Literacy instruction encompasses a lot of subject areas that usually have to be taught in a limited amount of time. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming to try and fit everything into a single 90 minute (or less) block of time. Plus, teachers have to differentiate, run centers, create small group lessons, and more. Instead of trying to come up with entire lessons focusing on single areas of literacy, I've found that just 5 minutes is all you need to get a quick daily dose of these five main areas of early literacy. Today, I am sharing simple ways to incorporate each pillar of literacy in 5 minutes.
The Five Pillars of Early Literacy
The five pillars of early literacy are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. These five subject areas are crucial in giving students a head start with language, reading, and literacy, starting in Pre-K and Kindergarten. If you want to teach effective reading instruction, you need to cover these areas daily. However, you don't need to worry about having enough “instructional time” in each of these areas. Rather, a short mini-lesson or tying two or more skills together at the same time is still highly effective reading instruction.
Let's start with the first (and to me, most important) pillar of early literacy- phonemic awareness.
Phonemic Awareness can be defined as the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes (aka sounds) in words. Phonological Awareness is like an umbrella for all the phonics-related skills we teach. It involves hearing, manipulating, and repeating sounds, words, rhymes, syllables, etc. Both skill sets are best taught orally, with an “I say, you repeat, think, and solve” type of sequence. Some examples of phonemic and phonological awareness skills are oral blending, oral segmentation, producing a rhyming word, counting syllables, and more. These skills need to be taught explicitly and systematically every single day, but they can easily be done in 5 minutes! I would focus on 2-3 skills per week and rotate these skills throughout the year so that my students were continually reviewing. I liked to start my literacy block off with our phonemic awareness warm-ups.
You can read more about phonemic awareness and these warm-ups here: Quick and Simple Daily Phonemic Awareness Lessons
Phonics instruction is the next pillar of early literacy. Phonics is how kids learn to connect letters with sounds, break apart words into sounds, and blend sounds to read words. Kids will learn how to decode words to read and segment words to spell. The bulk of my literacy whole group instruction was focused on phonics, especially in Kindergarten. Each day, I would run through a short, multi-sensory phonics mini-lesson that took about 10 minutes. At the beginning of the year, it would focus on learning letter sounds and connecting those sounds to letters, moving onto CVC words, and finally CVCe and long vowels towards the end of the year.
My main goal was to teach an effective yet engaging phonics lesson every single day. By focusing on this literacy pillar, as well as phonemic awareness, my students started off the year with a strong base of early literacy. Some of my favorite phonics lesson activities were anchor charts, write and wipe, write the room, picture sorts, and games. Each day, I would pick one that practiced the specific phonics skill with my students and do it together. To read more about engaging phonics lesson activities, check out this blog post here.
Fluency is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. In developing early literacy skills, students will need to be able to read fluently, so they do not always sound like a robot sounding words out. This takes a lot of time and practice to master, so it is something we want to be working on every day. Blending lines were a great way to add fluency practice during your phonics whole group lesson.
My favorite way to practice fluency is using a roll and read activity. Roll and read is similar to a blending line; however, you add in a dice and make it feel more like a game. At the beginning of the year in Kindergarten, you can practice naming letters or sounds, then move on to CVC words and beyond. This activity can work as a whole group lesson, calling one student up at a time to read 1 or more words. It also works well as a center activity or independent activity.
You can find this editable roll and read template here to create your own fluency practice!
Most vocabulary is learned through everyday listening in conversations, reading aloud, or independent reading. Students are continually learning new words and applying them to their daily language to build their vocabulary. We also know that daily vocabulary greatly benefits English Language Learners, especially in the younger grades. Children need to be exposed to new words to build their vocabulary. However, vocabulary is definitely the early literacy pillar that seems to be forgotten.
Teaching new vocabulary was easier to sprinkle in throughout other subject areas, not just the literacy block. However, I tried to do a few quick and simple vocabulary activities weekly or daily. We did a word of the week focusing on a new word every week. During our daily read-aloud, I would pick out 2-3 words before reading to stop and focus on during the story. The reading curriculum I used also included six words per week, so I would find time to go over those words and include them in our daily lessons.
For more vocabulary activity ideas, check out these five suggestions here: 5 Simple Vocabulary Activities for Kindergarten
Comprehension is the ability to understand, remember, and make meaning of what has been read. Starting from a young age, when children are read to, they will remember certain key details about the story. Without comprehension, the rest of the pillars of literacy do not matter… our students need to understand what they are reading.
The simplest way to do this is through a daily read-aloud. At my last school, our principal scheduled a daily read-aloud time into our schedule. Every day right after lunch, I had 15 minutes blocked off for reading a story to my students. At first, I didn't understand why I had to have this time reserved for a read-aloud since I had already read to my students during our literacy block. However, I came to love this time of daily read-aloud. I was able to read any book I wanted to (not just what the reading curriculum suggested) and ask questions along the way to build their comprehension. In fact, since it didn't feel like part of the “reading lesson,” my students were able to practice their comprehension skills, like retelling, problem and solution, and characters, in a more relaxed setting. This extra comprehension practice really helped prepare them for First Grade and beyond!
I hope these ideas help you structure your early literacy instruction in a limited amount of time!