Teaching Kindergarten next? Don’t Panic!

There are quite a few people who have found out over the last couple of weeks that they will be teaching a group of 5 year olds next year.  This grade is called various things depending on where you live: kindergarten, prep, pre-primary or transition. Regardless of where you teach you will be engaged in some of the most important work a teacher can do. Namely, building solid foundations for literacy and numeracy that will set children up for success for their whole school lives – or not.  

It is easy to imagine that teaching this foundation grade is all about being like Arnold Schwazenegger in Kindergarten Cop, entertaining children with ferrets, reading stories and practicing fire drills.  If you do a search on websites like Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers and Teach Starter you might be similiarly disillusioned.  

A quick search in Pinterest for “kindergarten reading” gives you something like this

Even reviewing the Australian Curriculum doesn’t help.

There are things here that make me want to throw my computer.  “Recognise and name all upper and lower case letters (graphemes) and know the most common sound that each letter presents” suggests that letter names are the first things that children should learn. “Write CVC words by representing some sounds with the appropriate letters…” Some?  What does that even mean?   Even if every one of these points were spot on, there is no indication here about HOW to help children learn the knowledge and skills they need to be successful moving into year 1. 

So, now that I’ve made you feel that there is no hope of ever teaching foundation level reading effectively, let me share my thoughts on what you should be aiming for in setting kids up for success.

Firstly, teaching 5 year olds is about achieving a range and balance of approaches and types of experiences.  The balanced literacy crew have given the word ‘balance’ a bad name, but it really is an important point.  Some schools in Queensland and the Northern Territory use an approach called Age Appropriate Pedagogies to frame the learning experiences for younger children.  It is made up of 11 characteristics and 6 approaches (plus blended) to teach children in the first year of school.  As a teaching principal in a small school I made the decision that we would adopt this framework across our school and it was wonderful.  It isn’t necessary to use only one approach to teaching, but to know when to do what and why you are doing it in relation to the age group you are teaching.  You can find out more about this here.

Secondly, when talking about literacy there are several areas that need to be covered each and every day to ensure rigour in your literacy teaching. Remember, that rigour doesn’t always mean bottoms on seats, sitting in rows, although sometimes it does! It means targeted, intentional and explicit teaching to help children achieve particular skills and acquire particular knowledge.

To get straight in your head what you need to teach, think about the big 6 of reading instruction.

1. Oral Language

All literacy floats on a sea of talk (yep, I have borrowed that line from James Britton).   Early childhood classroom should be rich in language and opportunities to talk.

Looks Like
Teachers plan for student opportunities for talk as well as listen. This is visible in teacher planning.
Students know the engagement norms for classroom discussion and follow them with minimal prompting (sitting knee to knee with a partner, conversation turn taking).
Teaching uses a gradual release of responsibility model (I do, We do, You do) to frame oral language development.
Students have opportunity for meaningful talk in play based and hands on experiences such as dramatic play and conducting interviews.
Rich texts are used as the model for intentional teaching of language structures
Language development is a focus across all areas of the curriculum
Hands on activities are provided for students to retell familiar stories (puppets, cutouts etc)
Class discussions happen where children talk about settings and characters in stories.

2) Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

Looks Like
Teachers assess and monitor student progress in phonological and phonemic awareness.
Explicit phonological awareness lessons occur daily
Incidental opportunities for learning are embraced such as during transitions between activities. (song, rhymes and chants)

3) Phonics

Looks Like
Phonics is taught according to a predetermined sequence
Phoneme/grapheme correspondence is taught explicitly in teacher lead lessons daily.
Phonics knowledge is assessed and monitored regularly
All 44 phonemes are taught explicitly beginning with the ‘single sounds’ then common digraphs (ch, th, sh, qu, ng) before moving onto most common representations of the remaining phonemes.
Decoding and encoding are taught every day
Opportunities for review and revision of previously learned material is provided in teacher lead activities
Black line masters are not a feature of this teaching
Reading materials are limited to those that contain only graphemes and high frequency words that children already know (Decodable texts only for beginning readers).
Letter names are not explicitly taught. Instead, there is a focus on learning ‘sounds’ first.

4) Vocabulary

Looks Like
Vocabulary development is planned and in evidence in teacher planning
Quality texts are chosen to be the stimulus for vocabulary development
Children are given the opportunity to use their newly learned vocabulary orally and in writing when the students are able.
There is a focus on vocabulary building across the curriculum
Children are given the opportunity to use drama, art and oral explanation to explore vocabulary.

5) Fluency

Looks Like
Children are taught to sound out words as the primary method of decoding (no three cueing)
There are multiple opportunities to practice decoding
Phoneme/grapheme correspondence is built to automaticity
Word level fluency is attained to mastery before moving onto sentence level reading
Daily practice opportunities are provided for all students
The program does NOT include ‘sight word’ practice where children are given flashcards to learn words as global shapes
Teachers unpack irregular high frequency words as needed for reading.

6) Comprehension

Looks Like
There are active efforts to build children’s schema (background knowledge)
Teachers support children’s development in comprehension strategies such as making connections between texts and personal experiences.
Different levels of questioning (such as Blanks levels of questioning) are used to ensure that questions move beyond surface level.
As above, vocabulary is taught explicitly.
Students are read to from quality texts several times each day.

Not in the big 6, but also important:

Text Knowledge

Looks Like
Teaching includes the intentional use of both fiction and non-fiction texts
Students are taught that fiction and non-fiction texts are used for different purposes and have different features
Children know the different parts of texts – front cover, back cover, spine, title page, title
Children know that authors write the words of books and illustrators draw the pictures.

Of course, reading is not the only skill taught in the first year of school.  Writing must also be developed.


Looks Like
Handwriting is explicitly taught in teacher lead lessons every day.
Phonics lessons teach encoding and decoding together
Children are able to develop oral proficiency in productive language before being asked to write.
Children are not expected to write texts until they have the ability to transcribe at word and then sentence level.
As children are developing transcription skills, they are able to record their thoughts with pictures and describe them to adults around them.
Children are not asked to copy environmental print in place of segmenting words to record their ideas.
Explicit teaching in punctuation occurs (capital letters and full-stops)

This list is not exhaustive, however it does give you an indication of what kinds of things you need to include in your teaching program in order to provide a comprehensive and rigorous program for students in their first year of school.

If you would like some support to structure your lessons in vocabulary, oral language, fluency and early text knowledge I am running a Teach Along in Term 1, 2020. You can find out more about that here.

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1 thought on “Teaching Kindergarten next? Don’t Panic!”

  1. This is such fantastic information. Thank you for sharing. I am teaching Prep for the first time this year and am feeling the weight of responsibility. Is there an oral language resource book you would recommend?

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