Children don't automatically understand how reading works. Pre-reading skills, such as knowing where to begin reading on the page, need to be taught. This lesson explains how teachers and parents can help children develop these skills.

What Is Directionality of Print?

Try not to read this sentence. Reading probably is so automatic to you now that just seeing text seems to equal reading. You don't even think about all the skills you're using right now to read these words. If you stopped to think about it, you'd realize there are many things going on that make you able to read fluently, such as knowledge of phonics and understanding vocabulary. There's an even more basic skill, though, that makes reading possible - directionality of print, or knowing which way to move your eyes across the page to read these words.

The Smiths are meeting with their child's preschool teacher, Mrs. Frank, to discuss methods of instilling early literacy skills. She explains that teaching directionality of print is important and often overlooked. Parents need to start with the basics.

Mrs. Frank begins by explaining the obvious - we read and write from left to right and top to bottom. She goes on to explain that we all read by learning what are called concepts about print, or how books work. Have you ever seen a very young child open and 'read' a book that is upside down? They don't quite have the skills necessary to understand how to hold a book in the right direction. Though these skills may seem pretty obvious and simple to use, they're actually skills children need to be taught.

Concepts about print include identifying the front and back of a book, knowing how to open a book, where to begin reading on the page, and which direction to go. Children need to understand the sweep and return from line to line and that each word written represents one word spoken. How can parents and teachers scaffold these skills? Let's take a look at some of the ideas that Mrs. Frank shares with the Smiths.

Teaching Directionality of Print

The good news Mrs. Frank shares is that anyone who can read can teach concepts about print to children, including directionality of print; it doesn't take any fancy teaching skills or materials. In fact, reading to and with children is the best way to instill concepts about print. Teaching directionality comes within the overall umbrella of concepts about print, as Mrs. Frank shows the parents. When reading, make sure to:

Have children close to you when reading. If possible, seat children on your lap. If they're across the table or bed they don't get to see how books work, which is one of the points of sharing reading time. If reading to a whole group of students, make sure to face the book toward them as you read, so they can see you performing valuable reading skills.

Talk about the book. Point out the front and back cover of the book. Note the characteristics located on them, such as the author and illustrator name, title, awards the book won, or any other feature. When children see how the pages are turned, they get a sense of how you move from the beginning to the end of a book. They make sense of the overall flow and rhythm of reading.

Model how to handle a book. Talk about holding a book the right way and turn pages. Even saying 'Let's turn the page and see what's next' can give children the idea that every page continues the story. Eventually this can be a job for the child.

Point out front matter. Before reading, point out text features, such as title page, author dedication, and copyright information. Skipping these pages can give children the impression some pages that contain print aren't important or don't count. While they aren't part of a story they are part of the book.

Young children are first aware of pictures as books are being read, believing them to carry the story. Eventually they realize the words on the page being spoken by the reader are what carry the story. In order to help children make this connection, parents and teachers can point to words as they're being read, sliding their finger under words as they read. Children learn many skills with this one action. For example, they learn one-to-one correspondence, or recognizing that each spoken word is represented by one written word. They also learn that the print contains the story. Finally, by pointing while reading children begin to learn how print on the page works, the direction of print from left to right, top to bottom.

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Other Ways to Teach Directionality of Print

Reading real books with children is the best way to instill early literacy skills. When children enter school able to handle a book and fully understanding how it works, they are bringing important pre-reading skills. Teachers and parents can do a few other things to help develop the concept of directionality.

Start children writing. Directionality of print is also a skill used in writing. Providing opportunities to have children watch adults write helps them see how letters are combined to create words and then how words come together to make sentences. Spend time writing with children, on white boards, with sidewalk chalk, or simple letters and lists.

Read words in the environment together. When at a traffic sign point out how to begin with the 'S' and read through the word to spell 'Stop'. Read labels on food or other containers. Write and label areas of the classroom. Model how to slide your finger under the words 'kitchen area' to read the label.

Show children where print is located besides books. For example, point out print on calendars, computer games, business cards, and menus. Then note how print is always read and written from left to right, top to bottom, on all these other types of materials.

Lesson Summary

The Smiths feel better about their role in teaching pre-reading skills to their child. One important skill they'll need to teach is directionality of print, or the way we read from left to right and top to bottom. They can do this most easily by reading with their child and point out how words and books work. They know at school Mrs. Frank models directionality by sliding her finger under the words as she reads. She also has labels in the classroom and exposes the children to many varieties of print, such as labels and menus. The Smiths will read and write with their child at home to reinforce the reading and writing that goes on in the classroom. Eventually teaching these concepts about print, or how books work, will prepare their child for learning to read.

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