Language Play: 6 Pre-Reading Activities

Pre-Reading Activities

Expose your child to the alphabet. Start with capital letters, then lower case. Pick a letter of the week and put it on the refrigerator. Be creative and have fun with craft projects such as using different materials to paste the letter on construction paper (yarn, ribbon, pasta).

One of my favorite milestones I witness is a child’s first experience reading! I’m not sure it is an official milestone, since it is not hard-wired like walking or talking. It involves learning. But nonetheless, as one of the first people to see this break-through moment, I consider it a special privilege for a speech language pathologist to witness!

I remember when my kids started reading and it seemed like magic. What I never knew as a new parent was that pre-reading skills are necessary to begin reading. There are small understandings that occur before we can read. These involve metalinguistics (THINKING about words). Here are some pre-reading activities I often recommend. When you use them, always make your child feel successful. And only jump in to help, after they have had time to try by themselves.

  1. COVER:  Look at the book’s cover together. Look at the picture. Ask, “What’s this book about?” If they don’t know, tell them while pointing to the picture. Show that the pages are turned left to right.
  2. TEXT:  Read books together with the child in your lap or right next to you. As you read each word, slide your finger below each word as you read. The child sees that you are reading chunks of letters as you say a word and that you are reading them left to right. Ask that they turn pages for you. Read favorite books over and over this way, until they have them memorized.  This develops sight word memory, auditory memory, and increases vocabulary. Eventually, leave out a simple word like “cat” with your finger below it and wait a few seconds to see if the child fills it in for you. If they fill it in, pause at each iteration of the word “cat” and praise them for their reading!! If not, fill it in for them and continue reading.
  3. LETTERS:  Expose your child to the alphabet. Start with capital letters, then lower case. Pick a letter of the week and put it on the refrigerator. Be creative and have fun with craft projects such as using different materials to paste the letter on construction paper (yarn, ribbon, pasta). When I was little, I used to spend hours with my dad’s folding ruler, forming the letters I knew. Show them where you start on the page when writing a letter (top to bottom, left to right). — Use product labels on cans and cereal boxes and help your child to identify the word for the product’s name. For example, Cheerios. This activity boosts confidence for an emerging reader.
  4. SOUNDS AND PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS: Phonological awareness means knowing that the letter symbols have distinct sounds (and some have more than one sound like c = s, k sounds). It also includes other awarenesses I will mention shortly. Find objects in the house that start with the letter of the week and label these object with their names in print. After they know a few sounds, ask them to think of names of things that start with that sound. Give hints, if necessary. Avoid words with confusing spelling, stick to the basics. For children who are very good at this, you can ask for words that end in a sound for a more challenging activity. — For more advanced children, you can make a list of compound words. Ask your child to take away part of the word and tell what is left. For example, “Newspaper. If I take away ‘news,’ what is left?”
  5. RHYMING:  Teach rhyming words like “cat, sat, fat” and ask them for one more rhyme. Give hints, if necessary. Read them simple rhyming poems and point to the words that rhyme as you read them. It can become a family game to come up with rhymes. Silly, made-up words are fine, too. Be sure to write them down for them to see. You never know what kids will absorb! — A harder task would be to make a list of word pairs that start or end with two consonants. Present the word, then take one consonant sound away and it makes a second word. For example: “Slip” If I take away “sssss” what word is left?” Also you can help your child understand that words are made of syllables. You can tap or clap out syllables for longer words together, then ask the child to try it alone. For example: “How many beats are in “bicycle?”
  6. MODELING: Remember that some children don’t know how to “think” about sounds, words, and reading. For these children it will help to talk out loud about what YOU are thinking when you do these activities. This is called modeling. For example, you can say, “I know that all the names in the house this week start with ‘puh’! I bet I can think of another word that starts with ‘puh’ like . . . ‘pie!’”

Why is it so important for children to see themselves as good readers? Research has shown that many children in school are not good readers and avoid reading which sets them even further behind peers over time. Researchers found that students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma when compared to proficient readers (The Annie E. Casey Foundation), and there is a distinct correlation between literacy levels and future participation in the workforce (Educational Testing Service). So let’s start early with pre-reading activities for all our children!

List of Weekly Suggested EventsIt’s always good for children to be read to. Most local libraries have Story Hours (Greenfield Library, Forbes Library in Northampton, Jones Library in Amherst, Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Chicopee Library, MN Spear Library in Shutesbury, Mason Library in Great Barrington… to name a few).  Check the Hilltown Families list of Weekly Suggested Events for weekly storyhours, some even involve singing, puppets and crafts.


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at

[Photo credit: (ccl) Michael Verhoef]

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