Teaching Emergent Readers: 14 Tips to Ensure Success!

September 5, 2019 by Emily




“My kindergarteners need to be able to do what?!”  I still remember the day my principal sat my team down and explained to us that by the end of the school year our little kinder kittens needed to be able to read.  

I couldn’t wrap my mind around how I was going to take these sweet kiddos who knew a few letters and sounds (if I was lucky) and turn them into fluent readers.  Most importantly, we are the first step to instilling a love of reading in our young students. 

Teaching reading to pre-emergent and emergent readers can seem like a daunting task.    

Over my 15+ years of teaching, I have collected tips and tricks to make this process more enjoyable for both the students and teachers.  

I definitely do not consider myself an expert and what worked for me in my classroom may not necessarily fit into your routine or teaching style, but if you can use a few of these strategies, I consider that a success!  

After reading through them, you may realize that you are doing some of these already in your classroom, putting you on the path to fostering successful emergent readers. 

Emergent Readers: 14 Teaching Tips to Ensure Success!

1. Create an Inviting Reading Environment

Most of us set up our classrooms with a library center or reading corner.  Be intentional in making this space friendly and inviting.  

I always have pillows, bean bags and a bench in my reading area, so students can get comfortable with a good book. 

I am interested in those flexible seating egg rockers that kids can sit in.  They look like lots of fun!!  

As adults, we like to cuddle up in a nice space to read, and our students are no different.  I also include a few stuffed animals that act as a “buddy” the kids can read to.  

2. Literacy Isn’t Just in Books

A literate environment is not only limited to your classroom library.  It’s important to have common words, phrases, and sentences posted around your classroom that you refer to during your instruction.  

Over time, the students will recognize these familiar words/phrases and be able to use them in their reading and writing.  

Anytime that you can add a picture to a word card or phrase the better.  Students quickly associate images with words, such as the word STOP on the sign or McDonalds next to the golden arches.  

3. Take a Picture Walk 

Many emergent readers are reluctant to pick up a book and “read”.  This may be for many reasons… they don’t know how to read in the normal sense, they haven’t been exposed to books, or they don’t see themselves as a “reader”.   You can teach them that even if they don’t yet know how to read, they can still tell a story from a book.  Asking guiding questions will be very important.   I always ask “Who/What is in the picture?” “Where do you think they are going?” What are they doing?” “How/What might (character) be feeling/thinking?” “Why do you think that?” The questioning possibilities are endless. 

Many emergent readers are reluctant to pick up a book and “read”.  This may be for many reasons… they don’t know how to read in the normal sense, they haven’t been exposed to books, or they don’t see themselves as a “reader”.  

You can teach them that even if they don’t yet know how to read, they can still tell a story from a book.  Asking guiding questions will be very important.  

I always ask “Who/What is in the picture?” “Where do you think they are going?” What are they doing?” “How/What might (character) be feeling/thinking?” “Why do you think that?” The questioning possibilities are endless. 

4. Become a Storyteller

Using books with vivid illustrations and no words, such as Goodnight Gorilla, The Snowman, The Lion and the Mouse, can help students become “storytellers”.  We will definitely need to model this skill, using common story language and phrases, like “Once upon a time…”, transitional words (after, then, next), and “happily ever after”, etc.  

Using books with vivid illustrations and no words, such as Goodnight Gorilla, The Snowman, The Lion and the Mouse, can help students become “storytellers”.  We will definitely need to model this skill, using common story language and phrases, like “Once upon a time…”, transitional words (after, then, next), and “happily ever after”, etc.  

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5. Use Repetitive Texts

It is very easy for young children to remember phrases that repeat in books.  Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Going on a Bear Hunt are perfect examples of repetitive text stories.  

Encourage your students to join in with you during the phrases that repeat.  Ask them to identify what is the same and different in the illustrations of the story and you then point out those similarities and differences in the written text as well. 

 6. Picture Clues can Help with Unknown Words

Building off of tip #5, students can use picture clues to identify the unknown word in a repeating phrase.  

If the repetitive phrase is “I see a ___.”  and the illustration changes with each page, emergent readers will quickly figure out that the last word must name the picture.  Many sight word readers are based on this idea.  

7. Teach Everyday Words in Groups

We all have a certain set of sight words that we teach to our students. (Dolch or Frys lists of sight words)  In addition to those, I like to teach my students to recognize common words we see in books by grouping them into categories. 

Some of the categories may be color words, number words, days/months, common animals (cat, dog, fish, bird), common places (pool, park, school, house), common foods (pizza, ice cream, apple) and common actions (run, jump, walk, eat).  

Instead of overwhelming my word wall with all of these words, I create Word Bank Posters that hang in the classroom, so the students can access these at anytime.  

We all have a certain set of sight words that we teach to our students. (Dolch or Frys lists of sight words)  In addition to those, I like to teach my students to recognize common words we see in books by grouping them into categories.  Some of the categories may be color words, number words, days/months, common animals (cat, dog, fish, bird), common places (pool, park, school, house), common foods (pizza, ice cream, apple) and common actions (run, jump, walk, eat).   Instead of overwhelming my word wall with all of these words, I create Word Bank Posters that hang in the classroom, so the students can access these at anytime.  

8. Create Class Books

When we put tips #5, #6, and #7 together, we get a perfect formula for class books!!  The creation of class books with repetitive sight word phrases, picture clues and common story words give emergent readers another opportunity to practice their reading skills.   

Use phrases such as “I see the ___ at the zoo.”  or “We like to go to the ___.” Emergent readers are also emergent writers; they are still learning letter/sound correspondence and may not be able to “sound out” words to write them.  The Word Bank Posters are perfect in alleviating this potential frustration.  

I don’t get super fancy with my class books.  I simply laminate a front and back cover, use the three-hole punch on all pages and tie together with yarn.  Your students will enjoy reading what they have written.

9. Reader Fingers Ready

Once your students begin to realize that the message is in the words on the page, you can start to use “reader fingers” to track the print.  

I try to change it up and not always use their finger.  I have invested in magic wands (since reading is magical, wink-wink), mini finger pointers (I buy them in bulk, in case they break and I put them in my centers as well), and some of my students just like to use the eraser on the end of an unsharpened pencil.

10. Connect with Fun Characters

Pete the Cat, Piggy and Gerald, and Little Critter are some of my students’ favorite characters.  

When young readers fall in love with certain story characters, they are more likely to continue reading books by that author.  

The story books surrounding a particular character tend to use similar words from book to book and the main characters likely repeat phrases in each book.  You may also find your emergent readers trying to use “voices” for the characters. LOL

11. Variety of Texts are Important

Most of the books in our emergent reader libraries tend to be fictional stories, but non-fiction exposure at this age is equally important.  Young readers need to understand that books don’t just tell “stories”, they can also teach us about things.  

A great way to model this would be to have a fictional story and non-fiction text on the same topic.  An example of this would be The Three Little Pigs and a book about Pigs.  Create a T Chart asking students to identify the differences between both texts, especially what they notice about the illustrations (photos versus drawings).  

You can then read both texts and ask them to compare the words they heard (dialogue, beginning/middle/end, characters versus facts).  Another fun activity is to ask students to “be the expert” and use a “teacher voice” when reading non-fiction texts.  

They can stand up in your library center and use a pointer wand to point out important information.  (This is where those stuffed animals come in handy too, they get to be the “students”.)

Most of the books in our emergent reader libraries tend to be fictional stories, but non-fiction exposure at this age is equally important.  Young readers need to understand that books don’t just tell “stories”, they can also teach us about things.   A great way to model this would be to have a fictional story and non-fiction text on the same topic.  An example of this would be The Three Little Pigs and a book about Pigs.  Create a T Chart asking students to identify the differences between both texts, especially what they notice about the illustrations (photos versus drawings).   You can then read both texts and ask them to compare the words they heard (dialogue, beginning/middle/end, characters versus facts).  Another fun activity is to ask students to “be the expert” and use a “teacher voice” when reading non-fiction texts.   They can stand up in your library center and use a pointer wand to point out important information.  (This is where those stuffed animals come in handy too, they get to be the “students”.)

12. Listen to Fluent Readers

One of my centers during literacy block is always a listening station.  When emergent readers listen to fluent readers read, they begin to mimic the intonation and voice, and learn to pause in the correct spots.  

I choose a passage or short text and record my voice reading it either on the computer, or when I was old school, a cassette tape. LOL  For the first 7 days of a 10 day center cycle, the students get to listen to me read the text.  

The last 3 days in the cycle, I take the recording away and allow them to read on their own.  Granted, a lot of it is memorization, but the important key here is that they are learning to incorporate voice, proper pause breaks, and fluency when reading.  

I also cannot stress enough the importance of Read Alouds with your students.  Try to fit them in when you can, because let’s face it, some of our youngsters are not being read to at home to hear what fluent reading should sound like. 

13. Emergent Readers Can Comprehend

Characters, settings, and events are the three main staples in all stories.  Our emergent readers don’t necessarily have to be able to read the text to identify these parts of a book.   They can easily do this when taking a picture walk or after you have read a story to the class.  The guiding questions you can ask may include… 

Characters, settings, and events are the three main staples in all stories.  Our emergent readers don’t necessarily have to be able to read the text to identify these parts of a book.  

They can easily do this when taking a picture walk or after you have read a story to the class.  The guiding questions you can ask may include… 

“Who are the characters in this book?” 

“Think about what people/animals/objects are included in our story.” 

“Where does the story take place?” 

“Where do the characters go during our story?” 

“What happens in the beginning, middle, end of our story?” 

(Make sure you are showing them the illustrations as well while asking the questions.)  

If your students find sequencing a story to be difficult, I recommend our Interactive Sequencing Centers.  Students can put the pictures in order and then “tell a story” to a friend or you. Again incorporating tip #2.  

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Characters, settings, and events are the three main staples in all stories.  Our emergent readers don’t necessarily have to be able to read the text to identify these parts of a book.   They can easily do this when taking a picture walk or after you have read a story to the class.  The guiding questions you can ask may include…  “Who are the characters in this book?”  “Think about what people/animals/objects are included in our story.” 

14. Don’t Forget the Phonics! 

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Many of our core reading programs include a phonics component, where students are taught letter names and their corresponding sounds in a specific order, word families and how to blend CVC words together to read them.  

And finally, the addition of long vowels, blends, digraphs, and diphthongs.  I could include a whole new list of tips and tricks for phonics, so tune in next week for our “Tips to Freshen Up Your Phonics Instruction.”

Now that you have learned some helpful strategies for your emergent readers, you’re on your way to becoming a more efficient reading teacher!

-Written by Janessa Fletcher

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