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Building Blocks of Reading: Understanding Concepts of Print

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Supported with input from
Dr. Louisa Moats
Updated on
Modified on September 28, 2023

Setting clear goals and objectives is critical in any educational setting, especially when it comes to early literacy instruction. One of the most important goals is the development of strong concepts of print. This refers to a child’s understanding of how print works and how written language can be interpreted. “Written words represent speech and language,” Dr. Louisa Moats, author of LANGUAGE! Live®, says.

Concepts of print encompass a range of skills, including recognizing individual letters and sounds, understanding the meaning and function of punctuation, and distinguishing between different types of text. By mastering these skills, children can begin to decode and comprehend written language, paving the way for success in their academic careers and beyond.

But what makes print media more powerful than digital media? Moats explains, “Print media, having the three-dimensional quality of something you can hold and touch and see in a permanent form that doesn’t just go away, offers a qualitatively different reading experience. It’s more immediate, it’s more tangible, it has more longevity. It is easier for us to orient ourselves where we are in a print material. It’s easier for us to know whether we’re in the beginning, or the middle, or the end of something.”

Having a strong foundation in concepts of print is essential for children’s success in reading and writing. It allows them to engage more fully with written language, both in and out of the classroom. From environmental print, such as signs and labels, to more complex forms of text, such as fiction and nonfiction, a solid understanding of concepts of print sets the stage for a lifetime of literacy.

In this article, we will explore the importance of concepts of print in early literacy instruction, the various skills encompassed by this concept, and ways to assess and promote a child’s development of concepts of print.

Understanding the Components of Print

Understanding the components of print is critical for early literacy, because it allows learners to form essential concepts of print, which are vital for their future success in reading and writing. There are several key components of print children need to understand to read and write successfully, including letters, words, spaces, and punctuation.

Letters are the building blocks of words, and it is essential for learners to differentiate between capital and lowercase letters, as well as recognize the first and last letter of words. Understanding the role of spaces between words is equally important, as it helps young learners identify where one word ends and the next begins.

Punctuation marks such as periods, exclamation marks, and question marks play an important role in conveying meaning in written language. Young learners need to understand how to use these marks appropriately, along with other marks such as commas and quotation marks.

“The teacher’s role, in our view, is to lead students through the text, first ensuring literal or surface comprehension, and then, deeper reflection in response to multiple queries,” Moats asserts, emphasizing the crucial role of educators in guiding students toward a comprehensive understanding of the material.

To help children develop a deeper understanding of these components of print, educators use a variety of tools and techniques, including magnetic letters, storybooks, sentence strips, and other resources. By mastering these fundamental components of print, children can build a solid foundation for successful reading and writing in the future.

Developing Concepts of Print in Young Children

Building a solid foundation in early literacy depends heavily on young children’s ability to grasp concepts of print, which are critical to their future reading and writing achievements. As parents and caregivers, there are several strategies we can use to help children develop print awareness and build essential literacy skills.

Reading Aloud to Children Regularly

Taking some time each day to read aloud to children is one of the most effective ways to help them develop early reading skills. It not only introduces them to the mechanics of reading, such as reading left to right, and top to bottom, but it also helps them develop a love for books and reading.

Provide a Print-Rich Environment

Creating a print-rich environment is another effective strategy for developing concepts of print in young children. This involves providing access to a variety of reading materials, including big books, which provide them with an excellent opportunity to learn and develop their literacy skills. Teach children about book handling, including how to turn the pages and identify the front and back covers.

Model Good Print Habits

Modeling good print habits is essential to developing concepts of print in young children. This includes demonstrating how to hold a book, pointing to words as they are read, and showing children how to track print as they read. Reading does not come naturally, which is why it’s important to take time to guide children through the process until it becomes intuitive.

Encourage Drawing and Writing

There’s often no better way to learn the English language than by diving right into it, which is why encouraging drawing and writing is another powerful strategy for developing print concepts. By providing young children with the opportunity to experiment with putting pencil to paper and forming words and shapes, they develop an understanding that written language is a form of communication.

Play with Letters and Words

One effective way to engage students with educational material is by turning learning into a game. Playing with letters and words can be both fun and effective in building print awareness in young children. This involves activities such as magnetic letters, word games, and alphabet books.

Sing Songs and Recite Rhymes

Singing songs and reciting rhymes is an enjoyable way to develop early literacy skills in young children. It introduces them to the rhythms and patterns of language, which are important for reading success.

