learning during read-alouds: print referencing

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print referencing during read alouds cover


Some days, it takes every ounce of energy in my being to keep my tired eyes open during the time I’m reading books with Maddy, Owen, and Cora.

Some nights, book time is the very first time I sit–or lay–down, and I yawn like every five seconds.

Some nights, I feel like I did waaaay back in those early college years, sitting in an early-morning lecture and thinking, If I could just fall asleep right now, it would be the best. sleep. ever.  And then I’d get back to my dorm and be totally and completely wide awake.

I’m not trying to say that reading books to your kids is boring. I love reading with my kids. I really do.  I’m saying that there are a whole lot of nights when I don’t utilize read-aloud time like I should–like I could--with my kiddos.   Really, there are.

But there are also a handful of nights when I’m on top of my game–or pretty close to the top–and I do use this precious read-aloud time for some sneaky learning with my children.

Print referencing is a really easy, totally low-energy, little-to-no prep little, teeny-tiny, somethin’ that you can do during those tired-parent nights.  And though print referencing seems very simple, the payoffs are big because you’re teaching your kiddos concepts of print–something they really need to know.

It’s my go-to when I don’t have much else rolling, and I love it because it can be used with every book on the shelf.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Print Referencing: Print referencing is simply pointing out basic elements of print as a text is being read.

It’s all about getting emergent readers interested in print by “highlighting the forms, functions, and features of print during read-alouds” (Zucker, Ward, and Justice, “Print Referencing During Read-Alouds: A Technique for Increasing Emergent Readers’ Print Knowledge.” The Reading Teacher, 63(1), pp.62-72).

We all read the title of a book before we begin reading, right? We know where to begin reading and automatically read the first word on the top left side of the page. We skim over the words in an illustration and often don’t even think to read them. But print referencing has us do simple things like point to the title or the first word on the page as we read it; print referencing has us point to the word in the illustration and mention it instead of ignoring it.

Print referencing can be incorporated into any read-aloud–fiction, nonfiction, poetry–anything’s game.
read-alouds: print referencingPrint Referencing in Ponyella, by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans can be simply pointing to the ‘Poof!’ on the top of the page.

So how can parents and teachers use print referencing and what texts should they use? Zucker, Ward, and Justice suggest that print referencing can be incorporated “when teachers are reading books with children with the intent of promoting literacy development” and that one read-aloud per day should include some sort of print reference. That’s easy enough.

Here are a few ways to incorporate print referencing in a read-aloud:

  • Page order: We read this page first, and then we read the next one. . .
  • Point out the title of the book: This is the title of the book. It tells us. . .
  • Point out text direction–top to bottom, left to right: We begin reading this word, and then we move. . .
  • Talk about the author/ illustrator: The author wrote the book. . .
  • Discuss the names and concepts of letters: I see the same letter in two words/ Can you find a letter ‘M’ or ‘T’?
  • Concepts of word: Let’s count the words on this page. . .
  • Short/ Long words: Which word is longer/ shorter. . .
  • Read captions/ subtitles: The caption here tells us about the photo. . .
  • Point out words in illustrations: Here it says ‘mail’ on the mailbox. . .

Print referencing has been proven in numerous studies to be beneficial for children in developing a solid understanding of word concepts, alphabet knowledge, and overall knowledge of print. The above suggestions are only a sampling of ways to incorporate print referencing into a read-aloud, but they offer a solid starting point for parents and teachers.

It’s been shown that “the read-aloud context is a powerful one” in which “young students have the opportunity to engage with ideas in texts above their reading level” with texts full of “important ideas and themes of consequence” (Heisey & Kucan, “Introducing Science Concepts to Primary Students Through Read-Alouds: Interactions and Multiple Texts Make the Difference.” The Reading Teacher, 63(8). p. 667). Providing students with simple but meaningful support during read-alouds can yield strong benefits long-term. All we need are a few tricks to keep in our back pocket.

Happy reading!

(Book in above photo is taken from Disney*PIXAR’s World of Cars, Foreword by John Lasseter.)

It is part of my series here on read-aloud learning.  It has been modified but was originally shared on ABC and 123 when I was their Literacy Consultant.  Enjoy!




  1. pat says

    What about moving your read-aloud time to earlier in the evening, this way all are wide awake and can enjoy; save the time right before sleep to have all of you in bed with all of your own chosen books and winding down the day that way?

    • amy says

      Pat–Good idea! We do read books throughout the day–we usually do–but some nights, I’m betting that even if I moved it up an hour or two, I’d still be sleepy! :)

  2. says

    So good to hear that I am the only one who is sometimes yawning every few sentences. I’m def going to use some of these print-referencing strategies. My kindergarten daughter is really excited that she is learning to read – so much that she pouts when I don’t let her read the words she knows. Have you ever had an issue with reading time taking an extremely long time because your child is trying to sound out every third word on a page. Sometimes it takes us 30 minutes to get through 3 pages because she really wants to read it herself. Its a problem I guess that is nice to have because she’s super-motivated, but lately we don’t get through the story unless I make her let me finish reading her the book after a couple of days of only getting through half a dozen pages. And while she’s disappointed about not being able to finish reading the book herself, she’s happy to get to the end of the story, too. Any suggestions would be helpful. I’m new to your blog – and really digging it….thanks!

    • amy says

      thanks so much for writing and letting me know I’m not alone in my yawn-reading!! Hmmm, honestly my kids never insist on reading, but I’ve worked with students who have. I’d try doing some echo reading, where you read a line and then she reads it–so she models your fluent reading, even if it’s sentence by sentence or page by page. . . or try chorus reading–reading together like a chorus, or try listening to a reading on cd, to ‘give her a break’ but to really let her hear how it should sound. I’ve had a ‘fluency’ post started for a while now. . . perhaps I’ll finish it this week or next! :) thanks for reading, my friend!


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