The Importance of Print Concepts

Part 7 of the Science of Reading Simplified Series

In part seven of the Science of Reading Simplified Series, we discuss how developing an understanding of print concepts is a critical foundational skill for reading success and why it should be present in any effective reading curriculum.

Savvas Insights Team

What are print concepts?

What Are Print Concepts and Why Are They Important in Reading Instruction?


Most children have an awareness of print well before they enter school. They see words all around them in books, on road signs, on restaurant menus — words are everywhere. They know that words, and the letters within them, hold special meanings.

Learn how understanding print concepts is a critical foundational skill for reading success.This awareness of print and the understanding of print concepts — ideas such as the way words are read on a page, for example from left to right and top to bottom — are critical skills in learning to read successfully. In fact, research shows that children who lack an awareness of print concepts are unlikely to become successful readers, and that a child’s performance on print awareness tasks is a predictor of their future reading achievement.

Children learning about print concepts in a classroom.

What Are Print Concepts?

Print concepts are the rules readers follow in order to be able to read successfully. Building an awareness of these concepts, such as how to hold a book, books have front and back covers, pages are turned from left to right, and that letters make up words is crucial to learning to read. Here are more examples:

  • Understanding that books have a title, an author, and often an illustrator
  • Recognizing that there are spaces between words
  • Differentiating between: numbers and letters; letters and words; words and pictures
  • Learning the purpose of punctuation
  • Knowing the order of the alphabet
  • Identifying uppercase letters and lowercase letters

Understanding print concepts is one of the key building blocks of reading success, but it’s important to remember that they need to be taught explicitly and systematically, and be sure they are part of your early reading curriculum.

This simple but mighty skill will make the foundation for early reading stronger for students.

Put Print Concepts Into Practice!

Now that we’ve learned that print concepts form a critical foundational skill for successful reading, let’s take a look at methods to consider when teaching print concepts in the classroom, sharing strategies with families, and when making decisions about teaching resources that will best support this area of instruction.

  • For Teachers

    What Does Print Concepts Instruction Look Like in the Classroom?

    Understanding the concepts of print doesn’t come naturally, which is why it’s important that these ideas are worked into early reading instruction strategically and systematically. Here are two examples of teaching print concepts adapted from Savvas Essentials: Foundational Reading. These examples also show how the understanding of one print concept will lead to the understanding of the next, highlighting the importance of systematic instruction.

    Concept: Understand that there are both uppercase and lowercase letters.

    • Teach: Read a book aloud to the students and display the pictures. Then return to the cover and point to the uppercase letters in the title. Explain that the alphabet has letters and each letter has two forms. Point to an uppercase letter in the title and explicitly state, This is an uppercase letter. Then point to a lowercase letter in the title and tell them it is a lowercase. Tell the students that they have the same name and stand for the same sounds, but they are different sizes and different shapes.
    • Model: Open to a page in the book. Display and read a sentence, for example, “That’s so cool!” Point to the first letter of the sentence, T. Tell them that this letter is uppercase T. Point to lowercase t in the word, That’s and tell them that this letter is lowercase t, and that these letters are the same height, but they have different shapes. Uppercase letters are always tall letters. Some lowercase letters are tall too.

    Concept: Understand that names have uppercase and lowercase letters.

    • Teach: Write each child’s name on an index card. Hold up one of the name cards. This word is a name. It is made up of letters. Say, This name says Elijah. It begins with an uppercase E. It ends with lowercase h. Show another name card. Ask children if they recognize their name and have them point out uppercase and lowercase letters that they know. Continue with a few other name cards.
    • Model: Show another name card. Say, for example: This name is Aleah. Point and say: It begins with uppercase A. It also has lowercase a. The letters spell the name Aleah: A-L-E-A-H. Continue with other name cards for first and last names. Prompt children as needed to ensure they can recognize and read their own name.

    In order to understand that their name has uppercase and lowercase letters, they first needed to be taught that every letter has two sizes. While this is a simple concept, this systematic way of teaching can be applied to all levels of reading instruction and is critical to ensuring a student’s reading success.

  • For Sharing with Families

    Print Concepts Activities to Share with Families

    When a student reads at home with families, it further instills a love of reading and greatly increases their chance at becoming proficient readers. While simply reading and enjoying books together is extremely beneficial, giving families activities that hone their child’s skills can give them that extra boost in reading development, and it can be a lot of fun!

    The following are a few print concepts activities from Savvas Essentials: Foundational Reading you can send home with your students. Explain to families that by helping their child understand that print has meaning will help build a strong foundation for their reading journey and that these activities will help strengthen that foundation.

    • When reading a book together, follow the words with your finger as you read.
    • While driving in the car, point out any words you see on road signs, billboards, or storefronts. Explain what they mean.
    • When reading a book together, let your child "drive." Allow him or her to hold the book and turn pages as you read.
    • Write and use a grocery list when shopping. Allow your child to help cross out items as you find them.

    Remind families that they play an important role in their child's education and every day, he or she is learning new skills and applying them to everyday life, and that application extends beyond the classroom.

  • For Administrators

    Research shows that teaching students print concepts as part of their early reading instruction will have positive long-term effects on their overall literacy achievement. When searching a new early reading curriculum, or while reviewing the one being used currently, it’s important to make sure it includes the elements that will help students be most successful in reading. Here’s what to look for:

    • Units or lessons within reading curriculums should include instruction on print concepts or awareness of print, even if it’s in the form of a minilesson.
    • Lessons should be taught explicitly, i.e., concepts such as “all letters have two sizes, uppercase and lowercase” are clearly stated in the lessons to the students by the teacher.
    • Concepts are taught in a systematic way. Each one should be taught from less complex to more complex, building on each other throughout the school year.

    If you’re using a core reading program that does not include these elements, research ways to supplement it with programs that do.


About The Author

Sharon Vaughn, Ph.D.

Dr. Vaughn is the Manuel J. Justiz Endowed Chair in Education and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several research initiatives (Institute for Education Sciences, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and U.S. Department of Education) investigating effective interventions for students with reading difficulties and students who are English language learners.