Print Awareness and Reading Aloud: 6 Ways to Increase Language Development During Story Time

As children enter the preschool years, they enter the stage of emergent literacy, a stage that’s predicated largely upon print awareness. Print awareness involves a child’s recognition of letters as units that somehow carry meaning. Reading Rockets puts it this way: “Children who have an awareness of print understand that the squiggly lines on a page represent spoken language.”

Reading aloud is an exceptional way to built print awareness. Here are a few ways to make story time with your children even more beneficial (and no less fun):

boost print awareness


Check out Jane Mount’s super-cool art, found via Young Gold Teeth


1) Point to the words as you are reading.

This simple act reinforces the notion that the words you are saying are connected directly to the printed words on the page rather than merely to the pictures, strengthening the connection between oral and written communication.

2) Pause so that children can finish familiar sentences.

When children finish familiar sentences on their own out loud, their confidence in relation to reading is boosted; they think, wow, I can do this! even before they are actively starting to try to read. (Just watch their little faces beaming.) In this way, print isn’t something scary, but fun.

3) Read the same books repeatedly.

This allows children to learn the language of a book so that they can finish sentences, and also reinforces the notion of the permanence of print: The same thing happens each time the story is read, in the same way, with the same words.

4) Explain unfamiliar words.

When new words are encountered, explain what the words mean. Alternatively, wait until the story is over and then go back and ask the child to explain the unfamiliar word. You may be surprised to see how much they pick up from context, and discussing words in this way models thinking about words and underlines the idea that individual words are attached to specific meanings.

5) Discuss the story with your child.

Keep it fun, no need to get too “reading comprehension-y” on them. But you can ask them what they think will happen next or what part they liked the best or how certain parts made them feel (bonus: refining their emotional intelligence).

6) Ask them to find certain letters. 

This depends on where the child is on the print awareness spectrum, but a child who is just beginning to connect the spoken (or sung) alphabet to actual printed letters will benefit from pointing to all the Ds, for instance. Keep in mind that children tend to learn the letters of their name earlier than other letters, a phenomenon known as own-name advantage, so start with these.

For more tips, see:
Print Awareness During Read Alouds
Book and Print Awareness: Getting Ready to Read
Suffolk Library: Print Awareness

For more like this on See Mommy Doing, see:
7 Ways to Boost Language Development Simply By How You Respond
How and Why to Correct Your Children’s Grammar
Best Children’s Books: A List of Our Current Favorites


– Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language Development from Theory to Practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.