuses on one or two types of phonemic manipulation, rather than several types
  5. Instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes by using alphabet letters

The basic skills are:

  • Rhyme training
  • Word segmentation…syllables
  • Initial phoneme segmentation*
  • Final phoneme segmentation*
  • Blending*
  • Highest level deletion/manipulation of phonemes
  • Foundational skills and overlapping skills
  • Letter names and sounds

Always incorporating listening activities


 The Magic of words

The Magic of words

The Magic of Words:

Poor readers often have history of deficits in vocabulary (ASHA, 2001).

Language challenged students often have limited vocabularies in oral, reading and written.

Vocabulary in classroom is usually taught implicitly…kids learn it by osmosis.

English has approximately 450,000 words.

Many similar words, synonyms, double meaning.

Learn words after age 9 explicitly – reading.

Younger children learn vocabulary through spoken language

If not reading well, not increasing vocabulary…vicious circle.

Reading words and talking words are different. 

How many words do children know?

Age 6 -- 6,000

12 grade – 36,000 more

Learn about 5 words a day


Number of words heard by age 4:




(Hart & Risley, 1995)


A word about fluency: it is the accuracy of decoding and the rate of decoding.  When a student struggles to decode, he/she will be slower in the reading of text, thus decreasing fluency, which ultimately affects comprehension.


Comprehension really begins with critical thinking, which develops at a very young age and sets the stage for good comprehension, both literal and inferential comprehension.  Critical thinking is the pattern of thinking that provides a way to problem solve, answer questions, reason through the errors in logic, and figure out what is relevant and what is not. This would seem to imply that thinking then has a definite purpose and that in the process we will analyze, synthesize, evaluate and reflect on the information.  Good critical thinkers approach a problem in a logical manner, can be creative in their approach to a question, apply their thinking skills to everyday life, clarify information, look at things from various points of view and clearly understand cause and effect.

There are multiple levels of comprehension which include: schema or drawing on background experiences, literal comprehension, higher level inferences, and ability to study/learn from text (Richek, Caldwell, Jennings & Lerner, 2002). During comprehension, good readers read from the beginning to the end of the text with only occasional jumping around. They read for information relevant to what they want to know and anticipate what will be in the story based on prior knowledge of the topic. Good readers also know what parts of the story are important as they read and monitor what to read quickly, and what to go back over. Finally, good readers reflect as they read.  

Good Comprehension  =  Active Readers

We really have to teach the comprehension process: prediction, imagery, what they don’t understand, the integration of the new information in the text with what they already know, clarification and summarizing skills. With older students, we also have to teach knowledge of different types of text genres such as, narratives, biography, fiction, poetry, and expository. There is a different knowledge of purpose in text as well, for example, persuading, informing and entertaining. Finally students need to learn to manage the text. Do they need to skim, overview read, analyze for deeper meaning, or critical reading for interpretation.

Often students are not aware that they did not comprehend what they read. This is true for both silent and oral reading. At times, the student may have analyzed or interpreted the meaning of the text incorrectly, but does not have the repair strategies needed to go back into the text and figure out the correct interpretation. Reasons for this might include things such as inefficient thinking, not being able to use strategies they have learned (or may not have learned the strategies to be able to independently chose and implement the correct one), insufficient background knowledge, poor vocabulary foundation, or lack of understanding of figurative/abstract language. For those students challenged in the area of language, any or all of the above may exist, as well as an overriding issue of not understanding the complexity of the syntax.  If they have difficulty with this orally, they will definitely have difficulty when they attempt to read it and comprehend the meaning.


This concludes the basic introduction on Language and Literacy. There are many references listed in the reference section of the website which will assist the reader in learning more about the topic. The author is also available for in depth full day workshops/in-services for schools and organizations on the topic of the Language/ Literacy Connection and Differentiated Instruction for Language Challenged Students.


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