Literacy Beginnings, Chapter 4

Pre-K Pages

Today, I’m excited to be hosting chapter 4 of Literacy Beginnings (Fountas & Pinnell) for the Book Study Blog Party. Previous chapters were hosted by Pre-K Pages (chapter 1), Teach Preschool (chapter 2), and Brick by Brick (chapter 3).

Chapter 4: An Organized, Engaging Environment for Learning

The best sentence in this chapter consists of two words:

Avoid clutter!

I admit to being a neat freak, but I can’t stand clutter in the classroom. Clutter makes a classroom overstimulating and difficult for children (and some adults) to focus in that environment.

In my opinion, there’s no need to wallpaper the walls with displays of colors, shapes, numbers, etc. because having those things on the walls all year (especially if above child eye level) will not help children learn those concepts. Interacting with materials and playing games is how children learn.

This chapter was chock full of information, although at moments it read as though it were written for student teachers or first year Pre-K teachers. I’m sure veteran Pre-K teachers already do many of these things. Still, a lot of valuable information.

One thing I really love about Pre-K is that the environment is just as important as any lesson. In Pre-K, we teach through the classroom environment — by the way we set up and display materials. If materials are arranged in inviting ways, children will be more likely to choose them. Arrangement also effects the way children use materials. Teaching through the environment is much more subtle than a small group lesson or a circle time lesson, but nonetheless the “lesson plan” for our classroom environment is just as important. If we make a mistake in planning the environment, the children will not be able to learn as well or as much.

I like to arrange materials on trays rather than in plastic bins, because I think they look more organized and inviting. Here are some pictures below that show a fine motor tray and a math tray.

Some important points from the book about environment:

  • Environment promotes active learning & thinking.
  • Physical environment & accessories should reflect diversity.
  • Environment should be literacy-rich.
  • There should be permanent areas & areas changed through the year.
  • Furniture & objects should be labeled with pictures & words.
  • Only store materials in the classroom that are used.

Some important points about materials:

  • Each material should have a purpose.
  • Materials should be changed throughout the year.
  • Introduce materials & show how to use them, before putting them out for children.

Have you ever seen a preschool or Pre-K classroom that stayed the same all year long? Nothing ever changed? (I have.) I think it’s very unfortunate for children to have a classroom where they use the same materials for 180 days.

I discovered some places in this chapter where I could improve. The authors recommend the number of books available should be five times the number of children. I don’t think I had that many all at one time last year. I had our open-face bookshelf full, plus four bins of books, but it wasn’t 5 books per child. I also want to add that I think it is important to have certain books that stay out all year long. Other books can be rotated, but there should be some that stay the whole year. For my class, it is usually What Color is Your Underwear, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and several others. Another interesting suggestion was to have children help name the classroom areas. I’ve never done that. I wonder what names the kids would come up with for centers like math, literacy, and fine motor?

Print in the classroom is also important. Some ways to include print:

  • Name charts
  • Attendance charts
  • Class written stories
  • Signs
  • Poems & songs on charts
  • Alphabet charts

science center with classroom print

I also like to place short, written messages to children around the room. In our science area, I have sometimes written questions, such as “Can you make music with water?“, “Which objects will roll down the ramp?“, or “Can you fix it?” When the children come into the room in the morning and see a message, they usually run to me and ask, “What does it say?” I have started “pinning” pictures of print in classrooms to a board on Pinterest: Print Rich Classrooms. I will continue to add to that board as I find more pictures. I also have started a board of Classroom Environments.

This chapter taught us that management, order, and organization are important. We need to teach kids how to use materials. Children know what to expect when routines are consistent. Print in the classroom is essential.

I’d love to know: What are some ways you display materials to make them interesting and inviting to children? How do you include print in your classroom?

Have comments of your own about chapter 4? Be sure to post a comment below. If you write a response on your blog, be sure to add your link to the Linky party below. Chapter 5 will be hosted by Vanessa Levin at Pre-K Pages. Don’t miss it!



  1. Andrea says

    My biggest challenge is my “classroom” has to be torn down twice per week as I am in our town’s community hall. It means I really had to streamline what I bring out each week, as well as try to create centres that don’t look like they are floating in the middle of nowhere. One way I try to implement a bit of change every so often is by changing what I set out during free play time, or saving certain toys/items for special days. It’s challenging, but worth it!

