Print conventions include book familiarity (location of print, where to start reading, and what direction to read and write), text features (punctuation, capitalization, and special types like boldface), and text concepts (word boundaries, number of words/letters, and first/last part of word/sentence). Teaching print conventions gives children the tools they need to delve into a text and begin reading. As Clay (1993a) points out, this group of behaviors supports the acquisition of literacy. While these conventions are second nature for us as experienced readers, it’s important to remember how foreign they seem to new readers. Students need direct instruction about them and plenty of practice with them so that using them becomes routine. It is important that these print conventions are not taken too lightly because they can become stumbling blocks in the future if not learned in the early years.
Factors That Influence the Learning of Print Conventions
There are several factors that influence how easily students can grasp print conventions. These include:
- auditory memory for words,
- visual memory for features (period, colon, capitals, boldface type),
- understanding of purpose or concepts for these features, and
- frequency of experience with these features in different types of text.
In looking at these factors that can influence the learning of print conventions, it is clear that memory plays a significant role. Auditory memory, or things remembered from listening, and visual memory, or things remembered from observing, are critical perceptual aspects of all literacy learning. The intervention activities for memory are are applicable to word recognition, comprehension, and writing as well.
Recommended Best Practices for Learning Print Conventions
First of all, teachers should demonstrate daily how print conventions are useful in both reading and writing. As Clay (1991, 1993a, 1993b) points out, print conventions are best learned in the context of reading authentic text, which happens throughout the day.
Opportunities occur during guided reading, where a discussion of print conventions can naturally emerge during the preview, reading, or follow-up stages of a lesson. In addition, I’ve found that composing stories on chart paper with guided reading groups is an excellent way to model and reinforce the print conventions we notice during our reading.
Using Big Books during shared reading and read aloud also facilitates discussion of print conventions; since the text is visible to all, it’s easy to pause and quickly discuss a punctuation mark or other text convention without disrupting the flow of the reading.
Shared writing is the perfect time to model the use of print conventions, which students can then put into practice during their independent writing time. Moreover, teachers should provide students with multiple experiences with various print conventions through a variety of types of texts in the reading and writing material they use in instruction. Children will require much practice in the identification, understanding, and use of these print conventions.