About Language and Learning
By Joanne McGowan
SSTA Research Centre Report #92-14: 18 pages, $11
Table of Contents


The Basics of Literacy

Reading and Writing

The New Curriculum

Evaluation and Reporting

Helping Your Child at Home - A Summary

Recommended Resources


About Language and Learning, is designed to assist parents in understanding important questions about the development of children's language skills. This resource will help readers recognize important milestones in children's learning and development, and suggests meaningful language and learning experiences for the home and school environment.

Encouragement from parents and caregivers assists language development and learning.

Back to: Curriculum

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use.
Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Children are always learning about language and learning about the world around them. A great deal of their language development and their learning occurs before children start school. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in the home and community experiences that begin this learning process. Your role and interest does not stop there. Your continuing support and involvement in learning experiences helps your child's progress and development throughout the school years. Naturally, you have questions about language activities, curriculum changes and what can be done at home to help your child.

- This booklet:
addresses many questions and concerns related to language learning
summarizes the basic philosophy and direction of the new Language Arts curriculum
outlines important language experiences
includes guidelines that will help you to share learning experiences with your child in the home setting.

- The information included in this booklet has been organized under these major topics:
The Basics of Literacy
Evaluation and Reporting
Reading and Writing
Helping Your Child at Home
The New Curriculum
Recommended Resources

- Questions frequently asked about these topics by parents and educators have been highlighted.

- Responses to the questions include important explanation and information. Direct guidelines for parents are presented in bold italicized print.

- Guidelines for supporting children's continuing language
growth appear in a two-page summary at the end of the booklet.

- To further explore the topic of language development, parents may consult the resources listed on the last page or contact local teachers and administrators.

A major aim of education is to develop children's confidence and ability to speak, listen, read and write. These are basic or foundational skills. Most success in learning and in life is built upon language skills. The following guidelines will help to develop children's interest and ability in reading and writing activities.

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The Basics of Literacy

Most children between the ages of four and seven years develop emerging literacy behaviours. Children become aware of printed language and show an interest in reading and writing. They see that print carries meaning.

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- Important early reading and writing behaviours and activities include:
noticing that people are guided by printed signs, recipes, lists, calendars, and posters
recognizing signs, logos and labels of favourite products or familiar places
listening to others read or tell stories
relating the pictures on pages to story events and characters
understanding that the reader follows printed words on the pages
recognizing and repeating words or verses as stories are told or read to them
pointing to specific words or letters and asking what they are or what they `say'
pretending to write
asking others to print their ideas for them
trying to print by copying words and letters they see
pretending to read books or magazines by turning the pages and `saying' the story.

Language growth and learning occurs naturally in the home environment. From birth, children see and hear language being used by family members in different ways and for many purposes. You can continue to nurture early language and literacy abilities in various ways.

- Trust and believe in your child's ability to be a successful language learner.
- Talk to your child about daily experiences.
- Encourage your child to explain ideas and understandings to you.
- Ask questions that show you are interested in your child's experiences and ideas.
- Listen attentively when your child speaks to you.
- Encourage your child to ask questions.
- Be patient with your child's 'baby talk'.
- Avoid being over-corrective of your child's mispronunciations. Model conventional adult pronunciations.
- Praise your child's use of new words and commendable speaking efforts.
- Share daily reading activities and writing tasks with your child including shopping lists, newspapers, letters and the use of the telephone book.

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Reading and Writing

When do children learn to read?

- Sometime between the ages of five and seven years, most children display the signs of "starting to read" by:
expecting that printed language will make sense
recognizing what many words say
realizing that words on the page fit together to take meaning
making useful connections between letters and sounds

Pre-school children need many opportunities to explore print and to enjoy books. They need to hear language patterns in a variety of stories and poems. By listening and watching others read to them, children develop an understanding and an appreciation of the process of reading.

You can develop your child's interest and enjoyment in reading at home.

