6 Easy Ways to Assess Pre-Reading Skills in the Early Childhood Classroom

Get a good read on your little learners.

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One of the best parts of teaching pre-K is that we’re not always bound by the rigid assessment requirements that teachers in the older grades must adhere to. We’re free to assess our kids when and how we like. Still, when kids are this young and have such tiny attention spans, getting a good read on what they know can be tough. Here are six easy ways to assess pre-reading skills in an early childhood classroom.

1. Use a checklist for letter sounds and sight words.

Checklists are a quick, easy way to find out exactly what each child knows. The trick is finding time to work with kids one-on-one. My teaching partner and I usually split the list and work with students during playtime. There are so many different checklists out there. We like this one from PreKinders because it is so thorough, but a search on Pinterest turns up many options.

We make an effort to move quickly through the letters because, again, some preschoolers simply don’t have the attention span to work through a list of 26 letters (54 if you assess both upper- and lowercase, which we usually do!).

2. Don’t be afraid to break the assessment into pieces.

We never, ever go through the entire checklist with a child in a single sitting. That’s too boring for us, and for them. Their attention will start to wane, and our assessment validity starts to waver. We break each assessment into parts: Assess lowercase letters, then playtime. Check sight words, then playtime. Uppercase letters, then snack, etc. With really busy kids, we may only assess a few letters at a time.

3. Informally assess kids during circle time.

Not all kids are going to be at their best in a group setting like this, but some are. Notice which kids are consistently able to name all of the letters or sight words that you’ve introduced so far. Play games like “I have … Who has?” (get a set of free letter game cards here), or ask kids to work through the morning message with you. In this post, Kristen from A Day in First Grade explains how she uses a morning message to assess her students at circle time.

A-Day-In-First-Grade(Source: A Day in First Grade)

4. Assess book and print awareness.

Ask students to pick up a book. Take note of whether they know which way to hold the book. Is it upside down? Ask students to find the title of the book. Notice whether or not they will pretend to read the book (or actually read it—we’ve had some 4-year-olds who can read come through our program!). If they pretend to read, do they know which way the text goes? Can they identify letters in context? All of these are readiness skills that tell us how close a child is to making the leap from pre-reader to beginning reader.

Book and Print Awareness

5. Assess beginning, middle and end.

See if children are able to sequence events. Their understanding of sequence is going to be a foundational piece of their reading comprehension later on. We have a set of picture stories that we use when we are assessing. We ask kids to put the pictures in order and to tell the story. Even if they get the pictures in the wrong order, we learn a lot from listening to the story they tell about the pictures and how many details they include in their retelling. This activity and decodable book from Waterford are also good options for assessing sequencing.

6. Assess digitally.

One of our greatest recent discoveries is the ability to track learning digitally. There are digital curricula that will introduce concepts and monitor progress. Kids spend just a few minutes using the digital tool each day, and the curriculum not only tracks their learning but assesses it too. This gives our students more time to play (which we all know is essential in an early childhood classroom) and gives us more time to interact with our students. Because we’re not spending time assessing each child individually, we’re able to engage with them during their learning activities and playtime. Plus, we have data at our fingertips for those times when we really do need to be able to
share what our class (or an individual student) actually knows.

Beginning Middle End

Waterford Charlotte Myers
Waterford SmartStart uses activities to perform formative assessments. In this case, the child works through whether objects are living or non living by deciding if they move, grow, and need food and water. Reports of the child’s results are then communicated to teachers.

Want more information about assessment in early learning? Visit Waterford SmartStart to find out about curriculum and assessment resources for pre-K students.

6 Easy Ways to Assess Pre-Reading Skills