The early childhood literacy teaching toolkit explained

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit provides practical advice about the learning and teaching of language and literacy skills from birth to five years.

The resources within the Toolkit inform early childhood practice by presenting high quality integrated teaching and learning approaches focussed on language and literacy. With written advice, in-depth learning experience plans, and videos of exemplary practice, the literacy teaching toolkit provides key information to improve outcomes for all children in early childhood settings.

How to use this toolkit

The toolkit for early childhood educators is organised into two developmental domains within language and literacy:

  • interacting with others
  • emergent literacy1 (including reading and writing).

The structure of the toolkit is underpinned by developmental models of language and literacy.


1 Both “emergent” and “early” are used in the research literature to describe the literacy skills that children develop in the period before school. The toolkit uses “emergent literacy” throughout to describe the skills that characterise the earliest literacy experiences of infants through to more formal literate practices that are observed in the year before school for many children.

Interacting with others

In this part of the toolkit you can explore how spoken language skills (learning foci) develop, and how educators can create rich language learning experiences (teaching practices). This part of the toolkit is built around the theory of language form, content, and use (Bloom & Lahey, 1978), including both social and academic modes. 

Emergent literacy

In this part of the toolkit, you can explore children’s engagement with written language (learning foci), and how educators can create emergent literacy experiences (teaching practices). This part of the toolkit is underpinned by the Four Resources Model (Freebody & Luke, 1990; Harris, Fitzsimmons, McKenzie & Turbill, 2003) which describes the different capacities developed by children as emergent readers and writers; that is a text decoder, text participant, text user, and text analyst.
Educators can choose to:

  • read about particular focus or practice in detail
  • watch a video exemplifying a focus or practice
  • make use of the available learning experience plans in their own settings.

The toolkit is designed to support intentional teaching. All sections of the toolkit are linked to the VEYLDF outcomes. Educators can create learning intentions using the learning foci; and embed them within experiences using the teaching practices.

Please note: The texts featured in the Toolkit are example texts only.

Language and literacy in early childhood education

Why language and literacy?

“Children’s wellbeing, identity, sense of agency and capacity to make friends is connected to the development of communication skills” (VEYLDF, 2016, p. 22). Strong language skills are a critical precursor to developing strong literacy skills (Snow, 1991 & 2004). Consequently, early childhood educators play an important role in fostering these foundational skills in all children.

Several studies have demonstrated the importance of “pedagogical content knowledge” to excellent early childhood practice (Sylva et al., 2010). The toolkit addresses this need for pedagogical content knowledge in language and literacy.

About the toolkit

The resources and advice within the toolkit are linked to the VEYLDF through alignment with the practice principles and mapped links to outcomes

The toolkit provides information about theory and evidence-based approaches. Developmental theory often refers to influential scholars whose work has been drawn upon for many years, for example Vygotsky and Bruner. In contrast, when presenting evidence-based teaching practices we use contemporary research to inform the advice.

Within the toolkit you will find learning experience plans and references to several children’s books. It is important to note that experiences and books are presented as examples and we also provide alternatives; educators are encouraged to use books and learning experiences which are appropriate to their context and children.

The early years planning cycle

Effective early childhood practice is strengthened through planning and critical reflection (Early Years Planning Cycle, VEYLDF, 2016, p.8).The Planning Cycle supports educators to use evidence to inform their teaching, use intentional teaching strategies that are purposeful, and address identified learning goals.

See the VCAA website for planning cycle resources

Integrated teaching and learning approaches

Play is central to children’s learning and development. Effective early childhood practice uses a combination of child-directed play, guided play and adult-led learning experiences to support sustained shared interactions with children and teach discipline specific content. Early childhood educators ’’use intentional teaching strategies that are always purposeful and may be pre-planned or spontaneous’’ (VEYLDF, 2016, p. 15) to support children’s learning. 

Principles embedded in the literacy teaching toolkit

Within the Toolkit links are made to the VEYLDF’s Practice Principles and Outcomes. The toolkit assumes that Early Childhood Educators are familiar with the VEYLDF (pdf - 1.14mb).

All the Practice Principles are fundamental to Early Childhood Educator’s interactions with young children and will support children’s language and literacy learning. The Practice Principles lay the foundation for the teaching practices in language and literacy that form the literacy teaching toolkit.

