Ladders to Literacy: A Preschool Curriculum, Second Edition

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9781557669131: Ladders to Literacy: A Preschool Curriculum, Second Edition
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Help the children in your preschool become successful early readers with this field-tested, activity-based curriculum, an effective way to supplement children's instruction without giving up current language arts programming. In this second edition, early childhood educators will get

  • well-defined links between the activities and Head Start Recommended Outcomes, so teachers can be sure they're giving children the best start in literacy
  • a scope-and-sequence chart that helps educators choose which activities to do each month
  • more than 60 creative, field-tested games, crafts, role plays, and other activities that improve children's basic preliteracy skills such as writing words, recognizing letter sounds, and breaking words into syllables and phonemes
  • fresh Tips for Teachers

The book also includes developmentally appropriate, ecologically valid assessment procedures, ideal for evaluating children's skills and ensuring that they're making progress. Start using Ladders to Literacy today, and you'll equip children with the emergent literacy skills they'll need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

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About the Author:

Patricia Vadasy, Ph.D., is Senior Researcher at Washington Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, where she conducts research on early reading instruction. She is most interested in research that may help children at risk for reading disabilities and children who are English language learners. Patricia and her colleagues have developed programs that paraeducator tutors can effectively use to supplement reading instruction for beginning readers.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 3 and Section II of Ladders to Literacy: A Kindergarten Activity Book by Rollanda E. O'Connor, Ph.D., Angela Notari–Syverson, Ph.D., & Patricia F. Vadasy, Ph.D

Copyright © 2005 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The collection of activities in Ladders to Literacy is intended to provide the grist for developing concepts about literacy and preparing for reading and writing instruction in ways that are developmentally appropriate and sensitive to the diversity in kindergarten classrooms. By promoting abilities known to influence later reading development (e.g., phonemic awareness, letter knowledge), we can increase the likelihood that children will experience a successful transition to first grade and beyond. Within each of the sections to follow, activities have been sequenced loosely by difficulty, with the easiest activities listed first. It is not necessary to complete all of the activities in one area before proceeding to another; rather, activities can be selected to enhance ongoing classroom routines and special events. Moreover, combining activities across areas can strengthen children's understanding of linkages between spoken and written language. Because the three areas are interrelated, teachers will want to include activities across areas in their daily and weekly planning.


Although the activities lend themselves to teaching a range of early literacy and language skills, each activity has been assigned to one primary area: print awareness, phonological awareness, or oral language. Given the range of ages and abilities in inclusive and special education settings, teachers often need to address multiple educational goals within a single activity. Within the primary area (e.g., print awareness), we provide recommendations for how children with different needs can be taught concepts and behaviors that are appropriate to their individual levels. For each level of support, we suggest teaching strategies to facilitate these individual goals.


Each activity includes a main purpose statement with a list of behaviors the activity facilitates, a description of the activity materials and procedures, related behaviors and concepts, suggestions for specific child objectives or levels of participation and adult assistance for achieving these objectives, adaptations for specific disabilities or special needs, and ideas for home activities and parent involvement. Each is described in more detail next.

Main Purpose

The main purpose describes the major goals of the activity and how these goals promote the use of literacy and language.

Materials and Description of the Activity

Suggestions are provided for organizing materials, setting up the activity, and encouraging children to participate.

Adult–Child Interactive Behaviors

The Adult–Child Interactive Behaviors section describes how having adults and children participate in the same activity helps children who are functioning at different levels learn new concepts and behaviors that are appropriate to their individual needs and characteristics. The level of demand is followed by the behaviors that the adult can expect to elicit from a child with advanced skills (high demand), average skills (medium demand), or low skills (low demand). The more the adult can ask of the child reasonably (the higher the demand), the less support (scaffolding) the child typically needs, although children will need varying levels of adult assistance across different tasks and activities. As a result, levels of demand may vary from one activity to another (high to low for the purposes of this book). For each level of task demand, we suggest specific facilitation strategies (scaffolding) to support the child's learning. Facilitation strategies are organized from low to high support, in keeping with the level of demand. In general, the more competent child will require minimal guidance from the adult, whereas other children will need more intensive assistance and higher levels of scaffolding. Children learning tasks with lower demands are more likely to benefit from high–support strategies.

