Concepts of Print

What are Concepts of Print?

Concepts about print include awareness that: print carries a message; there are conventions of print such as directionality (left to right, top to bottom), differences between letters and words, distinctions between upper and lower case, punctuation; and books have some common characteristics (Sutherland 2000).  Basically, concepts of print are the understanding of how print and text “work”; how books and other written words function to create meaning, and it includes an understanding of writing conventions such as punctuation and capitalization, among other concepts as well. 

Concepts of print include things such as:

  • It is print that we read.
  • Illustrations are related to the print.
  • Print represents language.
  • There are many purposes for print.
  • Words don’t change between readings.
  • We read words from left to right.
  • We usually read from word to word left to right.
  • We usually read from top to bottom.
  • We use “return sweep”- when we get to the next line down, we start at the left again
  • Space separates words.
  • Words, sentences, and texts have a beginning and end.
  • Words have a “first letter”, “last letter”, and “middle letters”.
  • The orientation of letters matters in print. (For example, a p could be a p, q, d, or b depending on the orientation of the letter).
  • There is a “right side up for print”.
  • We hold a book a certain way.
  • We open books a certain way.
  • Pages are turned from left to right.
  • Books have a front, back, cover, author and sometimes an illustrator.
  • There are other important parts in some books, such as an index, glossary, and table of contents.
  • Knowledge of punctuation and upper and lower case letters.

(Duke, 2008)

Also related to concepts of print is the alphabetic principle, the idea that words are composed of letters, and letters represent the sounds we make when we say words. By putting the same letters into different order, we can make different words (Bennet-Armistead  et. al., 2005)

Why are they important?

Concepts about print are fundamental understandings that support reading acquisition (Sutherland 2000).  Concepts of print are essentially the basics of reading, and without mastering these skills, a student will not be able to become a successful reader.  They can be viewed as the beginning stepping stones in reading acquisition that are needed to be able to read effectively later in life.  Most instruction assumes the knowledge of concepts of print, so mastery of these skills is essential to learn later reading concepts (Duke, 2008)


Some concepts of print can develop as early as the toddler years, while others may still be being mastered through elementary school.  Some are more basic than others, so are able to be learned earlier.  For example, a young baby may be able to turn the pages of a book from left to right, but a student may not know that a comma means a pause in a sentence until taught so in early elementary grades.  As children are developing concepts of print, they may be forming assumptions about how print works.  These may not be accurate assumptions, but they show how children actively form theories about concepts of print. For example, one child wrote LAEYMBABCODLPKand then read it back as “I like rainbows because they have so many colors” (Teale, Sulzby 1989).  This child believes that each letter represents a syllable of a word.  While being incorrect, this student is still developing theories and using them to create texts with meaning.

Issues for Second Language Learners (SLL’s)

For students who are learning English as a second language, some problems may arise in their development of concepts of print.  For example, in some languages, books are not read from left to right, but oppositely right to left.  Also, some print is read from word to word top to bottom, as opposed to from left to right.  Other issues may develop with students who are second language learners when their native print represents sounds as characters, not by combinations of letters, as they are in Chinese and other Asian languages.  These types of characteristics in their native language print may impede their learning of English concepts of print, and set them behind in their reading development.  These issues should be addressed early, and plans made by the teacher and parents combined to help the students be able to fully develop the concepts of print in English and be able to progress in their reading abilities.

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