- Read or tell stories to your child daily.
- Provide access to a variety of printed materials including books, magazines and newspapers.
- Support your child's curiosity about printed language. Provide crayons, pens, pencils and paper so your child an experiment with writing and reading.
- Let your child choose books for you to read aloud.
- Discuss the book and the pictures as you read together.
- Pause occasionally as you read and let your child predict what will happen next.
- Encourage your child to `read' familiar or repeated lines and phrases in the story.
- Read or retell favourite stories or poems over and over again. Your child will become familiar with the story, language and pictures, and gain confidence as a `reader'.
- Encourage your child to `read' or retell familiar stories.

What skills do children need to be independent readers?

- Children gradually develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for independent and efficient reading. These include:

awareness of the general topic of the book, chapter, or article so they can predict or anticipate what they will be reading about
use of pictures and diagrams on the page to increase their understanding of print
familiarity with many printed and spoken word combinations, sentence patterns and typical English word order
recognition of words they frequently see, say and use in their writing
knowledge of English spelling patterns and typical letter combinations
knowledge of phonics or letter-sound associations
ability to recognize and recall the main ideas
ability to summarize content in own words.

Good readers can construct meaning from printed language. They understand what the print is communicating and they quickly realize when their reading is interrupted by passages or words that do not make sense. They try different strategies to understand these passages or unfamiliar words. Learning to become a more competent reader continues throughout the elementary school years.

- To become independent readers, children need various word recognition skills and strategies. Important strategies include:

rereading the sentence or passage to confirm their understanding of the print up to the unfamiliar word
predicting the word or thinking of a word that makes sense in that place
reading ahead and using the content of the sentence and/or passage to help identify the unfamiliar word
looking for familiar parts or letter patterns in the word
sounding out the word parts and letters.

Once your child begins reading independently, you can continue to develop positive reading habits and attitudes at home.

- Continue to read to your child. Children of all ages need to hear a variety of literature.
- Let your child observe others reading for information and for enjoyment.
- Encourage your child to read to you and to others in the home.
- Provide time and encouragement for your child to read on her own.
- Talk to your child about her favourite topics and the kinds of books she likes to read.
- Allow your child to explore areas of interest. Avoid insisting that your child read books that you choose.
- Visit libraries and bookstores and browse through books with your child.

It is important for children to realize that reading is interesting, valuable and enjoyable. by using a variety of strategies and interesting print materials, teachers nurture life-long reading interest and ability.

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Is knowledge of phonics important?

Phonics is the process of matching letters to sounds. Children need to know how letters relate to the sounds of the language for reading and writing. Therefore, phonics and spelling skills are important.

- Children learn how to use phonics through:

reading and writing with others and on their own
talking about words and letters with others
classroom instruction that focuses on the language children see and use throughout the school day.

Although all readers and writers need phonics skills, it is important to note the following points.

_ To understand print, readers do more than sound out words. Good readers focus on groups and combinations of words to grasp the meaning of print.

_ Readers who are overly concerned with correctly sounding out letters and words may lose the meaning of printed passages.

_ Children recognize the purpose of phonics and spelling instruction when they apply the skills to reading and writing whole words and passages. Such experiences are more meaningful to children than tedious workbook exercises that require them to circle letters or fill in blanks.

Classroom reading and writing experiences extend what children already know about printed language. In language-rich classrooms, children see, hear and experiment with the many sounds, rhythms, and patterns of the English language. Teachers model reading and writing daily. They provide children with many opportunities to communicate through drawing and printing. Children are invited to choose books and other print materials for reading practice.

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What are the basic skills of writing?

- Children need basic knowledge, skills and attitudes to write. These basics include:

awareness that everyone's ideas, experiences or feelings are worthy of being drawn or written down

desire to express themselves using print

interest in discussing with others what they draw and/or write

awareness that people communicate ideas or information in many different ways

knowledge that the appropriate `look' and `sound' of written language depends on who the audience (or readers) will be, what is being written for that audience, and the purpose for writing

familiarity with the order or sequence of English words

knowledge of common letter patterns and combinations

knowledge of common letter-sound associations.

You can help to develop children's writing abilities at home.

- Encourage your child to write.-Involve your child in writing for real purposes, even before they can write independently. Encourage communication through drawing and print in the form of letters, cards and messages to family members.

