Preschool Language Arts Activities: Pre-Reading Activities for Your Young Students

Books in a Literacy Rich Environment

Children require many books in a literacy-rich environment. Place books around the classroom, in every area of the curriculum. Books can be displayed that represent the letter or sound of the week, current units of study in science and social studies, and even just general reading fun. Demonstrate the proper way to hold a book and to turn the pages so that children learn to respect books. Read them at circle time to introduce stories to children and allow them to independently look through them after circle. Create comfortable reading areas in the classroom, with child-sized furniture, cushions and pillows, or even special reading rugs.

Try to read to the class as one of your daily preschool activities. Language Arts teachers use a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and so should you, but keep in mind the attention span and level of the children in your classroom. Use a mix of poetry, rhyming, and prose. Expose them to different authors, even considering doing author studies. Follow up reading aloud with independent or small group activities in the classroom.

Children can be encouraged to create their own books. They can try to write their own words, or dictate the story to an adult. They can also copy words out of books found in the classroom.

Visual Discrimination Activities

Pre-reading activities help children develop abilities required in decoding written language and comprehending stories. Visual discrimination skills allow children to distinguish between different letters, then different words. Play games as a group and set up activities on the shelf or in a center for individual practice.

  • Matching – Matching activities find two items that are identical, using one-to-one correspondence. Initial activities should match items that are very different, such as two dogs, two ice cream cones, and two suns. Gradually, the items should become more similar, making it more difficult, such as breeds of dogs, or different colors and patterns on the cones. Use objects or pictures. Match pictures of objects around the room to the actual objects. Match letters and words. Start with small groups of three matches, and work up to five.
  • Sorting – When sorting, objects are placed in groups of three or more. They can be sorted into identical groups, such as all blue pom-poms, all red pom-poms, and all yellow pom-poms. Or, they can be sorted by similar characteristics, such as all dogs, all horses, all cats.
  • Puzzles – Puzzles refine visual discrimination skills as they have to turn pieces to make them fit. Start with simple knobbed pieces that individually fit into the frame, then work up to jigsaw puzzles.
  • Which One Is Different? – Have a series of 3-5 seemingly identical pictures, with one that is altered in some way. Start with glaringly obvious differences, such as a dog in the middle of a row of cats, then work toward more difficult ones, such as a face with the opposite eye closed.


Categorization skills help a child prepare for reading comprehension and understanding.

  • Opposites – Teach children opposites by acting them out (sit/stand, walk/run, in/out). Have command cards that direct the child to manipulate objects. (Put the teddy bear on the table. Put the teddy bear under the table.) Read books about opposites, such as the one by Tana Hoban.
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong? – This is similar to Which One Is Different? except it requires thinking of how objects are related. For example, have a series of 3-5 cards, all of which are food, except one is something different like a shoe. Gradually make these more difficult, such as having all fruits and one vegetable.
  • Category Sorting – Have category header cards, with a word and a picture, such as the four seasons of the year. The child can sort picture cards under the appropriate heading.
  • Word Sorting – Sort words by their first letter or sound. For a child who can sound out words, sort them by ending sounds or chunks.

Auditory Discrimination Activities

Children need to be able to discern between different sounds when reading, especially when learning phonics.

  • Rhyming – Read rhyming stories and poetry. Sing songs and do rhyming fingerplays. Play games that require kids to make up their own rhymes. Do the “Name Game” at circle time. Set out baskets of rhyming objects and pictures for the children to match and sort.
  • Phonemic Awareness – Focus on phonic sounds in words. Play “I Spy” using the beginning sounds of items found in the environment. Break up words into their individual phonemes, or sounds. Say them slowly, then gradually put them together to make the word. Clap with each sound to emphasize it.
  • Sound Sorting – Sort objects or pictures that begin with the same sound. Read books that focus on a particular sound. Remember to focus on short vowel sounds before long vowel sounds, and avoid words that have a consonant blend until the child can better distinguish between the two sounds. Also sort objects and pictures by middle sounds and by ending sounds, to emphasize sounds throughout the word.
  • Knock, Knock, Who Am I? – This is a fun circle time game. One child sits in the middle of the circle in a chair, blindfolded or with eyes closed. One child is chosen at random to come up behind him and says, “Knock, knock, who am I?” The child in the chair has to guess. After the second child’s identity is established, she can sit in the chair, and the first child randomly chooses a new child to go up.

Phonics and Whole Language

  • Children need to learn a mix of phonics and whole language when learning how to read. Teach initial phonic sounds, focusing on short vowels and avoiding blends until sounds are mastered. Practice sorting pictures and objects by beginning sounds. Introduce two or three sounds together, for contrast.
  • When a child is confident in the letter sounds, he can start blending two, then three at a time, to create consonant-vowel-consonant words (e.g. mat, six, sun, hot, bed).
  • Label different areas of the classroom, materials, and shelves, so that children can associate the words to the items. Have labeled picture cards of items and people. An extra set of labels could be created for matching and labeling activities either during circle or during independent work time.
  • Keep a set of beginning sight words on hand. Make matching games, bingo, and dominoes out of them. Practice writing them on the chalkboard and on papers.

I hope this has given you some ideas on incorporating language arts throughout the curriculum. If you have any other ideas, let me know in the comments!