There are certain aspects of reading and writing that people should understand before they begin formal literacy instruction. This includes understanding what print represents and some things about how it looks and works.
The concepts and conventions of print refer to the understanding of what print represents and how it works; that it is speech written down in a consistent manner.
Here are some examples of concepts and conventions of print that learners must understand before they can read:
- The alphabetic principle is fundamental in learning to read and write.
Print must be read in a certain direction. When you reach the end of a line, you move to the next line.
- Left to right in English and many other languages
- Right to left in languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese
- Top to bottom in Japanese, Chinese, and some others
The shapes of letters are unique. Learners should
- be aware of the shape of most letters
- be able to recognize them in any context, even if they do not yet know the sounds associated with them, and
- understand that letters are written in a particular order and direction.
Letters have names.
- Some people believe that having a name to call the letter shapes helps learners to remember the letter/sound associations. While it may be confusing to teach letter names and sounds at the same time, they have found that knowing the letter names is helpful in learning to read. They encourage teaching the names before teaching the sounds.
- Others believe that learning the name of a letter before learning its sound may cause confusion when learning the sound/symbol relationship, especially where they differ.
Punctuation affects meaning and expression in reading. Learners should recognize common punctuation marks and know what they mean. It is helpful if they know the names of punctuation marks, too.
- Periods (full stops) separate sentences.
- Spaces separate words.
- Letters come in two forms, upper and lower case.
- Illustrations play a role in reading. Learners must be able to 'read' illustrations and recognize what an illustration represents. Illustrations support the message of the print and can be used to help predict its meaning.
There is a reading vocabulary that is important to know to refer to books and language. Here are some examples: