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The three Ls: language, literacy and learning

I was looking through the Read On Get On campaign materials recently and realised this could be a timely reminder of the importance of sharing books and stories with young children. We know that good language and communication are vital for children as stepping stones to develop literacy skills.

We know that children need to:

  • Get lots of practice to develop their vocabulary – this helps children to both understand and use new words
  • In turn, this helps them to understand what is being written about
  • Know how words work - e.g. that words rhyme by changing just part of a word
  • Know about rhythm which helps them to recognise that longer words are made up of units (syllables)
  • Be able to follow and share stories - whether it's about their own day or imaginary worlds inspired by play!

As adults our role is key in supporting children to develop these skills and sharing this information with parents. With this in mind, here are the top tips from the Read On Get On campaign; it's worth reflecting on how you build these into your practice and how you share them with parents.

Sharing books with children can also help to develop their language skills, this is just as important!

How can we use books to help children's language skills?

There are lots of ways that books can be used to develop children's talking and understanding as well as using speech sounds.

Some questions to think about to help make the most of sharing books:

  • Do you use 'fun' words like 'wheeee' and 'boom' to help bring the story to life?
  • Do you make animal noises like ‘baa’ and ‘moo’ so that children can join in and copy you?
  • Do you use props or real objects to accompany a story and help make the pictures more real to children?
  • Do you watch how children react to a book and see which bits interest them? For example, are they trying to say some words or pointing to pictures?
  • Do you let children take the lead and give them time to explore the book at their own pace? Sometimes children may want to spend time talking about a picture or event
  • How do you respond when children are looking at a familiar book? Try missing out the end of a sentence and pausing when the sentence is familiar and/or repetitive e.g. that's not my...(lion) or 'just like…(daddy). Children may then take the opportunity to fill in the word 
  • How do you respond to what children are saying and/or pointing at? Try to avoid too many testing questions such as 'what's that', 'where's the dog' and so on.

Find out more from I CAN's free factsheet on sharing books to support language. This gives information about the stages of early literacy skills and tips for supporting children who would rather be doing anything apart from looking at books.

You can find out more about helping children to develop the foundation language skills needed for reading from the Talking Point website and I CAN websites. You can find out more about ‘Read On, Get On’ including top tips and opportunities to volunteer from their website.

We know that language and literacy are fundamental skills that improve young people's outcomes. If we can support children through stories and sharing books, right from the start, we will give them every possible chance to reach their full potential. 

About the author

Jon Gilmartin is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, he delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. He also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. You can contact Jon directly on I CAN’s Enquiry Service by calling 0207 843 2544 or sending an email to 

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