- Show an interest in what your child writes at home and in school writing activities.

- Talk to your child about the thoughts and ideas that she expresses in writing.

- Respond to your child's ideas, rather than any errors you see.

- Praise your child's efforts and progress at each level of development.

- Talk to your child about day-to-day writing tasks you may have.

- Collect and date samples of your child's writing.

- Display some of your child's writing efforts in the home.

- Remember that some children develop and refine specific writing skills more quickly than others.

Children write a lot in school. Why is this?

Children at all grade levels write a great deal. Through writing, children explore, practice and expand their writing and reading skills. Writing, like talking, helps children to shape and organize ideas. By writing ideas down, they can communicate them to others. All children are writers or authors who have something to share. Writing ability develops as children write with support and assistance from teachers and classmates.

- In today's classrooms, children write for many purposes and audiences.

_ Children write to explore and express personal personal experiences, feelings and opinions.

Such personal writing may appear in journal and diary entries, or in the form of stories, poems and letters. Their work may be kept in personal writing folders, shared with classmates, displayed at school, sent home or to other readers.

_ Children write to communicate ideas and information to others.

Children are involved in individual and group projects such as publishing class newspapers, writing stories, plays and reports, and making maps, charts or murals.

_ Children practice and refine their writing skills in all subjects. They learn about many topics by writing and reading about them.

Children research, recall, organize, interpret and record their knowledge in notes, charts and reports.

Is spelling still taught in school?

Yes. Children learn that conventional or standard spelling helps readers to understand their writing.

The development of spelling skills is an ongoing process. Through frequent reading and writing activities, children add to their store of known words. They continue to add to their knowledge of root words, word meanings and spelling patterns. Children learn to proofread their writing for accurate spellings as part of the writing process.

- Children soon learn how to spell words that are important and necessary to them as readers and writers.

Spelling instruction includes words children see and use in all subjects. Individual instruction of spelling rules or specific letter combinations is based on children's needs and the words they use.

- Children go through stages as they develop spelling abilities.

_ Between the ages of 4 and 6 years, most children begin to experiment with written language. At first they often combine drawings, numbers and letters to write a story or a message. They use the letters they know.

_ Between the ages of 5 and 8 years, children begin to string letters and words together. They soon try to spell words by the way they sound.

_ From the ages of 7 to 10 years, children generally begin to apply spelling rules and their knowledge of English letter patterns to spell words accurately. By this time, they know that many words are not spelled the way they sound.

You can help to develop a child's spelling ability.

- Encourage your child to read. Through reading, children increase their vocabulary as well as their knowledge of word meanings and spellings.

- Be supportive of your child's spelling attempts. Every attempt shows some knowledge of phonics and letter patterns.

- As a family, play word and memory games.

- Show an interest in new and unusual words you see.

Sometimes children need help with learning to spell specific words related to a topic of study at school. The following guidelines may be useful.

- Let your child decide which words need to be learned first.

- Focus on a few words at a time.

- Let your child group the words according to similar letter patterns, similar beginnings or endings, or similar meanings.

- Ensure your child knows the meaning of each word.

- Display the words you are working on for a few days if necessary.

- Focus your child's attention on difficult word parts on letter combinations.

- Encourage your child to `picture' the word mentally before spelling it.

- Say the word. Have your child spell the word and decide if it is spelled correctly. Check the spelling together.

- If the word is not spelled correctly, have your child look at the word, picture it again, then try to write it again.

- Avoid making these sessions frustrating or tedious for your child.

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All children do not require the same practice or instruction in phonics and spelling at the same time. Teachers observe individual's reading and writing efforts to see what instruction, practice and skills children need.

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Why is children's writing sometimes left uncorrected?

Through their early reading and writing experiences, children learn that writing involves more than making marks on a page. Writing has meaning or `says something' to them and to other people. They gradually come to know that readable handwriting, conventional spelling and the use of punctuation makes their writing easier for others to understand. Not every piece of children's writing will be polished, corrected or `perfect' by adult standards.

