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Ladders to Literacy

Ladders to Literacy

A Kindergarten Activity Book, Second Edition
Authors: Rollanda E. O’Connor Ph.D., Angela Notari Syverson Ph.D., Patricia F. Vadasy Ph.D.   Foreword Author: Joseph R. Jenkins Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-832-5
Pages: 352
Copyright: 2005
Out of Print
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Size:  8.5 x 11.0
Stock Number:  68325
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Help the children in your school or district become successful early readers with the second edition of this field-tested, activity-based curriculum, an effective way to supplement children's instruction without giving up current language arts programming. This book gives teachers more than 60 culturally sensitive, developmentally appropriate activities that were tested for 10 years under research and practical conditions. Activities are organized into three sections emphasizing key elements of reading success: print awareness, metalinguistic skills, and oral language skills. Modifications are included for children with disabilities, and the early literacy activities for children and parents help strengthen the home–school literacy link.

Revised in response to ongoing field testing and research, the new edition of this popular activity book retains the first edition's focus on preacademic language and literacy skills and gives teachers practical updates and timely new material. Teachers will get

  • a new, two-part literacy assessment

  • a sample record sheet for tracking children's progress

  • 11 new activities

  • more explicit teaching instructions

  • helpful Tips for Teachers

  • updated research

With the fun, proven activities in this book, kindergarten teachers will equip children with the emergent literacy skills they'll need to succeed in school.

Studies show the program is effective. Through its new Evidence for ESSA initiative, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education rated Ladders to Literacy as a “STRONG” reading program under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Read the report.

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Review by: Laura Justice, Preschool Language and Literacy Lab, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
"An exemplary resource for guiding high-quality literacy instruction in kindergarten programs. It provides a theoretically sound, scientifically based, and comprehensive approach to differentiate literacy instruction for general learners as well as those who are struggling."
Review by: Lesley Morrow, Professor of Literacy, Rutgers University
"Kindergarten teachers are always looking for excellent ideas for their programs. [In] the second edition of Ladders to Literacy . . . both new and experienced teachers will find a wealth of material to draw on that will be productive for their children as well as enjoyable."
Review by: Sharon Vaughn, Director, Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts, The University of Texas, Austin
"An essential resource for teachers with activities that allow them to create ladders to success for all of their students . . . This book is worn from use in the classrooms of teachers with whom I work."
About the Authors
Foreword Joseph R. Jenkins

I: Theoretical Framework for Early Literacy

  1. The Development of Early Literacy
  2. The Role of Scaffolding
  3. Implementing Ladders to Literacy
  4. Measuring Early Literacy Skills
II: Print Awareness
Shared Storybook Reading with Finger Pointing
Snack/Lunch/Treat Menu
Letters and Sounds
Following Recipes
Morning/Afternoon Message and News
I Found . . .
Fill in the Blanks
Making Books
Cumulative Letter Knowledge
Sorting Objects
Pocket Children
Science Projects
Long Jump
Writing Words
My First Journal
Classroom Post Office
Landscapes and Maps
Bend It Back
The Transition to Reading Words
III: Phonological Awareness
Rhythmic Activities
Listening to Songs
Clap the Syllables
Sound Isolation
Blending Stretched Sounds
Nursery Rhymes
Rhyming Pictures
Rhyming Triplets
Stop on a First Sound—Stretched Segmenting
Stop on a First Sound—Iteration
Pretend Play with Miniature Toys
First Sound Song
Guess the Word (Blending)
I'm Thinking of a...(Blending by Category)
Word to Word Matching Game: First Sound/Last Sound
Sing a First Sound
First Sound and Last Sound Bingo
Segmenting with Onset-Rime Boxes
Stop on a Last Sound
Segmenting into Three Phonemes
Where Is It?
Onset-Rime with First Letter
IV: Oral Language
Show and Tell
Food Talk
Power Words
Enacting Storybooks
What Did You Hear?
Feeling Objects
From This to That
Treasure Boxes
Book Review/Story Grammar
Book Buddy
Movie Reviews
Foreign Languages: Let's Say it Another Way!
Special Words
My Dream
Let's Find Out!
Appendix A: Blank Forms
Appendix B: Early Literacy Activities for Children and Parents & Parents' Guide to Literacy Activities
Appendix C: Glossary

Excerpted from Chapter 3 of Ladders to Literacy: A Kindergarten Activity Book, Second Edition, 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 low demand 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 in Appendix 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 following implementation sequence:

  1. September: Begin with Print Awareness: Shared Storybook Reading with Finger Pointing; 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 these important 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
  4. 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

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