Literacy knowledge in practice: Contexts of participation for young writers and readers

Susan B. Neuman, Kathleen Roskos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


CHILDREN'S EARLIEST discoveries about written language are closely tied to daily activities as they interact with others in writing and reading situations. Thus, one way to examine literacy in its earliest forms is to explore literacy knowledge in the practice of ongoing activity. Using activity as the basic unit of analysis (Leon'tev, 1981; Vygotsky, 1978), this study investigated young children's literacy activity within play settings designed to reflect authentic literacy contexts in children's real-world environment. Three literacy-related settings were created in an Even Start preschool class: post office, restaurant, and doctor's office. Over a 7-month period, 30 preschoolers (fifteen 3-year-olds; fifteen 4-year-olds) were observed 1 day a week as they engaged in their free-play activity. Data were qualitatively analyzed using the constant-comparative approach, and five key features of context described. Results of the study indicated that in the course of play activities, children demonstrated declarative knowledge about literacy (e.g., roles, and names of literacy objects), procedural knowledge (e.g., routines), and strategic knowledge (e.g., metacognition). In these contexts, 3- and 4-year-old children adapted the tools of literacy for specific purposes and engaged in strategic behaviors in a variety of problem-solving situations, giving evidence to the rich repertoire of literacy knowledge and inventive heuristics they bring to these informal settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-32
Number of pages23
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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