For each child participating in the activity, the teacher may determine the most appropriate level of demand based on the child's performance and/or the teacher's recent observations of the child. After determining appropriate levels of task demands for each child, teachers should select two or three teaching strategies to assist the child in accomplishing the task. The teacher should begin by using the least–intensive level of scaffolding (usually the first listed). If this does not help the child learn the skill, then the amount of support should gradually be increased. It is important to remember that children will respond differently to different types of support, with some children benefiting from more direct assistance and others from less direct assistance. Children who are ready to take on high–demand tasks may, at times, need high–support teaching strategies (e.g., explicit instructing). In some situations, low–support strategies (e.g., open–ended questioning) might be sufficient for children learning lowdemand tasks. During the teaching interactions, adults should evaluate and revise decisions about appropriate levels of support based on the individual child's responses to prior types of assistance.

Ideas and Adaptations

Recommendations are provided for adapting materials and activity procedures to facilitate the participation of children with visual, motor, or hearing impairments.

Home Link

For each kindergarten activity, we suggest a corresponding activity from the Early Literacy Activities for Children and Parents (Appendix B). These activities help parents reinforce learning concepts and behaviors similar to those taught in the classroom. They are arranged one to a page for ease of photocopying to send home by themselves, or to paste into a weekly class newsletter. Teachers in our experimental classes used the first pages of the Parents'Guide to Literacy Activities section as a handout to open a discussion of home–school collaboration during open–house and parent–conference sessions. These discussions, with the accompanying handout, encouraged parents and teachers to continue a joint focus on literacy as Home Link activities were sent home throughout the year.


Completed forms featured throughout the book are provided inAppendix A. These may be photocopied from an original book for educational purposes only. Appendix B includes many helpful activities that parents can do with their children at home to reinforce the Ladders to Literacy activities. Appendix C is a helpful Glossary of terms used throughout the book.

A Note About Validity

All of the activities have been field tested by teachers working in a variety of inclusive and self–contained kindergarten classrooms with children who are at risk, children with disabilities, and children who are typically developing. The classrooms included children from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds (African American, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic, and Arabic). The activities span a range of projects and tasks from those directly involving language and literacy skills (e.g., looking at books, writing letters, learning the alphabetic principle) to those in which language and literacy skills are incorporated as fundamental components (e.g., conducting science projects, identifying story grammar).


Although implementation of activities will be shaped by individual teachers'educational philosophy, classroom routines, and material resources, we have found that the most important factors for teachers in implementation are an understanding of how literacy develops, the ability to identify children who need particular and structured support to learn key concepts, and a commitment to follow and foster the development of each child in their care.

Many activities require minimal preparation and can be conducted daily (e.g., Shared Storybook Reading; Morning/Afternoon Message and News; Stop on a First Sound; Segmenting activities). Some require more extensive preparation (e.g., Sorting Objects; Rhyming Triplets); some are most effective when implemented only rarely (e.g., Following Recipes; Long Jump; Interviews), whereas others work best as ongoing and long term (e.g., Let's Find Out!).

We recommend that teachers begin with activities that can be easily integrated within current classroom routines on a frequent basis and with minimal preparation. If looking at picture books and drawing are already a part of the daily class routine, then it will be easy to implement Shared Storybook Reading or My First Journal. If circle time usually involves movement or singing, then Clap the Syllables and the Sound Isolation song can be easily used, even in the first week of kindergarten. Beginning with familiar activities allows teachers to focus on facilitating and teaching behaviors rather than implementing procedures. As teachers become more familiar with the instructional strategies, new activities may be added, preferably balancing the activities across the three literacy areas. Activities can be planned to correspond to certain themes and events during the school year (e.g., using My Dream near Martin Luther King Jr., Day; using Classroom Post Office on Valentine's Day; using Foreign Languages: Let's Say it Another Way! on Cinco de Mayo). Other activities may emerge from unplanned events. An unusually severe snowstorm can lead to a science project on snow. A child's personal experience may lead to a brainstorming session or a special Show and Tell. Regardless of thematic planning or serendipitous events, teachers will want to move quickly into the activities that support building the notion of the alphabetic principle. We suggest the followingimplementation sequence:

  1. September: Begin with Print Awareness: Shared Storybook Reading with FingerPointing; Letters and Sounds; Morning/Afternoon Message and News Phonological Awareness: Listening to Songs; Clap the Syllables; Sound Isolation; Blending Stretched Sounds Oral Language: Show and Tell; Food Talk; Portraits; What Did You Hear?

