Reading in Kindergarten

Reading is a process of getting meaning from print. Early reading includes the direct teaching of words and sounds. Children must be able to distinguish between different sounds of oral language for the purposes of achieving understanding. They also need basic knowledge about the written alphabet, sound-symbol relationships, and concepts of print because these are the basis for decoding and reading comprehension skills.

How reading relates to ELLs

For English language learners (ELLs), learning to read in their primary language is easier because it builds on the words and sound structures of the language they know best. However, children at the kindergarten level are little sponges who learn what they are taught. If they are taught to read in two languages simultaneously, they will learn. If they are taught to read in English only, they will learn. The key to learning to read (and preventing reading difficulties in one or two languages) is excellent instruction.

It is also important to remember that the basic skills that serve as the base for reading, such as phonetic recognition, transfer from one language to another. If a student who is learning English has already acquired these skills in their first language, it is not necessary to learn them again in English. It is always a good idea to find out if the child knows these skills in their first language before beginning to teach them in English.

Excellent instruction for pre-reading skills consists of:

  • vocabulary development
  • phonemic awareness
  • knowledge of the alphabet
  • letter-sound correlation
  • concepts of print
  • listening comprehension
  • decoding
  • comprehension skills

Classroom strategies: Pre-reading and reading

Oral language activities

Before doing an activity or reading a story in class, teach pre-selected vocabulary words. This is always helpful, especially for ELLs. This will give them the chance to identify the word, place it in context, and remember it. You can pre-teach vocabulary by playing with words and using English as a second language (ESL) methods such as:

  • Role playing or pantomiming
  • Using gestures
  • Showing real objects
  • Pointing to pictures
  • Doing quick drawings on the board
  • Using the Spanish equivalent and then asking students to say the word in English

Phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand that spoken words are composed of smaller units of sound. Phonemic awareness helps children begin to understand how the English and/or Spanish alphabets work. You can teach phonemic awareness through activities such as:

  • Finding objects in the classroom whose names begin or end with the same sound, such as desk, door, and dog.
  • Doing clapping activities to identify the syllables in words
  • Learning poetry and songs that have the same beginning sounds or end in rhyme
  • Analyzing each other's names to make discoveries about letters and sounds such as Whose name starts with B? Whose name has an "a"? Whose name has an "r"? Show me where you found it.
  • Making charts about letter/sound discoveries (For example: "Here are three new letters. Let's write some words under each letter.")

Alphabet knowledge

Once students have learned the sounds, they can begin to learn the names of the letters. For ELLs, it is easier to hear the sounds first and then label each letter. You can teach the alphabet through songs accompanied with movements that outline each letter (For example: "A is for alligator. Make your arms open and shut like the mouth of an alligator. B is for bat…") There are books and tapes in most bookstores with alphabet songs and motions.

Concepts of print

"Big books" are ideal for showing children how books work. After reading a big book, you can point out concepts of print such as:

  • The book's front and back covers, title, and author
  • The left-to-right direction of print
  • What a word looks like – and what the space between words looks like
  • The fact that you are reading the words
  • How inflection and intonation are used to connect content and structure of the text
  • The differences between question marks, exclamation marks, and periods

Listening comprehension

Reading out loud to your students is a way to teach vocabulary while modeling reading. As you read aloud:

  • Introduce the characteristics/elements of the story (characters, setting, problem, solution, plot)
  • Explain words, topics, or concepts that ELLs may not be familiar with
  • Model how a reader self-corrects when making a mistake
  • Think aloud about what you are reading
  • Provide opportunities for children to retell the story they heard through dramatic retellings; or use picture cards to put the story's events in sequence

Decoding and comprehension

During the second half of the year, ELLs in kindergarten benefit when they are introduced to reading through sequenced decodable books. Simple decodable books allow ELLs to read engaging and interesting stories even though they may only know a few letter sounds. These books may include some sight words they can memorize such as the words "was" or "happy" as the stories build on previously learned letters, sounds, and words.

First, conduct guided reading so that students follow along in their books while you model fluency. You can help student comprehension by clarifying concepts, teaching unknown words, asking questions about the story, and letting children connect these stories to their own experiences.

After the guided reading, have students reread their decodable books with a partner. They can take turns reading by alternating sentences. This helps them focus on what they are reading. Reading with a partner also creates a safety zone where they can feel comfortable reading aloud.

Other ideas

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Use chants, short poems, or songs as transition markers from one activity to another, or when children line up for recess or lunch.
  • Use thematic units, such as "plants." This helps children learn vocabulary faster because they hear the same words (all about plants) in the stories the teacher reads, in what they read, and in their learning centers and other activities.


Adapted from: Slavin R. & Calderón, M. (2001). Effective programs for Latino students. Mahwah, NJ: Earlbaum.

And from: Slavin R. & Madden, N. (2001). One million children. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


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