Writers who want to get their ideas down on paper may use temporary or invented spellings. These invented spellings inform teachers and parents what children know about the English language, phonics and spelling.

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- Writing abilities develop gradually.

In the early grades, children express their ideas in the best way they can. Children's writing efforts often represent their best work for their stage of development. Conventional spelling, legible handwriting and the skills of punctuation cannot all be learned at once.

- Focusing on too many corrections at once may discourage young writers.

When children are informed of every imperfection or error every time they write, they begin to think they cannot `do it right'. They become afraid to write. Many children learn to dislike writing.

- Personal writing and first drafts are not meant to be corrected or graded.

Children's journals should be accepted as expressions or explorations of personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. Ideas are more important than concerns with form and style.

Sometimes a piece of writing is a draft that will be rewritten and polished later. Children meet with classmates or with the teacher to discuss the drafts, their ideas and specific writing skills. Such classroom conferences provide children with support, feedback and instruction to help them develop and refine writing skills.

- Young writers need much encouragement and praise for what they can do and for what they know about writing.

Children are more willing to try to write and to develop writing skills if they are given positive feedback and assistance. They need many opportunities to write without fear of being marked or graded for their efforts.

Are printing and handwriting still taught?

Children first receive instruction in printing and later in handwriting. Once children are comfortable and fluent with printing, they are introduced to handwriting. Most children are ready to try handwriting between the ages of 7 and 9 years.

School systems determine the style of script or letter formation teachers will use. The models of printed and written letters displayed in classrooms should be the same within a school.

- Children develop printing and handwriting skills gradually.

They gain control of these communication 'tools' through:

observing teachers model printing and writing

viewing script models displayed in the classroom

daily opportunities to practice printing or writing for different purposes.

- Personal writing styles are very individual. Each child should develop an easy and legible style with consistent letter size and slant.

Printing and handwriting are both acceptable means of communicating. Children should not be urged to abandon one means or style in favour of another at any grade level. Some people use printing throughout their lives because it is faster and easier for them.

- Inaccuracies and imperfections are natural as children explore letter formations and writing styles.

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The New Curriculum

New approaches to teaching Language Arts are based on research, experience and what educators know about effective language learning. Saskatchewan's new curriculum incorporates this research, experience and knowledge. Terms used to describe the curriculum and teaching methods are explained below.

What is meant by holistic and integrated learning?

Teachers help children to understand that language is a way of communicating meaning and ideas.

Stories, sentences, spelling and vocabulary activities, reading experiences, writing tasks and classroom discussions relate to children's daily experiences and to the topics children are studying in other subjects.

The relationships among speaking, listening, reading and writing skills are emphasized. These are not treated as separate subjects.

Teaching and practice in skills such as spelling, phonics, handwriting and punctuation may occur during reading and writing experiences in all subjects.

How do children benefit from a child centred approach to instruction and learning?

The curriculum accommodates children from all language groups and cultures, including those children who are learning English as an additional language. Classroom experiences allow students to use and build upon their first language skills. All children are expected to gradually become more skilled and confident in the use of English.

Children develop language skills gradually. Children of the same age are probably at different stages of language growth just as they differ in physical growth. For example, two children of the same age who read or listen to the same story will likely interpret it differently. Their understandings are based on what they have heard or read before and on their life experiences.

Teachers plan activities and instruction according to children's needs, interests and experiences in other subjects. The activities and teaching suggestions listed in published programs or workbooks do not dictate classroom experiences.

Units of study include content and resources that are relevant to students' cultural and language backgrounds.

Teachers provide direct instruction to the class, to groups, or to individuals as needed.

Each child's progress and development is assessed and reported.

Strengths and weaknesses are discussed with individual children to develop their ability to recognize progress and accomplishments.

What materials are used?

Many resources are used in resource-based learning. No single textbook, series, or program is a complete Language Arts program.

Materials include children's stories from classic and modern literature, stories from many cultures, oral stories and legends, textbooks and print materials used in other subjects, books from school and community libraries, materials contributed to classrooms by students and parents, video tapes, slides and photographs, maps and charts, newspapers and magazines, resources made by teachers and students, and objects or artifacts related to study topics.

