Literacy activities are important for acquiring literacy skills. Exposure to a variety of these activities is beneficial to the learner. The more children are exposed to different literacy activities, the more their reading and writing skills are enhanced. Learning to read helps learners build up lifelong knowledge.
Literacy activities are a range of different activities that lay a foundation for learners to acquire literacy and concretise the acquired skills. These activities start very early in life and include play, singing, storytelling, phonological and phonemic awareness, oral language, prereading, prewriting, and drawing, among others. Literacy activities are embedded in everyday activities and enhance literacy development. This suggests that the activities that the teacher employs should not only be classroom-based but rather reflect children’s daily life experiences. For instance, play is a natural activity that children enjoy doing. As they are playing, they interact with and develop new vocabulary.
Other activities that enhance literacy development include listening to oral narratives/folklore and taking part in traditional plays, games, rhyming songs, and dances. Exposing children to storytelling and reading is another great way of developing literacy. Stories broaden children’s listening and speaking skills as well as strengthen their vocabulary. Children who are routinely read to and immersed in rich talk about books and partake in various literacy activities are likely to acquire literacy skills earlier than those with less exposure to books1Campbell, F., Ramey, C., Pungello, E., Sparling, J., & Miller-Johnson, S. (2002). Early childhood education: Young adult outcomes from the abecedarian project. Applied Developmental Science, 6, 42–57.2Dickinson, D. McCabe, A., & Essex, M. (2006). Cognitive and linguistic building blocks of early literacy. in Dickinson, D., & Neuman, S., (Eds). Handbook of early literacy 465 research, Vol. 2. New York, NY: Guilford3Neuman, S. B., Celano, D. (2006) The knowledge gap: Implications of leveling the playing field for low-income and middle-income children. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(2), 160-291..
These traditional activities expose children to new vocabulary that they may not have learnt at school. In order to develop a robust vocabulary and extensive conceptual knowledge, children need rich language input that enables them to understand what objects are called and how words work or go together.
It is important for teachers to embrace the reading of stories as a great way of enhancing literacy development, as you will learn in later chapters.
Another important point to note is that the type of literacy activity employed by the teacher should be dependent on the level of children being targeted. Stories, poems, and rhymes are important to beginner readers because they give the inspiration to practise reading. After the basic reading skills (letter-sound knowledge, syllables, and word reading) have been learned, it is important that children have access to many kinds of reading materials. This will enable them to practise with texts that are inspiring and interesting. Reading stories is essential for learning reading fluency and reading comprehension.
Storytelling and Story Reading
All learners, whether they know how to read or not, should be involved in storytelling and reading. Engaging all learners in these activities increases their chances of learning to read and write. It increases the acquisition of new vocabulary (words), improves fluency, comprehension, confidence levels, and self-worth, and enlarges their imagination and motivation to learn.
The Importance of Storytelling
a. Story reading and telling provides learners with more vocabulary. Vocabulary is the ability to understand the meaning of words and use them in the correct context both in spoken and written language. As a teacher, you can do many things to support vocabulary acquisition regardless of your pupils’ background. You can set an example on how to use rich and diverse vocabulary in the local language and encourage your learners to read more.
b. Storytelling and reading are good for emotional well-being: Reading a story provides a sense of emotional security to children and the ability to cope with feelings and different life situations. Listening to and reading stories and poetry can help children understand their feelings.
c. Stories are good for the development of imagination: Using imagination in play is important for children. Games that require imagination teach children to take different roles and solve problems. Listening to and reading stories is important for the development of imagination. Encourage children to use their imagination by giving them topics for storytelling and writing: What is your dream profession? What would you do as a doctor or as a lawyer? What would it be like to be an astronaut or a football player? What is it like to be an elephant? Or a bird? Or a dog?
d. Storytelling and reading are important for reading comprehension. Reading comprehension involves understanding written instructions and being able to find important information from a text. Reading comprehension is an essential life skill!
Improving Learners’ Comprehension through Storytelling and Reading
In order to support the acquisition of listening and reading comprehension skills among learners, teachers should:
Tip: Practicing comprehension skills can be done every day. You can start the day by asking children what they did at home on the previous day.
