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The Building Blocks of Early Literacy – What Does It Take to Read ?

by on 09/08/2021 2856

By Esther Lim (Speech-Language Pathologist at Oasis Place)

Early literacy is the knowledge and skills a child learns before they begin to read and write. Research has shown that when children start school with higher levels of early literacy skills, they have greater academic success later on. These skills are encouraged to be acquired before they even start school.

There are 6 skills that support the development of emergent literacy:

1. Conversations

A child’s ability to speak and understand speech is related to literacy development. The better the conversational skills, the easier it becomes to understand what is read. Aside from daily conversations, this skill can also be developed during book reading activities.

Instead of reading a book word for word from beginning to end, engage children in back and forth conversations about the story and relate the things read to their surroundings and experiences. A child’s conversational skills are enriched when they are able to relate their own experiences to a book.

2. Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the understanding of words and word meanings. Research has shown that vocabulary is the best predictor of reading comprehension in elementary school and is linked to overall school achievement. Without understanding the meaning of the words read, the sentence will have no meaning.

Parents can begin to build their child’s vocabulary by giving children many opportunities to hear and listen to words in meaningful, everyday conversations and by reading. Studies show that children who have been read to from an early age develop larger vocabulary sizes than those who have not had the same exposure to books.

3. Story Comprehension

The ultimate goal of reading is to understand what was read. Story comprehension is the ability to understand, remember and recall the story read. Both listening and reading comprehension have many benefits for students. It increases an appreciation for books and develops motivation to continue reading. Aside from that, it reveals new vocabulary, by being used in unique and different ways. It also promotes fluency, imagination development and critical thinking skills.

While reading, work on children’s comprehension by activating background knowledge, thinking aloud, stopping and thinking during reading, as well as discussing the events of the story after reading. Create fun and engaging opportunities for the child to retell stories, by creating and using props such as stick puppets. Retelling stories allow children to demonstrate their understanding of the details and sequence of the story.

4. Language of Learning

The ability to use language for thinking and learning is fundamental to success at school. We use language to gather information, communicate, analyse and evaluate what we have learnt. If a child has difficulty using and understanding abstract language, they may also have challenges understanding higher levels of language used in the classroom or in texts read at school.

Children learn how to use language for thinking and learning through book extension activities as well as in conversations with adults. While reading books, go beyond the printed words and ask questions, comment and model language to explain, recall experiences, identify emotions, justify decisions, predict, pretend, take perspectives and problem-solve.

5. Print Awareness

Before learning to read or write, children first need to understand how print works. Print includes letters, spaces, words and punctuation marks. Print knowledge includes the understanding that books are used in a certain way and that print is read from left to right. Children learn print knowledge when they observe and interact with adults who use print in meaningful situations throughout the day.

While reading with children, draw the child’s attention to the meaning of the print, the organization of the book and print, the letters and the words. Parents can do this by pointing to the printed words and talking about the letters.

6. Phonological Awareness

People often think that reading begins with learning to sound out letters. Reading actually starts with kids tuning in to the sounds of spoken words. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize sounds and patterns of spoken language. It is the understanding that words are made up of groups of sounds, syllables and rhymes, and achieving the ability to manipulate those sounds to change the words. It is one of the major skills associated with Emergent Literacy for successful reading and writing development. Children who have difficulty with Phonological Awareness will have a difficult time learning how to relate these sounds to letters when they see them in written words.

Having good phonological awareness skills means that a child is able to manipulate or “play with” sounds and words. By engaging in word-play, children learn to recognize patterns among words and use this knowledge to read and build words. Research demonstrates that directly teaching phonological awareness to young children causes them to respond more rapidly to beginning reading instruction and results in improved reading development.

Reading achievement is related to oral language abilities and early literacy knowledge about letters and print. To become a skilled reader, children need opportunities to develop all of these six skills, not in isolation, but interactively. 


Oasis Place, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is Malaysia’s largest multidisciplinary intervention centre, embracing a client-centered approach through transdisciplinary intervention. We offer all our assessment and therapy services onsite at our centre, offsite at schools, and online through OPConnect. At Oasis Place, helping people learn and grow is at the heart of everything we do. We work with all learning different individuals - from Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia to Down Syndrome. Our core services are Psychology, Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy, Continuous Education and Nutrition.  

For more information on our services, please visit our website at , Facebook at OasisPlaceMalaysia, Instagram and Twitter @OasisPlaceMY