The Development of Comprehension precedes the Ability to be able to Read with Comprehension

When a baby is born we are so delighted and welcome him / her into the world with love, care and the excitement to teach him / her all kinds of things. This happens mostly through touching and the words of our own language.

We love, talk, sing, nurture, praise and tell our babies all sorts of stories through the wonderful sounds of our very familiar voice that they know already from before birth. This is actually the beginning of the baby’s language skills and comprehension skills.

Day by day we as parents reinforce these very important skills through talking to our children in normal simplified, explanatory adult language, right from the start. When using baby language a different set of sounds and words are taught which must be converted later into proper adult language, which make it a double task for the child. Each language is rich in petting words and rhymes and it is fun to make up your own rhymes.

Comprehension is a developing process. The comprehension of words, concepts and expressions of a language is part of the developing process and is an important building block in obtaining the ability to speak and read with comprehension.

When a new learner has a solid background of the comprehension of words, concepts and expressions through rhymes, songs and stories, it is so much easier to learn letter sounds that form all different kinds of new sounds and words that sentences can be built with.

A rich, full understanding vocabulary gives every learner a head start when learning to read for the first time. The ability to read with comprehension and fluency is the foundation of learning.

 “When we read aloud to children, we fill the air and their ears with the sound of languageLaminack & Wadsworth (2006).

By reading stories aloud to children we:

  • increase listening and talking skills
  • promote vocabulary and comprehension
  • build background knowledge, (Adams et al., 1994:86), (Laminack et al., 2006), (Morrow et al.,1990:25:213-231), (Delacruz 2013:21-27), Fountas et al., 2006)
  • model structures of print,
  • model language use and the listener gains understanding for grammar (Trelease, 2001). Meyer et al., 1994:88:69-85) (Mikul. 2015).


Adams, M. J. 1994. Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge Mass: MT Press.

Delacruz, S. 2013. Using interactive read-alouds to increase K-2 students’ reading comprehension. Journal of Reading Education, 38(3):21-27.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. 2006. Teaching for comprehending and fluency: Thinking, talking, and writing about reading, K-8. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

Laminack, L. L., & Wadsworth, R. M. 2006. Learning under the influence of language and literature: Making the most of read-alouds across the day. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

Meyer, L. A., Stahl, S. A., & Wardrop, J. L. 1994. Effects of reading storybooks aloud to children. Journal of Educational Research, 88:69-85.

Mikul, L. L. 2015. How Do Interactive Read-Alouds Promote Engagement and Oral Language Development in Kindergarten. School of Education. Paper 116.

Morrow, L. M., & Smith, J. K. 1990. The effects of group size on interactive storybook reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 25:213-231.

Trelease, J. 2001. The read-aloud handbook. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.


The feasibility of autonomous learning programs for reading proficiency using digital storytelling.

Peter Rabbit

The feasibility of autonomous learning programs for reading proficiency using digital storytelling.

The value and power of storytelling is recognized across cultures and disciplines. There is evidence that preliterate cultures relied on storytelling to educate (McDonald, 1998).

Foelske (2014:1) made a strong and true introduction statement-paragraph in her thesis that says:

Storytelling has always been a central part of learning for children in all cultures and a key to educating people through generations. From the early cultures of Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek methodology, Aborigine rock art, and Native American elders oral traditions have been used to pass down history from one generation to the next (Roby, 2010). This storytelling history is a key tool in the teaching of literacy skills and other concepts, which are vital to being successful as an adult in society. Storytelling is a natural method of human communication and is prevalent in all aspects of human social interaction. People tend to make better sense of complex ideas, concepts, or information when it occurs via storytelling Foelske (2014:1).In this context, Sadik (2008) states storytelling can be used to enhance a student’s higher-order thinking and literacy skills. Using technology to enhance the storytelling in our classrooms is a key to learning today.

Porter (2005) stated that digital storytelling takes oral storytelling and engages a variety of technical tools to weave personal tales using images and graphics, along with music and sounds, together with the author’s own story voice to create a new engaging story. Through digital storytelling, oral proficiency and language development can be improved by using online self-study resources complementary to conventional classes (Kim, 2014:19).

