Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Key to Early Literacy: Concept of Word

You may think that the answer is phonemic awareness; but this is not so.  The most pivotal early literacy skill is Concept of Word.  The National Reading Panel (2000) credits phonemic awareness as instrumental in the development of literacy skill.  However, Morris (1993) demonstrated that Concept of Word precedes and may facilitate phonemic awareness!  So what is Concept of Word?  Gately (2004) defines it as "...a key early literacy skill, or concept, that matches the spoken and written word.  The following skills are present when a reader has Concept of Word:
Most students achieve these milestones without any specialized instruction.  However, students that do not attain Concept of Word are often placed in specialized programs that emphasize phonemic awareness.  Phonemic awareness is essential, however, without Concept of Word, students are unlikely to make progress.  

What can be done to help students that do not demonstrate Concept of Word?  Two very effective methods for intervention are Repeated Reading of predictable and leveled texts and Rebus Reading.  Most of us in education are very familiar with Repeated Reading and use predictable leveled texts on a regular basis.  These texts can easily be created by teachers and individualized to students' interests.  Fountas and Pinnell (1999) suggest that print should be no more than one line per page.  The text structure should be simple, repetitive, predictable, and natural.  Gately (2004) emphasizes that teachers should "...take care that students successfully finger point when they read" as this will help learners "...establish concept of word and sharpen their focus and attention on print."  

Some of the most beloved picture books are predictable and lend themselves to repeated reading:  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  by Bill Martin and Eric Carle is an excellent example of a predictable book.  

Rebus Reading is another powerful strategy for assisting emergent readers with Concept of Word.  This strategy has proven so effective that it " recommended as one that should be found in every classroom with emergent readers (National Center for Technology Innovation, 2004).  Rebus is the combination of pictures with words either in conjunction or in place of the word.  Rebuses are ideal for both emergent readers and struggling readers because they reduce the learning load on the reader (Woodcock, 1968.)  Research conducted by Begy and Cahill (1978) found that the ability of kindergarten children to segment oral language into separate words significantly increased when they had used the Modified Rebus Reading Readiness Program (uses pictorial representatives of words) instead of a traditional reading readiness program.  

The benefits of Rebus Reading and Repeated Reading of predictable text can and should be combined when working with emergent readers.  In an effort to prepare our preschooler for the exciting and complex task of reading, I have created Sight Word Rainbow-Write Rebus Readers.  They utilize predictable text as well as rebus in order to facilitate Concept of Word. Rainbow-writing with a die makes this a highly interactive and multisensory learning experience.  For each new sight word and Rebus Reader we begin by reading it together.  I read it aloud and track each word/picture with my finger.  Next, I draw her attention to the sight word we are focusing on and tell her "The letters a-m spell the word am."  Next, she uses her die and rolls one time for each page.  The die shows her what three colors to rainbow-write.  Last, she colors the pictures.  Finally, she is very excited to show Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa and anyone else who is around how she can "READ!"  I always ask her to use her finger to track each word/picture.  If your child or student is struggling with this, you can place small smiley stickers under each word/picture to help slow them down.  Have them touch each sticker as they read each word/picture.  You can gradually fade out the stickers.  

I am creating these is a very specific sequence.  Each one is meant to build upon the other.  For example, the one shown above is introduced only after she has mastered the sight word "I".  Once she has mastered the sight word "am" it can be used in another book.   GUESS WHAT?  I have the "I" Sight Word Rainbow Write Rebus Reader for you FREE!  I hope that you enjoy it:)  Just click on the picture below to grab yours at TpT!  If you would like to get it at Teachers Notebook just click HERE:)


  1. Thanks for the reminder of how important concept of word is. THe freebie is great!

    Following you. :)
    Read With Me ABC

  2. Timely suggestions ! Incidentally if others need to fill out a DA 2028 , I came across a template form here