Emergent Literacy: Definition, Theories & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 What is Literacy?
  • 0:46 Characteristics
  • 2:12 Theories
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Literacy actually begins at a much earlier age than most expect. This video lesson describes a child's beginnings in the world of reading, which is called emergent literacy.

What is Literacy?

There are many skills that are necessary to function in today's world. One such key skill in our society is literacy, which can be thought of as the ability to read and write. Think about it; how far could you get in life without being able to read? You would not even be able to find correct street signs as you walk down the street!

Emergent literacy is the idea that learning literacy actually begins at a very early age, long before official lessons in school. This term is used to describe the knowledge a child has of reading and writing before reaching the age where those skills are taught. Emergent literacy argues that right after birth, children are already in the process of becoming literate.


The key factors that support emergent literacy include how some children come into their school years already familiar with the reading and writing process. These children do not know how to combine letters to make words, but they do know some important things about literacy. For example, most children learn from the modeling of parents reading to them at bedtime. Usually, children easily notice their mom or dad read their bedtime stories from left to right. Later on, when learning to read in school, the child already knows to start at the left of the page.

Secondly, emergent literacy involves learning basic phonemic awareness. Phonemes are units of sound. For instance, 'fr' is a phoneme. It is the first unit of sound in words like 'friend', 'frame', and 'freeze'.

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