This kind of Computer-Assisted Language Learning method is based on the constructivist theory of learning whereby learners are actively involved from birth in constructing their own personal meaning and understanding from their experiences (Kember, 1997; Williams & Burden (1997: 21). Each individual is motivated differently according to Williams & Burden (1997: 120):

People will make their own sense of the various external influences that surround them in ways that are personal to them, and they will act on their internal disposition and use their personal attributes in unique ways.

Therefore, what motivates one person by using online self-study resources will differ from individual to individual and it will differ from the level of achievement and proficiency each individual needs to reach in order to attain a previously set goal.

 Research evidence (Foelske, 2014:iii) showed that:

digital storytelling increases student motivation and engagement in student-centered projects. It has a positive effect on the improvement of literacy skills as well as students who normally struggle with writing a story. Students are more engaged when they are in control of reflecting, visualizing, and creating more meaningful digital stories to share with a large audience.

By using online technology, it allows the learner independence in learning and practicing opportunities of the new skills learnt (Kim, 2014:21). Research (Kim, 2014:21) revealed significant improvement in overall proficiency in terms of vocabulary, sentence complexity, and pronunciation.

Students already know and enjoy using technology and it is essential to provide in their need by incorporating technology to motivate them (Wawro, 2012). Motivated students take ownership of their learning, Robin (2008) states further that motivation is a critical ingredient for learning, therefore digital storytelling and similar technologies should be designed and conducted Foelske (2014:3).

In conclusion:

Students across the grade levels are engaged and motivated when they have the control of their learning which is extended beyond the four walls of a classroom (Sadik, 2008; Yang &Wu 2012). As teachers in a technological world, teaching digital natives, digital storytelling gives us the means to use technology to motivate and help those students who struggle with literacy while building 21st century literacy, thinking and technology skills Foelske (2014:27).


Foelske, M. 2014. Digital Storytelling: The impact on student engagement, motivation and academic learning. MA Thesis. University of Northern Iowa. 

Kember, D. 1997. A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics conceptions of teaching. Learning and Instruction, 7(3):255–275. 

Kim, S. H. 2014. Developing autonomous learning for oral proficiency using digital storytelling. Language Learning & Technology, 18(2):20-35. 

McDonald, M. R. 1998. Traditional Storytelling Today: An International Sourcebook. 

Porter, B. 2005. Digitales: The art of telling digital stories. Denver: Colorado, USA: Bernajean Porter Consulting. Retrieved from 

Robin, B. 2008. Digital storytelling: A powerful technology tool for the 21st century classroom. Theory Into Practice, 47:220-228. 

Roby, T. 2010. Opus in the classroom: Striking CoRDS with content-related digital storytelling. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 10(1):133-144. 

Sadik, A. 2008. Digital Storytelling: A meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning. Educational Technology Research and Development56(4):487-506.

Wawro, L. 2012. Digital storytelling. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1):50. 

Williams, M., Burden, R. L. 1997. An introduction to educational psychology: behaviourism and cognitive psychology. In: M. Williams & R. L. Burden (Eds). Psychology for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press. 21. 

Williams, M., Burden, R. L. 1997. What makes a person want to learn? Motivation in language learning. In: M. Williams & R. L. Burden (Eds). Psychology for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press. 120. 

Yang, Y. C. & Wu, W. I. 2012. Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking and learning motivation: A yearlong experimental study. Computers in Education. Retrieved from

Classroom Review: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Hi Mr Ronell Whitaker, it is really wonderful to write an article according to research and on what I believe and then read your awesome blog to see what you are already doing, you are doing great work!


Susan Marais from Reading Savvy

The Comic Book Teacher


Graphic novels. Sequential literature. Graphic narratives (which sound a little unsavory).  There seems to be a struggle for legitimacy whenever we talk about comics as literature, and I can understand why. As a teacher who uses comics in the classroom, I still wait for the resistance whenever I inform parents that their child will be reading…Spider-Man in my class. And when that resistance rears its head, I have to give the speech about how comics are great for teaching multiple literacies, and they aren’t just for kids anymore (which probably hasn’t been the case since the 60’s), and they truly are well written works of literature. I don’t know if parents are convinced by my arguments so much as they are won over by my enthusiasm and conviction. In most of their minds, comics are still just kids stuff.

