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ARL StoryWalk®: Early Literacy

Components of Early Literacy

Early literacy (sometimes referred to as emergent literacy) is what children know about communication, language, reading, and writing before they can actually read and write. It encompasses all of a child's experiences with conversation, stories (oral and written), books, and print.

From: 2011 policy Brief from Zero to Three. A Window to the World: Early Language and Literacy Development.

Early literacy can be described using different terms in different ways, but the basics are the same. Divided into a set of Six Components, children will need each of these skills to become good readers.

  1. ORAL LANGUAGE: Listening, speaking, and communication skills
  2. PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS: The ability to hear and play with smaller sounds in words
  3. PRINT AWARENESS: The knowledge that print has meaning and how to handle a book
  4. LETTER KNOWLEDGE: Knowing that letters have different shapes and sounds
  5. VOCABULARY: Knowing the meanings of words
  6. BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE: Prior knowledge before a child enters school

Example Literacy Tips

These are some of the tips we used with our StoryWalk stories. Literacy tips can be found in a multitude of websites and books, most of which contain the research to help caregivers understand and trust the given information.

  • Research has shown that “children who had been read to daily and had early exposure to books did substantially better in kindergarten than those who had not.” The results were not dependent on family income. (Ross, McKechnie & Rothbauer, 2006)
  • Being able to follow sentences on a page help a beginning reader. This also helps children understand that we read from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.
  • Movement actually builds brain connections and is a critical part of brain development.  Having children mimic the movements they see on the page reinforces concepts and makes learning fun!
  • The Five Early Literacy Practices can be done at home, at the doctor’s office, in the car, or anywhere you and your child spend time together.
  • Children learn language and other early literacy skills by listening to their parents talk. As children hear spoken language, they learn new words and what they mean.
  • Talk about ideas, about things that cannot be seen, such as fairness, privacy, and consequences.
  • Encourage your child to recount events and to describe them in sequence.
  • Make believe allows children to use their imagination to think creatively and solve problems. Encourage your child to use their imaginations, to hypothesize, and to guess what might happen next.
  • Singing helps children hear smaller sounds in words because words are drawn out. Children hear each syllable because there is a different note for each syllable.
  • The experience of self-expression stimulates brain development, which underlies all learning. Ask your child open-ended questions.
  • Before reading these pages aloud, ask your child to make up his/her own story about these pages. You are your child’s first teacher; create opportunities for his/her imagination.
  • Writing helps children learn that letters and words stand for sounds and print has meaning.
  • Having children mimic the movements they see on the page reinforces concepts, builds brain connections, and makes learning fun! (
  • Your child’s ability to recognize differences and similarities in sizes and shapes improves around 18 months. (
  • Making connections between the story and real life experiences helps your child grow as a reader.
  • Encourage your child to hear and say animal sounds to learn differences between animals.
  • Practicing different noises with various pitches, tones and volumes helps develop your child’s language skills.
  • Avoid replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones. Instead, explain to your child the meaning of the unfamiliar word and encourage him/her to use it in a sentence.

Practices of Early Literacy

The following Five Practices will help children with early literacy development.


  • One of the best ways to teach new words and concepts
  • Talk with children as you go through daily routines (explain things and ask questions)


  • Slows down language so children can hear sounds and syllables
  • Enjoyable and easiest way to learn language


  • The single most important way to help children get ready to read
  • Listening to books read aloud passes along numerous skills


  • Helps children learn that written words stand for spoken language
  • Scribbling is the start of the skills needed to make shapes and letters


  • Helps children put thoughts into words and think symbolically
  • Safe way to experiment with new concepts

Activity Idea Prompts

Activity Prompts help caregivers encourage communication about different aspects of the stories in order to develop and strengthen literacy skills. Here are some of our generic examples, but remember: each story is different so activity prompts should fit with the story. Taking what a character does on a page and having your child do the same action will help the child relate to the story and to the words that have been read.

  • Bats use “hearing for steering”. Have your child close his/her eyes a they listen to your directions to get to the next page of the book or StoryWalk®.
  • Point to each word on these pages as you read it.
  • Ask your child “What do you think is going to happen next?” “What would you do if that happened to you?” “How would you feel?” “Why do you think that happened?”
  • Ask your child which character he or she would like to be in this story and why.
  • Help your child to use his/her finger to follow along with the words on these pages as you read them out loud together.
  • Sing the words on this page to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
  • What letters are in your name? Practice writing your name with any tools you may have available. (Pen/paper, stick/dirt)
  • [The character] kept “experimenting”. That means that she tried different ways to do something. Can you “experiment” with three different ways to get to the next StoryWalk® sign or across the room? (Hop, skip, spin, slowly, quickly,…)
  • Hop on one foot to the next StoryWalk® post or while someone reads the next page.
  • Roar and “show your terrible claws” as you proceed to the next StoryWalk® post.
  • Encourage children to tell you what they know. Have your child tell you their favorite color.
  • Listen and hear the rhyming of the words. Make up another word with the “owl” sound. It is fun to invent new rhyming words. Dr. Seuss books are full of rhyming and invented words.
  • Wave good-bye as you walk to the next post.
  • Have your child name a color and point to the word corresponding with that same color. Ask them what colors they see on the page or what colors they do not see on the page.
  • Tell your child that after you are finished doing the StoryWalk®, you would like to watch them write their name with a stick in the sandbox.
  • Ask your child to point to a word on the page that starts with a specific letter. For example: "Which word begins with the letter "B?"
  • Talk with your child about a book you both enjoy reading together and why you like it.
  • Can your child identify the first letter in a phrase on the page? Help your child think of other words that start with the same letter.
  • Ask your child to tell you about a time something happened that made him/her happy (sad, mad, hurt, etc). Relate the story to a real life experience.
  • Ask your child whether s/he likes to be quiet or noisy? Practice their answer as you walk to the next poster.