Supporting Emergent Writing in Preschool

Written by Alexandria Pistilli, MA student in Child Studies at Concordia University

Montreal, Canada


Children’s capacity to develop writing skills, and their interest in exploring writing appear early in childhood (Puranik and Lonigan, 2011. Journal of Learning Disabilities; Rowe and Neitzel, 2010. Reading Research Quarterly), however very little opportunities for writing are present in the preschool classroom (Gerde et al. 2012. Early Childhood Education Journal) . In fact, although reading and writing skills develop simultaneously and are interdependent, some preschool teachers believe that reading takes precedence over writing (Mayer 2007. Young Children). Emergent writing activities have shown to help with later reading and writing abilities and overall school success (Fischel et al, 2007. Journal of Literacy Research; Lonigan et al. 2011, Reading and Writing). Despite its importance, preschool writing practices take place on average for only one minute per day (Pelatti et al. 2014. Early Childhood Research Quarterly). Here a few simple strategies for integrating writing in the preschool classroom routine.

What is environmental print and how can we integrate it into play?

Environmental print is text that children can see, create, and interact with (Neumann et al, 2012. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy) . The ability to recognize that written words and oral language are connected is referred to as print knowledge and is predictive of later literacy achievement such that children with more exposure to print are more successful writers (Gerde et al, 2016. The Reading Teacher). Educators can promote these emergent literacy skills by co-creating meaningful print with students. One way of doing this is to create a classroom mailbox and have the children make postcards for their peers. Similarly,  using poster board, children can create birthday cards and sign it for their peers’ and/or teachers’ birthdays as another interesting way of constructing meaningful print as a class. Writing can also be integrated into dramatic play by creating restaurant menus, grocery lists, doctor’s notes, or office play. When creating print with children, it is important to refer to existing print in the environment throughout the day (e.g alphabet charts, posters, classroom rules, etc.) so they can use them as a guide for their own writing (Gerde et al, 2016. The Reading Teacher).  When children are engaged in an activity that they enjoy, such as building structures using blocks, they are more likely to encode writing as a meaningful addition to the activity. It also allows them the opportunity to understand that there are various functions for writing.


What is a writing center and what are its benefits?

A writing center is a section of the classroom designated for writing activities and materials. The purpose of this center is to provide a variety of writing materials to children and allow them the opportunity to practice their writing in a supportive environment. Educators can guide/model children’s writing, motivate them in trying a range of activities, and explain to them the purpose of writing. Some activities that can be found in this center include writing postcards, creating storybooks, grocery lists, name-writing activities, drawing pictures with labels, sensory trays for sight words, and many more. Implementing a writing center encourages students to explore writings tools and improve fine motor skills. It is also associated with increased alphabet knowledge and name-writing ability in children, specifically when coupled with the proper instruction by educators (Guo et al, 2016. Journal of Research in Reading).

What is interactive writing and what are its benefits?

Interactive writing is a form of writing instruction where teachers share the pen with a group of students as they strive to collaboratively compose text (McCarrier et al, 2000) . This notion of “sharing the pen” can be taken literally whereby children with less experience will require hand-over-hand guidance. For more independent writers, this refers to the joint involvement of both the adult and children in co-creating text. This activity is usually conducted in small groups for a period of 10-15 minutes and reflects topics that the students are interested in. The key component of this writing activity is that it is interactive, so children are engaged and participating in creating meaningful text with an expert other alongside peers. It develops positive attitudes towards writing because it is an activity that engages children, promotes alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, conventional writing and reading skills (Hall et al, 2015. Literacy Research and Instruction; Craig 2006. Journal of Educational Psychology; Jones 2015. The Journal of Education Research; Jones et al. 2010. The Journal of Educational Research).

Figure 1. Preschool Interactive Writing Framework as described by Hall (2016).

Figure 1. Preschool Interactive Writing Framework as described by Hall (2016).

In sum, educators play an important role in supporting children’s emergent writing skills. By providing children with numerous opportunities to explore freely with writing materials and offering guidance based on their level of abilities, educators can cultivate children’s confidence in their writing abilities. An environment rich in writing materials and positive modelling allows for active learning to occur. Incorporating writing in the various sections of the classroom in addition to designating a given space to writing, children will learn about the multiple functions of writing and will begin to value writing early on.

As Graves eloquently stated: “Children want to write. They want to write the first day they attend school. This is no accident. Before they went to school, they marked up walls, pavements, newspapers with crayons, chalk, pens or pencils…anything that makes a mark. The child’s marks say ‘I am.’” (Graves 1983).