  2. October or November: By this time, children know their teacher and the class routines, and measurement of their starting levels of letter knowledge and phoneme segmentation is important. Consider using the measurement section (Chapter 4) to informally assess the children and determine their starting levels. These levels can change rapidly for young children, especially in the midst of rich instruction, but the measures can be re–administered every few weeks to children who appear to need more assistance with theseimportant prereading fundamentals.

  3. November—December: Continue with Print Awareness I Found . . . .; Fill in the Blanks; Making Books; Cumulative Letter Knowledge

Phonological Awareness: Rhythmic Activities; Stop on a First Sound activities; First Sound Song; Guess the Word (Blending)

Oral Language: Power Words; Treasure Boxes; Book Review/Story Grammar
  1. Second half of the year: Continue Print Awareness: Following Recipes; Writing Words; The Transition to Reading Words; Segment–to–Spell

Phonological Awareness: Segmenting with Onset–Rime Boxes; Onset–Rime with First Letter; Segmenting into Three Phonemes; Where Is It?

Oral Language: Feeling Objects; From This to That; Special Words; Book Buddy

Table 3.1 shows a month–by–month implementation schedule that was used by teachers who have participated in research on the effects of Ladders to Literacy and who achieved significant gains in literacy for their students. Once activities were introduced, teachers used many of them regularly over several months.

The Transition to Reading Words

Main Purpose

To understand the relation between spoken and printed words.

When children are ready to read words, they will benefit from the integration of sound play and phonological awareness, story context, and the printed form of new words. By demonstrating how writing captures speech, you will help children understand the alphabetic principle.


Easy–to–read books or big books; three frequently used, decodable words printed on cards for each book

Description of the Activity

Choose a book that has a few words used repeatedly throughout the story (e.g., Ten Apples Up on Top (LeSieg, 1961), Great Day for Up (Dr. Seuss, 1974), Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss, 1960). You can facilitate word reading by encouraging children to recognize the relations among the sounds in spoken words ("Which sounds do you hear in top?"), the letters that make those sounds ("Which letter makes /t/?"), and the function of the word in the story ("Where are those apples?").

Choose three short, decodable words to introduce during your story reading, and try the following sequence of activities with children who are interested in reading printed words.

  1. Read the book aloud to children. Encourage children to comment on pictures or story features as you read. Pay special attention to the function of the three words you want children to learn.

  2. When you come to a special word in the story, show the word on a card to your group, and ask a child to find the same word on the page ("Here's cat. Can you find cat on this page?"). Allow children to use the card as a model as they look for the word on the page.

  3. Using the word cards as your list, have children blend the sounds, segment the sounds of the word, and then read the word. For each word, do the following:
  • Play Guess the Word ("/T–o–p/. Which word is that?").

  • Segment the word ("Say all of the sounds in top").

  • Decode and blend the word ("Sound it out").

  • Read the word.

  1. Show children the word cards again, and encourage children to use letter cues (i.e., first sound or sounding out all letters) to read the words.

  2. Now read the story again, pausing when you come to a word from the set of cards. Show children the word in print, and encourage them to read it.

  3. Give children a printed list of the three words, and encourage them to write about the story. They may write a phrase, a sentence, or several sentences. Encourage children to read their writing to other children. Examples of books with decodable words include Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss (e.g., Sam, ham, not); Abiyoyo, by Pete Seeger (e.g., up, sit, grab); and Snug House, Bug House, by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (e.g., snug, bug, mix, stop).

This activity develops the following behaviors and concepts that are related to early literacy:

Print Awareness

Print: book conventions, awareness of graphic symbols, letter identification, writing
Letter—sound correspondence: single sounds and letters, words

Phonological Awareness

Phonological skills: rhyming, segmentation, blending

Oral Language

Vocabulary: words and sentences

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