Early Literacy Questions and Answers

  • National Early Literacy Panel
  • 10 March, 2011

Last week I did a webinar in which I shared the results of the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP), which reviewed research on literacy development and instruction with preschoolers and kindergarten (there is a link to the report in the right hand margin of my site).

  I was asked if I would answer questions mailed in by the audience. I agreed, and below have included my answers. Thought they might be interesting to a larger audience, so here they are:

1. In our preschool classrooms, what are the top 5 techniques we should being using?

  Staying very close to the findings I would say: (a) definitely teach the alphabetic code; that means working with phonological awareness, letter names, and letter sounds (such teaching was found to be beneficial with kids in this age group and the teaching seemed to have long-lasting value); (b) also, it is a good idea to read books to children daily and to talk to them about what you are reading (ask them questions about it, explain the vocabulary, listen to their ideas, make connections to what they know)--reading to children in this way helps build their language; (c) involve children in writing (pretend writing, writing their names, dictating words/stories/ideas to you); (d) build the children’s language (use interesting and complex language yourself, engage children in activities that raise ideas and that give the opportunity for using language (e.g., cooking, measuring, science activities, arts and crafts), don’t accept vague or weak language from the children, but elaborate on it and get them to speak in complete thoughts, using the right words; and (e) get moms and dads helping in the process, they can help with many of the items above.

2. Is there a literacy readiness test that is highly correlated with actual readiness that you can recommend?

  Get Ready to Read! which is made available by the National Center for Learning Disabilities is a good predictor and its design is consistent with the research findings on early literacy.

3. Did the survey find any longitudinal studies of very early decoding? What I have in mind is children who learn to decode at age two, say--how do they do later on?

  No, and there are very few studies of younger children (none of 2 year olds, and only a handful with 3 year olds). Generally, we found that the children younger than 5 (meaning the 3s and 4s) who did well with decoding, also did well with later reading (both decoding and comprehension). It is clearly valuable to get them started early, but no info on the 2s.

4. Does RAN (rapid naming) correlate to the use of flash cards? Are you recommending flash cards, and if so, at what age levels? What is your opinion about using flash cards with very young children?

  I know of no studies connecting RAN to flash card use, and I do not believe that the evidence in any way suggests that you should even try to teach RAN. (Flash cards with words or pictures or letters are okay to use with young children at any age, BUT if you spend a couple of hours a day engaged in the types of activities noted in item 1 above, proportionally it would make sense to work with flashcards only for a few minutes of that time (in other words, it wouldn’t even get 5% of your literacy time). Flashcards can be a useful tool for memorization (I use them myself when I am trying to learn this kind of information), but their use has to be lively, quick, and brief to have much value.

5. What are the most important early childhood teaching implications for this research?

  That you can provide young children with supports for their literacy learning from the very beginning. I vividly remember when “experts” (without data) were claiming that either young children would not be ready to benefit from such teaching or that such teaching would do harm. What the research overwhelmingly shows is that young children clearly benefit from such teaching and the benefits can be long lasting (if the schools build on these children’s early learning). A second important idea is that there is not one thing that has to be done (different activities had different outcomes and young readers need support in various literacy-related outcomes to be successful).

 6. What are the teaching implications for older students who may not have these pre-requisite skills to be able to use reading for learning? grades 4-8?

  There were no implications for those kids at all from this analysis. However, the National Reading Panel (NRP) looked at such issues (there is a link to that report on the right as well) and they found that teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, and oral reading fluency to struggling readers in those age ranges resulted in improvement. However, in all cases, the NRP concluded that such learning was slower and more difficult (so definitely try to accomplish it early) and some of this teaching (such as phonics) didn’t have the same impact on other aspects of reading that it did when children were younger (again, it is critical that these skills get accomplished as early as possible, but when that has not happened it is important to try to build that foundation later on--though that effort will likely be difficult).


See what others have to say about this topic.

Maisie morey Jul 20, 2020 07:18 AM

Hi I lm in I just left year six and going in to year 7.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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Early Literacy Questions and Answers


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.