Guide to Emergent Literacy in Early Childhood

Learn how to support emergent literacy skills in the classroom.

Guide to Emergent Literacy in Early Childhood

Guide to Emergent Literacy in Early Childhood

From the moment they're in the womb, a child begins to learn the rhythms and sounds of language. Studies have indicated that reading to a baby in utero helps stimulate brain activity and supports early literacy and language development. These literacy skills continue to develop after birth as you read, sing, and talk to children.

As children grow older and their language skills develop more, their oral language skills can directly impact their literacy. Literacy includes various skills such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and focuses on the ability to use and understand symbols and written words as a form of communication. At the same time, language is the ability to understand and use spoken words. Children with strong verbal language skills tend to learn to read and write more easily and ultimately perform better in school.

Together, language and literacy skills make up what educators and researchers call emergent literacy, which embraces how children learn and develop the skills that eventually lead to reading and writing. This article will discuss emergent literacy, its importance, and how to promote it within your classroom and lessons.

a group of children practicing emergent literacy skills like scribbling and painting with their teacherSource

What is emergent literacy?

Emergent literacy is the development of literacy skills at an early age, even before a child starts formal schooling. It encompasses listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As a key component of early childhood education, emergent literacy involves children learning and developing literacy skills by listening and interacting with the world around them. It also focuses on how young children approach and respond to reading and writing activities. 

Because emergent literacy begins at birth, children will learn new skills and reach developmental milestones at different times. Things like telling a child nursery rhymes from birth, reading to them, playing music for them, and singing to them can positively impact their ability to read and write. As a result, children who consistently interact with these activities are more likely to develop larger vocabularies, be better readers, and perform better in school. As their teacher, you can also provide children with intentional learning experiences that make them better readers.

The importance of emergent literacy

We all know the saying, "Practice makes perfect," and it applies to emergent literacy. So many of the skills we possess don't just happen by chance. They're developed and require repetition. The same preparation is needed to master reading and writing. 

Although many of the skills in emergent literacy develop naturally, children acquire additional knowledge to strengthen their skills over time. Focusing on emergent literacy can help prepare your children to read at or above their grade level. These skills follow them long into their future and significantly impact their lives.

How to promote emergent literacy in the classroom

There are several ways to help your children develop emergent literacy skills in the classroom.


Children thrive with routines and schedules. Much like the routines they rely on at home, you can also incorporate routines and practices into developing their emergent literacy skills in the classroom. Make reading and writing a natural part of your daily schedule so that children can learn and become familiar with specific words, objects, and activities. This anticipation of events is a great way to reinforce language, reading, and writing concepts.


Reading is a critical part of promoting emergent literacy in the classroom. One activity that's helpful in this development is reading aloud. The more children are exposed to reading aloud, the better they get at reading comprehension and pronouncing and sounding out unfamiliar words. To ensure this is a comfortable, productive, and fun experience, choose a book that interests the child and aligns with their skill level. Incorporating movements and sounds and acting out the plot can also be helpful. 

Oral language 

Oral language refers to speaking and listening and is one of the best ways to support emergent literacy. Oral language activities drive imagination through storytelling and create the space for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings and express themselves. Concentrating on what interests them keeps them engaged in the activity. You can also incorporate tongue twisters, songs, and rhymes into your lessons to encourage phonological awareness and teach children how sounds work.

Encourage conversation 

As children learn about different topics and gain new interests, it's great to expand on them. Keep the conversation going by allowing the class to ask questions or go into more detail about a particular word or subject. For example, if you're reading to the children, ask them about the illustrations in the book or add details and descriptions to spark their imagination.

preschool teacher sitting on a yellow bean bag reading to a group children seated on the floorSource


Remember that emergent literacy isn't just reading–it's also writing. Although children are still learning to spell words correctly, allow them the time to practice their writing to get them into the routine of putting pencil to paper. Building that comfortability with holding the pencil and putting their ideas on paper gets them moving in the right direction. Encourage them with activities that get them excited to write, whether it's copying or tracing words or labeling pictures they've drawn.

young child sitting at a table with a scribbled drawing on a piece of white paper and various colored pens, pencils, and toy wooden figures strewn on the table in front of themSource

Help your students develop emergent literacy skills 

As an educator, you play an essential role in helping your students develop their language and literacy skills. Encourage this development by making your lesson plans exciting and engaging while ensuring they learn the fundamentals. 

Reading, writing, spelling, and speaking are all essential to a child's future and schooling. Be intentional in your interactions with them and incorporate the activities we've mentioned into your strategies to help them build a solid foundation for their future academic endeavors.

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