Julian and Keisha are in the block area discussing how to print a sign that says "Stay Away" to protect their building. Another group laughs and talks together, making up rules for a game they're playing with a stack of name cards. in the dramatic play area, Nicholas is consulting a phone book as he calls someone on his phone. Everywhere you look, you see children engaged in literacy learning.
This is a room rich with words. The walls are not covered with words, nor is the room filled with charts, signs, and labels of all kinds. The teacher has displayed only print that is meaningful to children. She has integrated print and language learning throughout the entire curriculum. She observes and assesses the way children are using the print in the classroom. When a sign or chart seems no longer useful to children, she replaces it with one that is.

MAKE IT MEANINGFUL

A room rich in words is a room rich in meaning. You can ensure that children's experiences with print materials are meaningful by:

  • Encouraging children to dictate signs, labels, and titles for charts, posters, and other classroom displays.
  • Reading signs and labels to children, placing their hand under the words as you read.
  • Asking children to put labels and signs in their appropriate places around the room.
  • Replacing printed materials that are no longer used with those that challenge children to gain new skills.

Print With a Purpose

Print that is meaningful has a purpose. It captures children's attention and informs them of something new, something to do, or something to observe.

Something New To introduce a new game, you can show children a sign that reads "Look! Look! Play a New Game." Read it and say, "This sign will remind those of you who want to learn a new game to spend some time at the game table this morning."

You can make a sign notifying children of a change in schedule. "Morning snack will be held outside today." Before it's placed in a specified area for messages, read it to the children, saying, "This is to remind you that this morning we'll eat our snack outside."

To welcome a new child to the class, create a poster with a picture of the child, his name, and a few sentences about him. New pets, rules, pieces of equipment or ways of doing something offer other opportunities to use print to inform children of something new.

News stories can be a frequent part of morning meeting and introduce children to the concept of news. Write news on a chart or board and read to the children. Run your fingers under the words so children connect the printed with the spoken words as they "read" the news. News might consist of a sentence or two about current events: "Election Day. Today is Election Day. Will you go with your family to vote?" Or news about the children: "JuiHsien: Jui-Hsien is going to visit her Grandmother in Taiwan tomorrow. Let's wish her a happy trip."

Something to Do Signs and posters are useful ways to inform children of something they should, or could, do. A label above a basket that says "Scissors," along with a picture of scissors, tells children this is where they can find scissors and where to put them when they've finished. A chart can inform children that it's their turn to feed the guinea pigs, water the plants, or pour the juice. Another sign might show how many children can work in a given activity area at the same time.

Charts inform children of how to do things. A chart of pictures and words can illustrate how to make one-- cup gingerbread or lemonade for instance. Another chart might ask children to find out what will and what will not dissolve in water

Something to Observe Charts are effective for fostering children's observation skills. For example, you might collect a number of chrysalises and place them in a screened insect cage. A chart, with pictures and words, will ask children to observe the chrysalises weekly, mark on a calendar when they thought the butterflies would emerge, and draw pictures of how they thought the butterfly looked inside the chrysalises. When the butterflies emerge, you can construct another chart---complete with digital photographs of the butterflies emerging. Children can illustrate their experience by painting a mural filled with butterflies.

Charts with pictures and words encourage children to observe clouds, rain, fish, insects, or how other things move, change or behave. Encourage children to record their observations by providing them with blank books (pieces of newsprint stapled between two sheets of colored construction paper).

Something to Think About Print is useful for helping children organize their thinking and reflect on previous activities. Displays that include photographs of children engaged in activities and narratives written for families describing what children were doing and learning are great additions to your room when completing a theme or project.

Photographs of children actually engaged in working draw children to the display. Here they find their picture and chat with one another, recalling what they did and said. A concise title designed to attract the children's attention, constructed of a bright or dark color, also draws children to the display. Subtitles, as well, help focus children's attention.

Class books can also be used to complete a theme or project. For these, each child draws a picture or writes something about what she did, learned, or especially liked about the project. Bind the pages with rings or yam, create a cover with children, and you'll have a class Big Book you can display proudly in your library.

BASIC BEGINNINGS

Very young children (age 3 or under) or those just learning the alphabetic principle will need to develop concepts of print before they gain meaning from print in the classroom. Here are some strategies you can use to introduce concepts of print as you read to children:

  • Snuggle with one or two children and a book. Show them the front of the book and talk about the pictures as you point to them. Show them a printed page, saying, "This is the part we read," and read it to them.
  • As you read, run your fingers under the printed words. When you read the end of a line, sweep your hand to the beginning of the next line so children can see that what is printed can be read and we read from left to right.
  • Use your hand to frame individual words in a book as you read them. You can also do this with individual letters, making meaningful connections for the child: "This is a d. D is also the letter that starts your name, Dierdre." Or you can point out that the words beautiful and butterfly began with the same letter B. You can then suggest that children make a "B book" titled B Is for Butterfly. They can add pictures and stories of other things they know that begin with a B, such as a box, a book, a backpack, a block, as well as pictures of children whose names began with B.

Learning About Letters

Preschoolers, who understand concepts of print, are ready to be introduced to the names of letters and letter/ sound correspondence. Research suggests that one of the best ways to do this is by encouraging children to write their own signs, labels, and titles for their work. Because this requires children to figure out how to spell a word, it seems they do more thinking about letters and the sounds they make. Children can use invented spelling as they:

  • write and illustrate their own books
  • keep a journal
  • send messages to one another
  • write a sign for the room
  • label work they've made

Having models of letters is helpful as well. You might provide preschoolers with rubber-stamp letters and a stamp pad, wooden or plastic letters, or a set of printed letters covered with contact paper to use as models or to work from.

OBSERVING and ASSESSING

It is important to regularly assess the effectiveness of the print materials available in your classroom. Following are some strategies that you can use to collect information on how children in your class are progressing in their ability to understand and use print.

Random Sampling

Select a day to observe children's interactions with print. Scan the room every 10 minutes as children are involved in activities. Record how many children you observe who are engaged with some form of print. Repeat your observation the following week. This will give you a snapshot of how print is being used and by which children.

Observing Individuals

On note cards, print the names of every child in your class. Each day pick three of the cards and observe the children listed. Make a note of each time you see them using a sign, label, or chart or working with printed words. This offers evidence of how individual children are interacting with and understanding print. If, after you review and analyze your observations, you find that the majority of children were actively engaged with printed words by making signs and labels for their work, using signs to help them do things, and reflecting and talking about print, then you know that your room is truly rich with words that have meaning and purpose to the children you teach.