How reading begins: A study of preschoolers' print identification strategies

David L. Share, Talya Gur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This investigation examined the strategies employed by preschool children when identifying noncommercial print appearing in their kindergartens (names on personal lockers). In contrast to previous research that has relied heavily on commercial materials, such as labels and logos, and has not revealed strong links between environmental print identification and conventional word identification, we found that most 5-year-olds, but not 4-year-olds, were attending to print rather than to contextual cues. We also observed a wide variety of reading strategies in this sample. The existence of Ehn's (Ehri & Sweet, 1991; Ehri & Wilce, 1987) phonetic-cue reading was confirmed as a naturally occurring phenomenon as well as a hitherto unknown strategy we labeled visuographic reading. Clear-cut support was obtained for a developmental distinction between prephonetic and phonetic strategies, and weaker support was obtained for a finer 4-way differentiation among contextual dependency, visuographic, phonetic-cue, and alphabetic reading. We also undertook an experimental training study designed to elucidate the causal factors underlying developmental progress in word identification. Children trained in specific alphabetic skills (phonological awareness and letter knowledge) made significantly more progress in reading strategy than matched children trained in print awareness. Collectively, these results point to a causal role for alphabetic and phonological skills in the development of preschool word identification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-213
Number of pages37
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • General Psychology


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