By reading and listening to a variety of literature, children see that people use language in many ways to communicate what is interesting and important to them.

What is a language experience approach to reading and writing?

In the elementary grades, children's language and ideas are often used as the `text' of reading and writing activities.

- As children discuss experiences or topics, their ideas and statements are printed on a chalk board/chart by a student or by the teacher.

- Children then read and reread their recorded language.

- The charted sentences can be used for future language activities such as handwriting, word sequencing, spelling, and phonics.

Children learn that what they say can be written down, what is written down can be read, reread and revised.

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Some people refer to the new curriculum as a `whole language' curriculum. The term `whole language' refers to an attitude and set of beliefs about how children develop language skills. These beliefs may require teachers to use many different methods or approaches in the classroom. Effective teaching matches classroom experiences and materials to the language and learning needs of students.

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Evaluation and Reporting

The Language Arts curriculum for Saskatchewan schools is based on the fundamental beliefs that all children need to:

- experience success in learning activities

- experience challenges that motivate them to continue to learn and develop new skills

- receive recognition and praise for their efforts and progress. Children's self-esteem and their ability to learn are enhanced by their sense of accomplishment and by positive feedback from others.

Language development is very complex. It includes many skills and abilities. When teachers evaluate children's language abilities, they consider many aspects. The most valuable evaluation and reporting methods highlight the changes or progress children have made.

Are tests used to evaluate children's language development and abilities?

There may be times when teacher-made tests are used. Tests can provide some information about what children have learned. Tests may help children and teacher to establish learning appropriate goals.

- Testing is only one way of assessing student progress.

Most teachers use a combination of methods to get a complete and accurate picture of what students can do and what they know. These methods include:

teacher observations and notes on children's language and learning activities

dated samples of student work

anecdotal records and checklists

reading and writing conferences with individuals and small groups

tapes of the children's oral reading

children's learning logs, records and personal evaluations of their efforts.

Why are schools changing reporting procedures and report cards?

Evaluation and reporting procedures should inform children and their parents about individual language strengths and weaknesses. New curriculum guidelines encourage the use of descriptive reports that summarize a child's achievement and performance in many areas.

- Single grades or marks do not provide a complete or accurate picture of a child's speaking, listening, reading and writing abilities.

- Teachers use many methods to report a child's progress.

Useful methods include:

checklists of skills and abilities

portfolios or collection of child's work

comments based on day-to-day observations of child's performance and interest

conferences with parent, or with parent and child

progress cards

a combination of the above.

Reporting systems used by schools should help you to answer the following questions:

What language skills and abilities is my child presently learning?

How is my child putting this learning into daily use?

What progress has my child made in the development of language skills?

Please remember that children learn at individual and varying rates. Some children show remarkable growth over a relatively short period of time while others take much longer to reach the same level. Every classroom has children at different stages of development and with varying abilities. If some areas of your child's progress are unclear, call or visit the teacher.

Will my child be ready for the next level of schooling?

The new English Language Arts Curriculum Guide for Kindergarten to Grade 5, Saskatchewan Education, 1992, outlines the language skills, attitudes and knowledge children should develop in elementary school. Through carefully planned activities and instruction, teachers provide opportunities for all students to develop these language skills to the best of their individual abilities. For most children, the learning experiences at the elementary level will prepare them to meet the challenges of Grade 6 and beyond.

However, children develop and progress at different rates. Children who do not achieve the early language skills, attitudes and knowledge, may experience difficulty at upper grade levels. These children may need specific assistance and activities to develop necessary skills and abilities. Parents, teachers and children should meet to consider appropriate placement and learning goals.

Table of Contents

Helping Your Child at Home - A Summary

In many Saskatchewan home environments, a language other than English is used daily. By speaking, reading and writing with children in their first language, parents and caregivers help children to develop important language skills and knowledge. Children later transfer these initial skills to the English language.

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Language growth and learning occur naturally in the home environment. From birth, children see and hear language being used by family members in different ways and for many purposes. Your encouragement and support is important to children as they enter the community of English language learners.

