Components of the Reading Rope: Literacy Knowledge

Literacy knowledge is another strand in Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope. It encompasses all of the ideas we know are true about language, books and the text within them. When children have knowledge of literacy concepts, it means that they have a foundation in all of the elements that make up conventional ways of reading, writing, and speaking.

The Main Elements of Literacy Knowledge

Print awareness means understanding that printed text is organized in a specific way. This includes things like the fact that we read from left to right and top to bottom. It also includes the fact that in English, we turn pages from left to right as well, whereas in other languages text may be read from right to left. Print awareness also has to do with the simple skill of visually recognizing when one is looking at text. Of course, these skills begin very early. As soon as young children gain exposure to books and begin to understand their structure, they begin developing print awareness.

Phonological Awareness 

Phonological Awareness refers to a student’s ability to hear and manipulate the spoken sounds within words. In the context of literacy knowledge, this means that students who are phonologically aware recognize that those individual sounds in spoken words correspond to written sounds in words and that those sounds can be changed, taken away, or added to create new sounds and new words.

Text Structure/Features

Another element of literacy knowledge is understanding the structure of a text’s content. These skills are sequential and build upon one another. In early grades, this looks like students learning what makes up a simple sentence. As students get older their knowledge of text structure becomes more sophisticated. They learn how to put together full paragraphs and eventually whole essays and narrative stories. 

Students also gain knowledge of text features. They must be able to not only read a text, but to navigate the features included in that text. While fiction books have fewer text features, they still have some, like a table of contents and chapter headings. Informational texts contain a larger set of elements that students should be able to navigate, including an index, a glossary, captions, section headings and subheadings, and graphic illustrations, among other features. 

What Literacy Knowledge Means in the Context of Writing

All of the above skills can translate to writing. Students should learn and understand that these elements of literacy don’t just apply to what they read, they apply to what they write, too. A vast majority of students use their literacy knowledge subconsciously. Most children, unless they are early emerging writers, don’t need reminders to write from left to right and top to bottom. But it is important that students are metacognitive (self-aware) about the fact that they are using this knowledge when they write as well as when they read in order to become well-rounded readers and writers.

How to Build Kids’ Literacy Knowledge

Here are some strategies for helping students deepen their literacy knowledge:

  • Expose students to a wide variety of text types (novels, informational texts, graphic fiction, newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, etc.)
  • Model using text features, and have them go on “text feature scavenger hunts”
  • Have students use graphic organizers to “map” text
  • Compare texts in English with texts in other languages that do not follow the same directionality of text (like Arabic or Hebrew)
  • Give students (especially in early grades) plenty of opportunities to discuss what they notice about the way a variety of texts are organized

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