Before reading Jeff Lemire’Essex County, I was content with…

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The advantages and potential of comics and graphic novels to promote reading development.

Popeye Tintin

The advantages and potential of comics and graphic novels to promote reading development.

According to Josué Llull (2014:41)a comic can be described as a graphic story that integrates both iconic and literary codes in a narrative or chronological sequence through the combination of pictures, texts and signs. 

Comics are usually thin paper booklets bound with staples. There are four different types of materials under the heading of comics, namely: cartoons, comic strips, comic books and graphic novels (Baker, 2011:12). 

The English-speaking tradition mainly focuses on the idea of the graphic novel which is a sequence of consecutive images to recount a story.(Lull, 2014:40-61). 

A graphic novel:

  • is a paperback or hardcover book consisting of work in comic-book form (Raiteri, 2002:148)
  • includes book-length stories,
  • collections of stories and
  • works of fiction or non-fiction
  • and is written for all different age groups (Snowball, 2007:1). 

With their bright colors and familiar characters, comics are more appealing than traditional text. The comic represents something different and exciting without sacrificing plot, vocabulary, and other important components of reading comprehension. 

Comics could be an educational aid to:

  • students who may be intimidated by the amount of text found in traditional books
  • students who may be quite capable of reading each word but are unable to comprehend the themes, plots, or characterization in the story (Baker, 2011:12-23)
  • foster more effective student engagement in the teaching-learning process because comics have an almost magnetic attraction (Lull, 2014:40-61)
  • students because of the interrelation of appealing pictures, short texts and point-blank signs which makes comics entertaining and easy to read (Lull, 2014:40-61). 

Comics could increase:

  • imagination,
  • emotional intelligence,
  • empathy
  • critical thinking. 

Comics are used:

  • to develop reading skills
  • to prevent students’ fear of books
  • and to introduce them to the field of serious literature.
  • for narrative and descriptive techniques,
  • dialogue sequences,
  • vocabulary
  • and idioms teaching (Lull, 2014:40-61). 

Gene Yang (2006) summarized the strengths of comics as an educational tool by highlighting five characteristics: 

  • Motivating: The most positive benefit of comics is their capacity to stimulate students for many subjects. As has been proved by many researchers, the students can learn in an easier, more fun and interesting way when using comics.
  • Visual: Being a pictorial medium, comics have an advantage over other teaching materials because the content is more easily achieved when illustrated. Putting a human face on a given topic provides an emotional connection between that one and the students. Besides, visual learning is on the trend towards teaching to multiple intelligences as accepted by educators today.
  • Permanent: This feature concerns the idea of how in comics, the language and visuals remain static, whereas they are fleeting in films and animation. With comic books, the passage of time and assimilation of information progress as fast as the reader moves his eyes across the page. This visual permanence can be especially useful for reinforcement.
  • Intermediary: Yang says that comics can serve as an intermediate step to difficult contents, principally for students who do not enjoy reading. Working on comics may be the starting point to reach posterior critical thinking tasks or also to deal with higher topics.
  •  Popular: As comics are a prominent expression of contemporary culture, it is a good idea to incorporate them into a syllabus.


Baker, A. 2011. Using comics to improve literacy in English language learners. MA Thesis. Missouri: University of Central Missouri. 

Llull, J. 2014. Comics and CLIL: Producing quality output in social sciences with Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin. Latin American Journal of Content and Language Integrated Learning(2):40–65. 

Raiteri, S. 2002. Graphic novels. Library Journal, 127 (14):148. 

Snowball, C. 2007. Researching Graphic Novels and Their Teenage Readers. LIBRES Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 17 (1):1. 

Yang, G. (2006). Comics in education. Retrieved from


Development of Vocabulary

Toddlers learn-to-read phase

In a study by Roskos and Burstein (2011:268), it showed that the development of vocabulary during preschool teaching should happen on a casual basis, but by a specific teaching technique. 