Give the children a simple example such as: I saw my neighbour on the road. She was going home. She had bought five new chickens! They were for her cousin’s wedding. Who did I meet on the road? Your uncle? The chief? No, it was the neighbour! What did the neighbour buy? A cow? A bicycle? No, it was the chickens!
When asking questions keep a light tone so that the children are encouraged to try to guess answers. Encourage telling stories in a local language and give local language translations for English words that the children might use. This helps every child understand. Also encourage the children to tell the stories in the local languages they are most comfortable with, especially in a multilingual area.
You can see that a story for comprehension skills practise does not need to be long. Encourage children to tell their own stories. Ask for a volunteer to talk about his or her day. When one child has told his or her story, ask the other children questions about what they have just heard.
Learning to ask questions about oral stories is beneficial for later reading comprehension skills. When children learn to write, you can ask them to write short stories for other learners to read, or you can encourage them to read the story aloud to their peers in the class.
Practicing Reading Comprehension
When practicing reading comprehension, engage the learners in activities that will help them remember the content of the story after it has been read. The activities could involve the following:
These activities put the learners in a reading mood and motivate them to listen and read further. Once the story or poem is finally read out to the learners, they can remember it more easily and should be able to recall events and the vocabulary used in the story or poem.
Depending on the grade level, you can read two or three sentences aloud and then ask some questions. This will help you gauge whether the learners are following the reading or not. After every few sentences or a short paragraph, engage the learners in conversation about the story or poem, asking what they have heard thus far.
A good teacher can engage every child in class in telling a story. Stories naturally create a good atmosphere in a classroom as the children sit attentively, focusing on the reader or the storyteller; and this can enhance their listening skills. A teacher can use methods that can help enhance reading and storytelling such as:
a) Story Reading Sessions for Everyone
In a classroom situation, a shy child may be encouraged to tell a story as follows:
Shy learner: I woke up in the morning and walked to school. I got in just before the rain.
You can encourage the child by continuing the story as a teacher, as seen below:
Teacher: That was very lucky! Once I was a child. I had my new shoes on when I was walking to school. It had been sunny for many days, and I wanted to show my shoes to my friends. All of a sudden, the rain started! I was feeling sad, but my friends helped clean my shoes.
Continuing the story from what the child recounted shows them that you listened to their story and appreciated their choice of a story topic. This helps the child feel appreciated, become confident, and try to tell more complicated stories. When the children learn to write, encourage them to write these stories down.
b. The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children
Reading aloud to a child will aid her or him to develop comprehension and listening skills. When a child reads aloud she/he will be able to hear herself or himself, and that will help the child become fluent in reading.
Decades of research have detailed the benefits of reading aloud to children. Educators, paediatricians, and policymakers alike recognise the immense advantages for those children who enter school thoroughly immersed in the rich, inventive language of picture books.
The interactive read-aloud, or the read-aloud plus text talk, strategy is based on three essential understandings. The read-aloud together with text talk strategy:
1. encourages the child to become an active learner during book reading;
2. provides feedback that models more complex language;
3. challenges the child’s knowledge and skills by raising the complexity of the conversation to a level just above the child’s current ability7De Temple, J., & Snow, C. E. (2003). Learning words from books. In A. van Kleeck, S. A. Stahl, & E. B. Bauer (Eds.), On reading books to children: Parents and teachers, 16–36. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.; Lane and Wright, 2007).
The Critical Importance of the Interactive Read-Aloud
A Short Storytelling Session Plan:
Using Poems in the Classroom
Here is one way in which poetry can be used to promote reading skills:
Encourage children to continue the poems with their own words. Turn their poems into songs!
Using songs in the process of learning to read and write is very useful. This process involves the use of alphabetic and vowel songs that are developed in the language that the learner is familiar with. Research has shown that initial literacy learning in alphabetic scripts involves the development of phonological awareness. Research has also shown that such phonological awareness can be effectively promoted by exposure to songs that repeat the critical sounds (phonemes) of the child’s language that are used to signal differences in meaning. In languages with a relatively transparent alphabetic script (such as all of the Bantu languages of Zambia), each of these phonemes is represented by a distinct symbol or letter (grapheme).