Common Challenges with Concepts of Print

It’s normal for children to take their time to grasp the concepts of print, so don’t worry if they aren’t learning as quickly as you would like. Remember, it’s all part of the process. However, there may be certain inherent challenges impeding progress, which we’ll highlight to help you address them effectively.

Lack of Exposure to Print

Young learners need to be exposed to print to develop literacy skills. Concepts of print, like word and letter recognition, are vital to build a strong foundation for reading. Exposing pre-K children to various print materials and engaging in shared reading experiences is a great way to being overcoming this challenge.

Moats states, “It is through the process of accurately decoding and naming new words that learners can store printed words in memory for instant recognition and recall.” However, limited exposure poses a natural barrier, preventing new readers from engaging in this process that is crucial for their development.

Language Barriers

Language barriers can pose a challenge to young learners in understanding print concepts. To overcome this, educators should provide targeted language support, develop culturally responsive reading instruction, and use bilingual or multilingual resources.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities can make it difficult for young children to develop basic literacy skills and understand concepts of print. Early detection and intervention are essential. Educators should use specialized tools and resources to facilitate the learning process for children with learning disabilities.

Developmental Delays

Identifying developmental delays early is crucial because it can affect young children’s ability to understand concepts of print. Educators and parents should collaborate to develop individualized education plans (IEPs) and provide targeted support to help pre-K children with developmental delays acquire a basic understanding of print concepts and enhance their literacy skills.

Lack of Interest or Motivation

It’s common for some children not to show a strong interest in learning right away. Parents and educators can overcome this challenge by fostering a love for reading with age-appropriate, engaging, and diverse reading materials. They can also incorporate interactive reading activities and games to make the learning process enjoyable and encourage active participation in literacy development.

Strategies for Supporting Struggling Readers

Supporting children who find it difficult to read can be a daunting task for parents, caregivers, and educators. Children may become discouraged or uninterested, making it more challenging to develop essential literacy skills. However, with a combination of patience, targeted support, and the use of effective teaching techniques, it is possible to help struggling readers overcome their difficulties and build a foundation for lifelong learning.

Identify the Root Cause of the Struggle

Identifying the root cause of a child’s difficulty in reading is crucial to provide the appropriate support. This can be done by assessing the child’s basic understandings of print, such as phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and concept of words.

Provide Individualized Instruction

Once the root cause of a child’s reading difficulty has been identified, providing individualized instruction can help the child overcome the challenges they face. By focusing on the areas where the child needs additional support, parents, caregivers, and educators can help the child progress at their own pace.

Use Multisensory Teaching Methods

Engaging multiple senses in the learning process can help children develop their reading skills. This approach combines visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements to reinforce the teaching concepts being introduced. This strategy can aid children who struggle with traditional teaching methods, and it can be used to help children build essential literacy skills.

Focus on Phonics

Phonics is an essential teaching concept that helps children learn the relationship between letters and sounds. Focusing on phonics instruction can help readers develop the skills they need to decode words and improve their overall reading comprehension.

Encourage Repeated Readings

Repeated readings can help children recognize words more quickly, which can lead to improved reading speed and accuracy. Parents, caregivers, and educators can support children by selecting age-appropriate reading materials that interest them and providing opportunities for repeated readings.

Use Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can provide additional support for readers. This technology can range from text-to-speech software to specialized reading devices. Integrating assistive technology into a child’s learning plan can help them overcome specific challenges, such as difficulty with decoding or comprehension.


Understanding the concepts of print is critical for children’s literacy development, and educators play a vital role in providing effective instruction. By setting clear learning targets and implementing evidence-based strategies, educators can help children build essential reading skills. Implementing these strategies can be challenging, but the potential benefits are well worth the time spent.

For educators looking to implement concepts of print in the classroom, Voyager Sopris Learning® stands as an invaluable partner. With a wealth of expertise in reading intervention, Voyager Sopris Learning provides a comprehensive suite of resources, empowering educators with the tools they need to inspire young minds and foster a deep love for reading.

From innovative instructional materials to evidence-based strategies, our reading intervention programs are carefully crafted to address the diverse needs of students, helping them build strong foundational skills. To explore the full spectrum of resources, visit Voyager Sopris Learning’s website and discover the transformative possibilities of our reading intervention programs.

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