Vocabulary is the basis of language and literacy (Roskos & Burstein, 2011:269). The formation of vocabulary from birth is an ongoing process, because humans are constantly learning new words and using the new words in the correct context (Jalongo & Sobolak, 2011:421). It is therefore necessary for the child to be part of extensive discussions through listening and to be actively involved. Parents, teachers, family members, friends and caregivers should always converse with the child / learner by using correct and pure vocabulary. 

New words for example can be pointed out, repeated and used in the right context with different examples. So during any routine activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, story time or a car ride, the opportunity can be used to develop vocabulary and to explain the meaning of the new words. Newly formed vocabulary gives the learner confidence (Roskos & Burstein, 2011:269). 

Reading of storybooks to the child / learner by an adult, is an indispensable requirement for the formation of vocabulary. Imaginative play, when dramatizing a situation, is rich in vocabulary and provides the opportunity to create new words (Roskos & Burstein, 2011:270). 

Storybooks make the child / learner familiar with the language and by reading storybooks it teaches the child / learner vocabulary at a higher level than the everyday informal communication. The child’s / learner’s vocabulary thereby improves and this serves as a preparation for reading (Verhallen & Bus, 2010:54). 


Jalongo, M. R. & Sobolak, M. J. 2011. Supporting young children’s vocabulary growth: The challenges, the benefits, and evidence-based strategies. Early Childhood Education Journal, 38:421-429. 

Roskos, K. & Burstein, K. 2011. Assessment of the design efficacy of a preschool vocabulary instruction technique. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25 (3):268-287. 

Verhallen, M. & Bus, A. 2010. Low-income immigrant pupils learning vocabulary through digital picture storybooks. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102 (1):54-61. 

Early Reading Comprehension

Reading to

Essential preschool foundation skills for early reading comprehension entails that the child / learner:

  • draw conclusions regarding the events in a story that suggests that the child / learner understand the events,
  • further devise and apply the events in a story in his / her own experiences,
  • are guided to make inferences about the story through literal and inferential questions posed by the reader (Van Kleeck 2008: 627-664). 

To draw conclusions in a story is the core of reading comprehension. It is proved that if a learner experiences problems with inferencing, he will have problems with reading comprehension (Cain & Oakhill, 1999:698).



Cain, K. & Oakhill, J. 1999. Inference making and its relation to comprehension failure. Reading and Writing, 11:489-698.

Van Kleeck, A. 2008. Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: The importance of and ideas for targetting Inferencing in storybook-sharing Interventions. Psychology in the Schools, 45 (7):627-664.

The Reading and Writing development process


During Early Literacy Development the child / learner develop introductory or preceding skills in written language awareness such as:

  • writing concepts,
  • word concepts and
  • alphabetic knowledge (Justice & Ezell, 2004:186).

These skills are mainly acquired during the reading of storybooks.

With increasing attention to letters the child / learner experience the following milestones of the functions of letters:

  • the use of letters arranged in different ways,
  • the different shapes of letters,
  • combinations of letters that form words and
  • decoding of words.

Reading is divided into two parts:

  • decoding and
  • comprehension.

Decoding refers to:

  • the look and sound of the letter,
  • how the letter is written and
  • how it is combined with other letters and recognized.

Comprehension relies on:

  • verbal and
  • visual language comprehension (Gough en Tunmer 1986:7).



Gough, P. B. & Tunmer, W. E. 1986. Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7:6-10.

Justice, L. M. & Ezell, H. K. 2004. Print referencing: An emergent literacy enhancement strategy and its clinical applications. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 35:185-193.

The Value of Child literature


Cognitive development

Child literature contributes to the child’s maturity in totality. Through child literature the child is cognitively guided in his/her language development through new words and the meaning thereof which is learned in a fun and spontaneous way. Creative use of language is introduced through rhymes, nursery verses, quibble (wordplay), descriptions, etc. Oral language is promoted when the child learns to listen and then verbally participate (Van der Merwe, 1992:6-7). 