To nurture and support your child's emerging language abilities:

Discuss experiences and daily events with your child.

Encourage your child to explain ideas and ask questions.

Listen attentively when your child speaks to you.

Instill confidence and self-esteem, praise your child's strengths.

Share daily reading activities and writing tasks with your child such as shopping lists, newspapers, letters and the use of the telephone book.

Read to your child daily.

Provide access to a variety of printed materials including books, magazines and newspapers.

Support your child's curiosity about printed language. Provide crayons, pens, pencils and paper so your child can experiment with writing and reading.

Let your child choose books for you to read aloud.

Discuss the book and the pictures as you read together.

To support the continued development of your child's reading and writing abilities:

Continue to read to your child. Children of all ages need to hear a variety of literature.

Let your child observe family members reading for information and enjoyment.

Encourage your child to read to you and to others in the home.

When your child stops reading because the print is not making sense or because words are not familiar, encourage your child to use the following strategies:

- think about the topic and what she has just read

- reread the sentence up to the point of difficulty

- predict what the words might mean

- use pictures to try to make sense of the words

- read ahead and use the rest of the passage to figure out the difficult words

- look for familiar word parts and letter patterns in the unknown words

- try to sound out the words.

Provide time and encouragement for your child to read of her own.

Allow your child to explore areas of personal interest.

Involve your child in writing for real purposes, even before they can write independently. Encourage communication through drawing and print in the form of letters, cards and messages to family members.

Show an interest in what your child writes at home and in school writing activities.

Talk to your child about the thoughts and ideas that she expresses in writing.

Respond to your child's ideas, rather than any errors you see.

Be positive about your child's skills at each level of development. Praise effort and progress.

Collect and date your child's writing.

Display some of your child's writing efforts in the home.

To help develop your child's spelling abilities:

Encourage your child to read. Through reading, children increase their vocabulary as well as their knowledge of word meanings and spellings.

Be supportive of your child's spelling attempts. Every attempt shows some knowledge of phonics and letter patterns.

As a family, play word and memory games.

Continue to show an interest in new and unusual words you see in print.

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Most of the suggestions included here are valuable learning experiences for parents and children. Parents should maintain close contact with the classroom teacher. Teachers can provide specific suggestions for helping children's language development.

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Recommended Resources

Early Language Learning:

Creating Readers and Writers. Susan Mandel Glazer. International Reading Association. 1990.

Home: Where Reading and Writing Begin. May Hill. Scholastic TAB Publications. 1989.

Learning with Zachary. Lester L. Laminack. Scholastic TAB Publication. 1991.

Let Me Play. Elizabeth A. Munroe. Scholastic Canada Ltd. 1991.

Parents and Teachers: Partners in Learning. Jane Baskwill. Scholastic TAB Publication. 1989.

Reading Begins at Birth. David B. Doake. Scholastic TAB Publications. 1988.

Reading Begins at Home. Dorothy Butler and Marie Clay. Irwin Publishing. 1979.

(a Heinemann book)

Reading Matters and Talk Your Way to Reading. Brian Cutting. Ginn Publishing Canada. 1982. (two books from Shortland Publications, New Zealand)

Spel ... is a Four Letter Word. Richard Gentry. Scholastic TAB Publications. 1987.

Writing Begins at Home. Marie Clay. Irwin Publishing. 1987. (a Heinemann book)

Choosing Books With Children:

Comics to Classics: A Parent's Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens. Arthea -.S. Reed. International Reading Association. 1988.

Family Storybook Reading. Denny Taylor and Dorothy Strickland. Scholastic TAB Publications. 1986. (a Heinemann book)

The New Read Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease. Penguin Books. 1989.

Reading Together. Barbara Taylor and Dianne Monson. Gage/Scott Foresman. 1991.

Note Some of these books are available at bookstores. Others may be obtained through the school librarian.

Teachers and administrators have access to Saskatchewan Education Language Arts resources. They may also suggest other informative materials.

Table of Contents

Back to: Curriculum