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Literacy learning through conversation
Alison Levitch, M.A., and Sara Gable, Ph.D., University of Missouri Extension

Literacy learning is about much more than reading and writing. Having opportunities for conversation helps young children understand the connection between written letters and sounds. Gathering children in small groups (four to five students) creates a wonderful setting for encouraging conversation.

David Poveda, a university professor in Spain, describes how teachers in Madrid use small groups to promote children’s conversation skills. The teachers ask children specific questions about their daily lives and the children, in turn, talk and listen to each other. Through these informal discussions, children learn about each other and develop conversational skills. By adding a writing component, teachers can link written text with children's spoken words and conversation.

Activities that promote literacy learning through conversation

Things I like to do


  • For each child, create a simple booklet with at least 10 pages. On the front page, write the child's name followed by "Things I Like to Do"

  • Pens, pencils and markers


  • Gather four or five children and tell them to think about their favorite things to do.

  • Have children take turns describing their three favorite things to do. Encourage children to describe why they like these activities.

  • Record each child's answers in his or her booklet and include the date.

  • Encourage children to ask questions and engage in conversation.

  • Show children the written text that corresponds to the things they have described.

  • Repeat this activity monthly and discuss the similarities and differences between children's current and past activities.

  • Share the book with family members.

Places I like to go


  • For each child, have a plain sheet of construction paper (8.5x11 inches or larger)

  • Markers and crayons


  • Gather four or five children and tell them to think about places they like to go.

  • Have children take turns discussing a favorite place to go. Encourage children to discuss why the places they mention are favorites.

  • Record children's answers on paper and include the date.

  • To illustrate the text, have children draw pictures, ask parents for photos, or take photographs of the children’s favorite places. This way, children can see the connection between the written words and the pictures of their favorite places.

My favorite people


  • 25 colorful felt figures (round felt head with facial features drawn in, glued to a rectangular felt body)

  • Small pieces of paper (with tape on the back) to label felt figures

  • Construction paper

  • Pens or markers

  • Felt board


  • Gather four or five children and tell them to think about their three favorite people.

  • Next, have children take turns picking out felt figures to represent their favorite people. Encourage children to tell the group about their favorite people and why they are "favorites".

  • Label the figures children select with names (Grandpa) or other descriptors (lifeguard at pool).

  • After discussion, allow children to tape the labels onto another piece of paper and draw their own pictures of their favorite people.

These activities provide children with the opportunity to engage in conversation and to experience the connection between the written words and what they have discussed. Through discussions about activities, places and people, children learn about one another's daily lives and develop closeness with their peers. At the same time, they gain an appreciation for spoken and written language.

Source Poveda, D. (2001). La Ronda in a Spanish kindergarten classroom with a cross-cultural comparison to sharing time in the U.S.A. Anthropology of Education Quarterly, 32(3), 301-325.



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Last updated: 12/02/15