Child literature promotes forming of new concepts and reinforces or channels old concepts.

The child will develop cognitively through the realization of methods of learning, such as awareness, attention, observation, fantasy and memory.

Awareness initiates learning because the child always gives meaning to all the facets of his existence to the extent that he experiences it favorable or unfavorable. Therefore, enjoyable experiences with literature contribute to stabilize awareness (Meller, Richardson & Hatch, 2009:76; McVicker, 2007:19; Van der Merwe, 1992:6-7).

To be able to pay attention is a prerequisite for effective learning (Quintero, 2004:60-61; Van der Merwe, 1992:7, 14-16). The parent / teacher should choose stories that fit the child’s developmental stage. The preschooler experiences different stages of development in terms of stories. To maintain the preschooler’s concentration the choice of stories should comply with the following aspects:

3 to 4 years

3- to 4-year-old 

  • The 3- to 4-year-old is egocentric and interested in books in which he can identify with the main character because he is very aware of himself as a person at this stage.
  • He cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy and is not able to think abstractly yet.
  • The 3- to 4-year-old has a great yearning for love and security and the stories should have a straightforward, predictable and satisfactory progress and conclusion.
  • This age child is able to understand a simple plot and he must be able to understand the motives of the characters because he could have had similar experiences already.
  • The 3- to 4-year-old’s attention span is short and he is very active, so the stories should be short.
  • Toddlers also like repetition, because then they can retell the story themselves.
  • The illustrations should be realistic and simple. 

4 to 5 years

4- to 5-year-old

  • The 4- to 5-year-old is still egocentric, but is starting to reach out to the world around him.
  • He shows great interest in the sound of words and stories in verse especially if humorous by nature, because he wants to express his feelings.
  • He cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy, and although the 4- to 5-year-old is still very active, they can concentrate for longer periods of time.
  • The 4- to 5-year-old wants to start making his own story choices. 

5 to 6 years

5- to 6-year-old 

  • The 5- to 6-year-old is much less egocentric, his interests are spreading and he gets more realistically orientated by separating reality and fantasy.
  • The 5- to 6-year-old ‘s concentration is improving,
  • he wants to do role playing,
  • he wants to expand his knowledge,
  • he likes humorous stories,
  • he is separating the good and evil characters and
  • he is interested in different types of illustrations (Quintero, 2004:60-61; Van der Merwe, 1992:7, 16-19). 

Observation as the next method of learning is inseparable from language as the medium through which observation emerges (McVicker, 2007:19; Van der Merwe, 1992:7).

Fantasy forms part of the child’s experience. Lack of fantasy in infancy may lead to a lack of being realistically orientated (Tsitsani, Psyllidou, Batzios, Livas, Ouranos & Cassimos, 2010:266; Van der Merwe, 1992:7).

Memorizing enlivens the child’s experience, but is also the act by which new learning content is integrated and expanded. Literature for young children serves as a medium for imaginative discovery. The child is led to problem solving by the different characters in a story and soon realizes that there are different solutions to everyday problems (McVicker, 2007:19; Van der Merwe, 1992:7-8).


McVicker, C. J. 2007. Young readers respond: The importance of child participation in emerging literacy. YC Young Children, 62 (3):19. 

Meller, W. B., Richardson, D., & Hatch, J. A. 2009. Using read-alouds with critical literacy literature in K-3 classrooms. YC Young Children, 64 (6):76. 

Quintero, E. P. 2004. Will I lose a tooth? Will I learn to read? Problem posing with multicultural children’s literature. YC Young Children, 59 (3):56-62. 

Tsitsani, P., Psyllidou, S., Batzios, S. P., Livas, S., Ouranos, M. & Cassimos, D. 2010. Fairy tales: A compass for children’s healthy development – A qualitative study in a Greek Island. Child: care, health and development, 38 (2):266. 

Van der Merwe, M. 1993. Kleuterpraktyk 2: Musiek. Klasnotas (Waarde van Musiek in die Pre-primêre skool). Pretoria: Onderwyskollege van Suid-Afrika.


