8.1 Introduction

Watching a young child, like Adelyn in the opening vignette, begin to understand how reading works is such an exciting time for both families and early childhood educators. As has been discussed in previous chapters of this textbook, there are many interwoven elements that create proficient readers and many things adults can do to support reading development. Through continuous exposure to a variety of text, repeated readings of favorite books, and conversations between adults and children about text, children like Adelyn learn that reading is ultimately about making meaning and communicating a message. Even though this particular child has not yet learned to read in the formal sense, she knows a lot about print and how books work. These emergent reading skills are critical to future reading success and an ability to ultimately “crack the code” and recognize that letters and symbols connect to sounds and meanings (Scarborough, 2002). Knowing that text conveys a message supports children’s developing abilities to understand and eventually decode that message independently.

For some children, it might seem that reading starts to happen “like magic” but learning to read is not intuitive. This differs from how children acquire language. The human brain is wired for language and children naturally gain language skills as they develop (Chomsky, 1968; Geary, 1995; Snow, 1983). Some researchers refer to language as “biologically primary” because it is found across cultures and needed to help people survive (Geary, 1995). However, this is not the case for reading the printed word because what we read—our alphabetic script—is an invention, only available to humankind for the last 3,800 years (Dehaene, 2009). As a result, our brains have had to accommodate new pathways for translating the squiggles that are letters into the sounds of the spoken words they symbolize.

The seemingly simple task of reading is, in actuality, a complex feat. Reading skills require a complex interplay of various regions of the brain working together simultaneously (Wolf, 2007). Reading skills are considered “biologically secondary” because they do not develop without specific experiences and instruction (Sénéchal et al., 2001). Children need intentional and explicit opportunities to learn skills and strategies to become proficient readers. In this chapter, we will use a Framework for Developing Emergent Literacy (Puranik & Lonigan, 2014), including conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and generative knowledge, to unpack the complex elements of reading.


Circle is divided into three equal parts with conceptual written in one part, generative in one part, and procedural in one part. There are three arrows moving clockwise moving from one part to the next
Figure 8.1 “Framework for Developing Emergent Literacy”

This framework was designed to explain the dimensions of emergent writing. But in this textbook, we will use the framework to parallel both the reading and writing processes. The first dimension, conceptual knowledge, will focus on the functions of reading, such as learning new information, completing a task, or reading for enjoyment. The second dimension, procedural knowledge, will focus on the mechanics of reading, such as decoding, print orientation, and story structure. Lastly, the third dimension, generative knowledge, will focus on application of skills, such as understanding the author’s meaning and applying information or ideas in the real world.

This chapter will enable each student to

Illustration of a bird's nest Build ways in which young children can discover that reading is about making meaning.
Illustration of a bird in flight Examine the progress of emergent readers on a continuum of development.
illustration of a branch Illustrate effective instructional strategies and literacy assessments that support emergent readers.

Media Attributions


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

The Early Literacy Journey: Supporting and Celebrating Young Learners Copyright © 2024 by Sandra Carrie Garvey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book