Working with Pre-Readers


In this section:

KOREH L.A. volunteers have the opportunity to work with a variety of students of all different ages and reading abilities – it’s part of what makes our program so special and unique! Sometimes, volunteers may find that the students they are working with are Pre-Readers, or students in the very earliest stages of literacy – particularly if they are working with students in kindergarten or first grade.


Identifying Pre-Readers and Understanding Reading Development

Many students recommended for participation in KOREH L.A. may struggle with reading – but, how do you determine whether your student is a Pre-Reader?

Pre-Readers are students who:

  • Know and recognize some letters of the alphabet, but perhaps not all. For example, they might recognize the letters in their name, or the letters that make up the spelling of their favorite foods, but may struggle with some of the letters they do not encounter as much.
  • Understand the function of writing, and perhaps even try to mimic writing with scribbles or doodles, but are, for the most part, unable to write themselves.
  • May be beginning to understand the ways that sounds in words are structured – for example, things like rhymes and repetition.

According to Chall’s Model of Reading Development, pre-reading is “Stage 0” of reading development, and can last up until a child is around 6 years old. This is then followed by “Stage 1,” which typically occurs in 1st or 2nd grade, where children learn the letters of the alphabet, and begin to understand word decoding. In later stages of reading development (Stages 2 – 5), children use these foundational blocks of reading to further develop their literacy skills.

You can also look at a student’s writing proficiency to determine their current stage of reading development. There are multiple levels of early writing development:

  1. Drawing and Scribbling. The child is able to distinguish marks that represent written words from drawings, but may still not understand that writing is related to oral language. They are at the beginning of learning the alphabet, and may not know all of the letters.
  2. Letters and Letter-Like Symbols. The child can write symbols that appear to be letter-like, or they may write random strings of letters. They understand that writing has meaning, but have not made the connection between speech and writing.
  3. Salient and Beginning Sounds. The student begins to represent sounds they hear in speech! They might create their own spellings for words, and often represent words with salient sounds, or the most prominent sound of a word. For example, they may write “B” for baby, or “V” or “F” for elevator. In this stage, they are beginning to understand the concept of alphabetic principle, or the understanding that oral language is made up of smaller sounds (syllables, vowels, consonants, etc) and that letters uniformly represent these sounds.
  4. Beginning and Ending Sounds. The student expands their understanding of phonemic awareness (students can hear and identify phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound) and are now able to focus on individual sounds in a word. Typically, this begins with representing beginning and ends of words – for example, “cat” may be written as “CT”. They typically use beginning and end letters to identify words (so, for example, they may read “map” and “mop” the same way.)


Methods for Working with Pre-Readers

For students in early stages of literacy, certain reading strategies may be less effective than others. Paired reading, for example, might work well with a student who is a struggling reader; but with a Pre-Reader, such an exercise may be overwhelming and unproductive.

However, there are a variety of activities and strategies that you can use to help build literacy skills with Pre-Readers!

  • Reading aloud. This method is tried-and-true for all ages and levels of readers, however, this can be especially effective for Pre-Readers! Read aloud to your student and follow along with your finger to demonstrate the link between the words and your speech. Pay particular attention to pictures, and don’t be afraid to use different voices and have lots of emphasis!
  • Rhyming and rhyme games. Rhyming is an excellent tool for helping to build phonemic awareness and understanding word structure in a fun and simple way! Choose stories to read that feature rhyming, or play simple rhyming games with your student, such as asking them to think of all the words that rhyme with “cat” (e.g. “mat,” “hat,” “bat,” etc.).
  • Do a picture-walk through the story. Ask them questions about what they think is happening in the illustrations, and what they think the story is about overall. This will help reinforce the idea of story structure, and get them familiar and comfortable with using a book as a tool for storytelling.
  • Talk about the story. After reading a book together, ask your student questions about what you just read – perhaps ask questions about their favorite part, their favorite characters, or something that surprised them. You can even re-read all or part of the story together! Be sure to focus on new words and ideas together.
  • Build vocabulary with games. This can help familiarize your student with new words, phrases, or, depending on their reading ability, even letters. If your student struggles with the alphabet, consider using the story you read together as a jumping off point. For example, if you read a story about a cow, perhaps demonstrate that the letter “C” is the first letter in “cow,” and go through the story pointing out things that start with “c.” Remember that context can be especially helpful for learning new literacy skills!