Literacy Building Blocks

Differences for Pre-Verbal Children

Literacy Building Blocks

Although your child may not be talking yet, may have limited speech and/or may be using AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) such as signs, pictures or a device, that does not mean that they can not learn to read. Effective reading instruction for children who are pre-verbal includes the same literacy building blocks as children who are verbal, with some modifications in how the children demonstrate acquisition of the skills. Important literacy building blocks include phonological awareness, sound-letter correspondence, and vocabulary.

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the understanding that words are made of sounds and the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in words. Segmenting (breaking sounds apart in words) and blending (putting sounds together to make a word) are examples of phonological awareness that are very important for reading.

Sound-letter correspondence

Children need to understand that letters (graphemes) represent sounds (phonemes) in words and the correspondence between each sound/letter. The focus should be on teaching the sound the letter makes (not the name of the letter) as the sounds of the letter is what is necessary for reading.


Vocabulary includes both the words a child understands (receptive vocabulary) and the words a child uses (expressive vocabulary). Children have a much easier time reading words that are already in their vocabulary.

Differences for Pre-Verbal Children

Detailed information about teaching pre-verbal children and children using AAC to read, along with videos of children learning a variety of reading skills, can be found here. In summary, modifications to reading programs that help such children learn to read include:

Speech is not required

Skills are taught and assessed for mastery receptively, so the child does not have to say sounds or words. This is important for pre-verbal children or children with CAS who struggle to acquire new motor plans for speech.


If the child is using AAC, responses demonstrating their reading skills using their method of communication (signs, pictures, a device) as well as speech are accepted and encouraged.


Scaffolding refers to providing as much support as is needed to help a child learn and demonstrate a skill. As the child progresses, the support is reduced incrementally so that the child completes the skill with increasing independence.

Teaching Sound-Letter Correspondences

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Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

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Tips for Reading Success

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