Child Literature

Books as presents

Child literature is all printed materials aimed at the preschool child like stories, nursery rhymes, songs, comics and illustrations (Van der Merwe, 1992:1). Child literature supports the parent, teacher and caregiver in the transfer of knowledge to the child. 

According to Bornstein and Putnick (2012:46), the parent, guardian and teacher are able to teach and help the child socialize and adapt through stories according to their age level in the various life roles that the child encounters when he grows up.

The Value of Child Literature

Stories depict different types of events and provide explanations in an informal way within the context of a story through which the child can make it applicable on his own field of experience.

Children like to listen to stories. Cognitively the child is stimulated by the development of language skills and the repeated use of vocabulary during storytelling. During game play and general communication with adults or his peers the child will often use these newly acquired words (Caravette, 2011:52-53; McVicker, 2007:19; Van der Merwe, 1992:6). Creative use of language is further introduced to the toddler through nursery rhymes, quibble and descriptions. 

The child will cognitively develop through the realization of methods of learning, such as awareness, attention, observation, fantasy and memory. These aspects will be discussed in the next short article, “The Value of Child Literature”. 


Bornstein, M. H. & Putnick, D. L. 2012. Cognitive and socio-emotional caregiving in developing countries. Child Development, 83 (1):46–61. 

Caravette, L. 2011. Portrait of the reader as a young child. Assisting the new reader. The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 9 (2):52-57. 

McVicker, C. J. 2007. Young readers respond: The importance of child participation in emerging literacy. YC Young Children, 62 (3):19. 

Van der Merwe, M. 1992. Kleuterliteratuur: Doelstellings. Klasnotas (Wording van die kleuter). Pretoria: Teacher’s College of South Africa. 

(b) What specific skills form the foundation of children’s reading ability and reading comprehension and thus the basis for Early Literacy?

I can read

The foundation skills of emergent literacy consisting of phonological processing, print awareness and oral language skills have an influence on the learn-to-read process (Neuman & Dickinson 2003:12; Greaney & Arrow, 2012:11; Lonigan et al., 2000:596). Learners that learn to read by means of the foundation skills of emergent literacy are, according to the latter researchers, learners who learn to read earlier and better than learners who are not exposed to these foundation skills.

2.  Print Awareness

The second foundation skill of emergent literacy is print awareness which consists of writing principles and emerging writing. Writing principles are the knowledge of the letters of the alphabet and is considered as one of the predictors of reading success (Neuman & Dickinson, 2003:16; Lonigan et al., 2000:597). Emerging writing is the made up writing by the toddler, the writing of the preschool child and is another form of writing awareness. Emerging writing is a developmental process of drawing shapes and scribbling that represent letters. Pretending to write is the first writing efforts and the learning process of where the writing process begins (Neuman & Dickinson, 2003:17-18). 

A beginner reader who cannot recognize and distinguish the letters of the alphabet, will struggle to learn the sound that the letter represents (Neuman & Dickinson, 2003:16).

3. Oral Language Skills 

Developing links between the oral language proficiency of the child, the third foundation skill of emergent literacy, were often ignored in the past. 

Vocabulary is part of oral language proficiency and is enriched and expanded by what the child hears and repeats. Storytelling and explanatory illustrations of stories enrich vocabulary, develop word order and sentence structure and the child realizes that spoken words can be written. 

The foundation skills of emergent literacy consisting of phonological processing, print awareness and oral language skills as discussed are mostly conveyed by the use of stories, rhymes, verses and songs. 


Greaney, K. & Arrow, A. 2012. Phonological-based assessment and teaching within a first year reading program in New Zealand. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35 (1):9-32. 

Lonigan, C. J., Burgess, S. R. & Anthony, J. L. 2000. Development of emergent literacy and early reading skills in preschool children: Evidence from a latent-variable longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 36:596-613. 

Neuman, S. B. & Dickinson, D. K. 2003. Emergent literacy: Development from prereaders to readers. In: G. J. Whitehurst., C. J. Lonigan (reds.). Handbook of Early Literacy Research. New York: The Guilford Press. 12-22.