Throwback (2007): Teaching print concepts to young children with language disorder—No response required!

We know that children with language disorder often experience difficulty acquiring early literacy skills. One key skill is knowledge of print concepts, which include understanding things like:

  • Where the front of the book is
  • The fact that we read a book from left to right
  • Where you can find the title of the book

Explicit strategies that encourage young children to respond to print-related questions and verbal prompts during book reading can enhance print awareness (Ezell & Justice, 2000), and strategies like dialogic reading (Whitehurst et al., 1988), which allow children to answer questions and participate at their individual language levels, have a positive impact on language skills. But, are these strategies effective for young children with language disorder? What happens when our young clients don’t have the language skills needed to respond to print-related questions? Do they still benefit?

In this study, the authors wanted to determine whether comments and references about print that do not require a verbal response (“non-evocative”) could improve print concepts in 4- and 5-year-olds with language disorder. Specifically, the researchers used commenting (e.g., "This is the beginning of the story."), finger tracking of print, and pointing to print. These techniques were embedded within two 10-minute book reading sessions per week over 10 weeks. The sessions targeted 20 print concepts as well as language concepts from each participant’s IEP.


Each of the participants demonstrated gains in their understanding of print concepts after only four 10-min shared book reading sessions using those no-response-required print referencing procedures. And even better, each child continued to learn and maintain their understanding of the targeted print concepts with different books even after the intervention ended!

These findings provide important lessons for SLPs (and parents!) of preschools with language disorders. First, it’s not necessary to use fancy questioning or cueing strategies to enhance knowledge about print when reading with these kids. Simple comments focused on early print concepts that carry no linguistic demands can be just as effective at enhancing their early literacy skills. The findings also suggest that it doesn’t require a lot of time or effort—focused, explicit, but brief book reading activities a couple of times a week can have a big impact.

NOTE: The article includes a list of each of the 14 books that were included in the study, as well as a list of each of the targeted language concepts and print concepts. In addition to these “free” materials, the criterion-referenced screening tool that the authors developed, the Concepts of Print Assessment (CAP), is also available as a reference.


Lovelace, S., & Stewart, S. R. (2007). Increasing print awareness in preschoolers with language impairment using non-evocative print referencing. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38(1), 16–30.