More specifically, the following key considerations are illustrated within the literacy teaching toolkit and mapped to VEYLDF practice principles:

  • Recognition and respect for Indigenous culture and language
    • Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement
    • Equity and Diversity
    • Partnerships with Families
  • Respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Victorian community
    • Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement
    • Equity and Diversity
    • Partnerships with Families
  • Recognition that maintenance of first language is important for children’s identity, wellbeing, communication and learning
    • High Expectations for Every Child
    • Equity and Diversity
    • Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement
    • Partnerships with Families
  • Equitable opportunities for children enable the best learning and development outcomes
    • Reflective Practice
    • Equity and Diversity
    • Assessment for Learning and Development
    • Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches
  • Recognition of each child’s experiences and individual capabilities nurtures a sense of belonging and inclusion
    • Reflective Practice
    • High Expectations for Every Child
    • Equity and Diversity
    • Assessment for Learning and Development
    • Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches

Language and Literacy Development

In this section, the language and literacy skills and the developmental stages you will find in the toolkit are described. In the Toolkit there is information about language and literacy skill development (learning foci) and teaching practices.

Developmental stages in the literacy teaching toolkit

There are three developmental stages in the toolkit. The age ranges are overlapping in the three stages of language and literacy learning. Young children develop at their own pace and this means that key stages (for example, saying their first word) can occur anytime within a wide age range. Individual variability is to be expected in language learning (Bates, Dale & Thal, 1995). The developmental stages in the Literacy Teaching Toolkit represent the wide age ranges across which different skills can be expected in different children.

Early Communicators (birth – 18 months)

Infants begin communicating from birth and during their first year develop the use of gestures such as pointing, cries and smiles, and eye-gaze to get their message across. Early communicators start to transition from relying on non-verbal signals alone to using their first words at around 12 months. Early communicators enjoy interacting and sharing books with adults.

Early Language Users (12 – 36 months)

Toddlers use words and gestures to communicate. During this stage early language users start understanding and using many words and begin to put these words together to form simple sentences. Verbal communication is used consistently, with non-verbal signals accompanying the verbal messages. Early language users have favourite books and enjoy reading them often. They may also begin to develop an awareness of concepts of print.

Language and Emergent Literacy Learners (30 – 60 months)

Young children are competent language users by the time they start school. During the years in preschool, children use language skills for many purposes, for example, to communicate with others, and to express their thoughts and emotions. At the same time children become more aware of print, begin to recognise familiar letter shapes, and start to demonstrate early writing skills.

Frameworks for language and literacy

Bloom and Lahey’s (1978) framework for the components of language is the foundation for understanding oral language development in this toolkit. In this framework language consists of three components:

  • form which includes the grammar and rules for combining words and sounds in a language
  • content which includes vocabulary knowledge and the meaning associated with words and messages
  • use which includes the ability to use language in context for different social purposes.

Language Form

Expressing and understanding the sounds, words, sentences, and discourses of spoken language, interacting with others ​

Language Content

Expressing and understanding the interconnected meaning and messages of spoken language

Language Use-Social

Using language according to rules/conventions of context and culture, to achieve social purposes

Language Use-Academic

Using language according to rules/conventions of context and culture, to achieve academic purposes

The theoretical framework used to understand reading is based on Freebody and Luke’s (1990) Four Resources Model.

See the Four Resources Model for further information

The Four Resources Model sees the reading process as a repertoire of resources that allow learners, as they engage in reading and writing activities, to:

  • break the code of texts: Text decoder
  • participate in the meanings of text: Text participant
  • use texts functionally: Text user 
  • critically analyse and transform texts: Text analyst

Text Decoder

Deciphering and breaking the code of written and visual language

Text Participant

Making meaning from written and visual texts

Text User

Reading written and visual texts for social purposes

Text Analyst

Detecting and analysing underlying values, beliefs, views, and discerning reader/viewer position

Harris, McKenzie, Fitzsimmons and Turbill (2003) built on the work of Freebody and Luke (1990) to produce the Four Resources Model for Writing. This model maps out four sets of writing resources that are parallel to the four reading resources. These allow emergent writers to:

  • encode written/visual texts: Text encoder
  • compose meaning in written/visual texts: Text participant
  • compose written/visual texts for social purposes: Text user
  • construct underlying beliefs, views, values into texts: Text analyst

Text Encoder

Encoding communication into written and visual language

​Text Participant

Composing meaning into written and visual texts

Text User

Constructing written and visual texts for social purposes

Text Analyst

Constructing underlying values, beliefs, views, and positioning the reader as in reader/viewer

Interacting with others – trajectory   

 Foundation - Level 2
  • ⬆Morphology of words

  • ⬆Sentence length & complexity

  • ​⬆Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary

  • Semantic categories

  • ⬆Comprehension 

  • ​⬆Language use

  • Non-verbal communication

  • ⬆Conversations

  • Social skills & pragmatics

  • ⬆Story telling & comprehension  

  • ​Contextualised and decontextualised

  • Higher order language

  • Multiple meanings

  • Metalanguage

Adapted from Bloom and Lahey (1978)​

Emergent reading – trajectory

Early Communicators

Emergent Literacy

  • Shared book reading
  • Concepts of print

Early Language Users

Emergent Literacy

  • Shared book reading
  • Concepts of print
  • Phonological awareness
  • Vocabulary   
Language & Emergent Literacy Learners
  • ​Concepts of print
  • Phonological awareness
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Early phonics
  • ​Early comprehension strategies
  • Literal comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • ​Early awareness of text genres
  • ​Early text analysis
Foundation - Level 2 ​
  • ​Concepts of print
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Word morphology
  • Word recognition
  • Sentence structure
  • Fluency
  • Basic punctuation
  • Visual codes
  • ​Comprehension strategies
  • Literal, inferential, evaluative
  • Vocabulary
  • Literal & figurative language
  • ​Genres - structure & features
  • Text purposes
  • Imaginative, informative, persuasive
  • ​Author/illustrator intent
  • Identifying target audience
  • Stereotypes
  • Missing viewpoints

Adapted from Four Resources Model (Freebody and Luke, 1990; Luke and Freebody, 1999)

Emergent writing - trajectory

Early Communicators

Emergent Literacy

  • Concepts of print
  • Shared book reading

Early Language Users

Emergent Literacy

  • Concepts of print
  • Shared book reading
  • Phonological awareness
  • Early marking making
  • Continuum from drawing —> writing
Language & Emergent Literacy Learners ​
  • ​Concepts of print
  • Phonological awareness
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Early phonics
  • Mark making
  • Drawing as writing
  • ​Early text design
  • Drawing & writing simple texts
  • Making meaning through multiple media
  • ​Simple text construction about own culture
  • Visual and written texts for multiple purposes
  • ​Considering stereotypes and negative representations in texts
Foundation - Level 2
  • ​Concepts of print
  • Phonological awareness
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Spelling - graphemic, morphological, etymological
  • Sentence structure
  • Punctuation
  • Handwriting & keyboarding
  • ​Text design
  • Simple texts using multiple media
  • Using grammatical resources
  • Literal & figurative meaning
  • ​Genre and social purpose
  • Imaginative, informative, & persuasive
  • Writing processes
  • ​Creating author intention & positioning
  • Audience consideration


Bates, E., Dale, P., &Thal, D. (1995). Individual differences and their implications for theories of language development. In P. Fletcher & B. McWhinney (Eds.), The Handbook of Child Language (pp. 96-151). Oxford: Blackwell.

Bloom, L., & Lahey, M. (1978). Language development and language disorders. New York, NY, US: John Wiley & Sons.

Freebody, P. & Luke, A. (1990) Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 5, 7–16.

Harris, P., Fitzsimmons, P., McKenzie, B. & Turbill, J. (2003). Writing in the primary school years. Tuggerah, NSW: Social Science Press.

Snow, C.E. (2004). What counts as literacy in early childhood? In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Early Child Development (pp. 274–293). Oxford: Blackwell.

Snow, C. E. (1991). The theoretical basis for relationships between language and literacy in development. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 6(1), 5-10

Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016) Victorian early years learning and development framework (VEYLDF). Retrieved 3 March 2018,

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016) Illustrative Maps from the VEYLDF to the Victorian Curriculum F–10. Retrieved 3 March 2018.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2018). Practice Resources – Birth to 8 Years. Retrieved 3 March 2018.