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Educators today are constantly seeking evidence-based activities that enhance student learning. But what distinguishes these activities, and how can they be effectively implemented in the classroom?

This article addresses these inquiries by elucidating the core practices that form the foundation of evidence-based literacy activities. It then explores their practical application in educational settings. 

Delving into three fundamental reading skill sets, it introduces and delineates evidence-based early literacy activities tailored to each skill. 

Whether you’re a seasoned educator or embarking on your teaching journey, this article advocates for the efficacy of evidence-based early literacy activities, whether through play-based learning or just explicit instruction in the classroom.


Evidence-based Early Literacy Activities. What Practices Are Used to Do them? 

Evidence-based Early Literacy Activities. What Practices Are Used to Do them?

Any teaching practice consists of many things that has to be done in the classroom, such as instructing, assessing, creating centers, etc.

The word activity can mean many different things. In the context of teaching early literacy, activities refer to teacher-designed and/or teacher-facilitated tasks aimed at student learning.

There are such activities in early literacy that are evidence-based. They have been validated to work using personal experience of teachers and research data from studies.

All of such activities involve one or more of these five early literacy practices: reading, writing,singing, talking and playing. 

These are the five broad categories of practices that lead to early literacy development. All evidence-based early literacy activities can be classified under one or more of these categories. 


How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

While the five major types of literacy practices cover a lot of ground, in order for them to translate to student success, it’s good if they are specific and have a purpose.

Early literacy activities have these two properties– specificity and purpose.

Literacy activities should match the skills that are being taught in the classroom. 

So it begins with understanding what the foundational reading skill sets are in early literacy. 

Once these skill sets are identified, there are specific activities that have been used by educators which can be used to teach these skills. 

These activities are also backed by research, which is why so many teachers have adopted them in the classrooms. 

More on this in the next section, where it is stated what these activities entail (specificity), and which foundational reading skill sets they apply to. (purpose)


Evidence For The Most Effective Literacy Activity For Foundational Reading Skill Sets

Evidence For The Most Effective Literacy Activity For Foundational Reading Skill Sets.


Alongside using activities in the classroom for teaching purposes, the research consensus on evidence-based teaching recommends explicit instruction on the foundational skill sets. 

This means, providing a clear understanding of the concept being taught, and what role it plays in the reading development.

Once this explicit instruction has been provided, it can be demonstrated or reinforced through  many activities. 

But what are the most effective activities for each foundational reading skill set? Not all activities are created equal. 

Outlined below are three fundamental reading skill sets, each accompanied by research-backed activities that have been proven to be effective. 

For early literacy teachers eager to initiate classroom activities targeting the different foundational reading skill sets, these are for you!



Letter-Sound Matching: Letter-sound correspondence should be taught at the same time. It is an essential skill in both reading and writing. Knowing the letter sounds is crucial for developing decoding skills. 

After explicitly teaching students the sounds of letters with their proper pronunciations, we can supplement this learning with pairing letters with their corresponding sounds. 

Teachers can engage students in play-based activities to solidify their phonics knowledge. 

1. Kinetic Learning (in small groups): Set up letter flashcards or letter tiles on the ground. After saying the sound, have students walk, hop, or jump to that letter. This activity could also be done with throwing a ball at a letter after saying the sound. 

2. Involve familiar objects: Set up a table with the letter sounds that you are working on and have students sort familiar objects and toys based on the first letter of the word. If working with a small group or with a student 1-on-1, involve a toy that they know –      a Spiderman to teach ‘s’ and a toy car to teach ‘c’. 

3. Create the sound with different media: After saying the sound, have students create the letter with pencil, coloured marker, string, playdoh, trace in sand, or with sticks. 

4. Scavenger hunt: Create a scavenger hunt to search for objects that start with certain sounds. 

Through consistent practice, students reinforce their understanding of letter-sound associations, laying a solid foundation for proficient reading.


Phonological Awareness

Word Ladders (or Word Chains): An effective tool for teaching phonemic awareness skills such as segmenting, isolating and manipulating. The best way to start is by changing the same phoneme throughout the activity. 

Have students start by spelling the first word in the ladder; Show me “get”. Followed by “change a sound to make ‘bet’”, change a sound to make ‘met’”. If students are not quite ready to write each letter they can use letter tiles to manipulate the words. 

Breaking words into individual phonemes or sounds is a highly effective exercise for teaching phonological awareness. Students learn to isolate and identify the individual sounds in spoken words.

Teachers can engage students in interactive and playful exercises where they segment spoken words into individual phonemes. 

For example, the teacher could say a word aloud (e.g., “cat”) and students would use manipulatives or sound boxes to represent each sound they hear (/k/ – /ă/ – /t/). This helps students develop their ability to isolate and identify individual sounds within words. 



Predictions: Encouraging students to make educated guesses about what might happen next in a reading based on their understanding of the informational content, is a proven exercise for teaching reading comprehension.

This exercise prompts students to actively engage with the text, consider the characters, plot, setting, and other relevant details, and use their background knowledge and textual clues to make logical predictions.

Research indicates that prediction activities enhance comprehension by promoting critical thinking, inference-making, and active engagement with the text, thereby improving students’ ability to comprehend and interpret written material. Students are taught to actively engage with the text through predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. 

An activity to introduce students to predicting at the beginning of any unit or reading starts with making a list of keywords, characters, quotes, settings. 

Each student is provided with one item from this list. They then pair up with a ‘Prediction Pal’ and based on the items they have, they make a prediction about what they are going to learn about. 

Students then pair up with somebody else and make another prediction based on their items and the clues they had from their previous ‘Prediction Pal’. Pairings can be done 4 or 5 times before making a final prediction as a class. 


Need for Play-based Learning Alongside Evidence-based Learning. Possible Through Activities

How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

One amazing thing about activities is that they help to balance the rigorous nature of explicit instruction that is found within evidence-based early literacy. 

Despite instruction being direct, explicit and systematic, it is also made fun through the use of activities in play-based learning.

Guided play-based learning leads to success in early literacy for students. Multi-sensory activities, in particular, provide a rich and immersive experience. By incorporating elements of play through multi-sensory activities, educators can create dynamic learning environments where students actively participate and construct their understanding of literacy concepts. 

Oral and written instruction through worksheets and texts are great. But when instruction is also provided via multi-sensory activities, which involves not just sight, but other senses as well such as noise and tactile experience, it makes the learning process all the more powerful.


What About Other Skills and Other Activities?

What About Other Skills and Other Activities?

Play-based learning is vast, and it is definitely not limited to the activities mentioned in this article. There are other activities with supporting evidence that establish them as drivers of foundational reading skills. 

Determining the best activity for teaching each of the foundational reading skills to K-3 students can vary depending on factors such as student needs, learning styles, and instructional context.

With that in mind, one evidence-based activity each was selected in this article for the three foundational reading skill sets. 

However, it’s essential to note that other foundational reading skills also have corresponding evidence-based activities for teaching them.

If an activity is backed by evidence as an effective tool for teaching a specific foundational reading skill set, teachers should prioritize its use in the classroom. 

More such evidence-based activities aligned to the foundational reading skill sets are provided in Sprig Reading. 

Try it today to witness it firsthand.