  2. Sonja says

    We have done our version of brown bear brown bear, but using the chidren’s names and pictures. They love the story already, and this makes it theirs.

  3. Kymberli says

    Great observations. I always love to visit your website and see what wonderful new things you’re doing. Thanks for always sharing with the rest of the EC world! I love your questions posted above the science exploring station–great idea!

    This year when my kids were beginning to recognize and sight read each other’s names, I made an interactive wall display of names and pictures. I wrote each child’s name on a long rectangle of construction paper and folded it down like a “tent” style greeting card so that the name showed on the outside. Inside the card was a photo of the child. The kids had a great time reading the names and “peeking” inside to see if they were correct. This was all laminated, of course! These stayed for weeks until the names were learned and the interest passed, then they were removed for a display of names and birthdays to be learned.

  4. says

    Great post Karen!
    I incorporate print in my dramatic play area by laminating things like simple menus, veterinarian checklists, etc. I find that the kids often copy the words (pizza, cat, etc.) with dry erase markers on the laminated forms instead of just checking the boxes. I also change out posters in dramatic play for both to “create the setting” and to introduce print (posters of labeled fruits and vegetables when it is a grocery store).

  5. says

    My classroom is definitely clutter free and set up for children to access what ever they wish independantly. This improves productivity and calms a classroom. I learned to do this because of my son – who is autistic – overstimulating classrooms used to drive him mad!
    Here is my link to sight reading names:
    I also change a few activities and make new activities available each Monday – this encourages exploration and independance.

  6. Becky says

    You mentioned that most vetern teachers probably wouldnt need some of the information ..well I am a vetern teacher and I knew of the organization topics, but it is so good to be reminded and the ideas presented are so helpful… I am so enjoying this..each chapter reinforces information we have learned in the past but I have gotten so many knew ideas.. My problem is that I have such a small classroom and want to do all the suggested ideas and then it looks cluttered… .

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Becky! (I only meant some of the info veteran teachers already know.) It is difficult to have a small classroom, and try to put everything you think the children need. I’ve worked in a mobile unit before, which was tiny!

  7. Anne says

    I am really interested in getting this book, but at $40, I just want to make sure it’s something I will get my money’s worth out of! I see so many teacher resource books I would like to have, and just wanted to know what everyone was thinking so far about this book…

  8. says

    Fantastic post Karen! I think organization and management are the keys to any successful classroom, not just pre-k.

    @Melinda, I love what your students came up with for the block center!

    @Anne, I don’t consider this book a “resource”. Literacy Beginnings defines and describes the best practices in early literacy for the 21st Century. It is 462 pages of fine print with tabbed dividers, 35 specific language and literacy lessons, and over 50 pages of blackline masters. I would describe it as a comprehensive early literacy manual. It does not cover other topics like math or science and the authors are not early childhood gurus, they are however, the gurus of early literacy so if you’re looking for the most up to date early literacy information this is the book for you. Hope that helps!

  9. Sharnet says

    Thank you so much for doing this. I have been following you guys on FB and blogs and I have gotten some GREAT ideas. I am a licensed small in home child care and the room is limited in space. I am constantly rotating items in the room so the children can experience all that I have. I also hesitated on buying the book, I received it yesterday and it is worth every penny!!!!!! Amazon has the best price out there.

  10. says

    wow! Your classroom looks like the pictures in the book :) As a parent, I’m always curious to see what is going on in prekindergarten classes. It helps me in my search for a good fit for my son.
    Ps. I’m following your print-rich environment board!

  11. says

    Thanks for letting us know more about this chapter in the book. I haven’t bought it yet but I’m enjoying reading the thoughts on each chapter :) I usually have my kids (kindergarten) label all of our shelves and different areas of our classroom during the year through shared writing activities. I agree with you that there is no reason for things to be on the wall way above the kids eye level, especially if you haven’t talked about it yet. My walls are pretty empty when the kids first come because I want them to fill them up. I agree that too much clutter is overwhelming for kids and most adults too!

  12. says

    Keeping a clutter-free, child-centered classroom is a lot of work; but well worth it! And, it is not for the faint of heart or for those who do not wish to put in HOURS of extra time. Thanks for the chapter info! I teach kindergarten, but because of the wide range of academic, social, ethnic, emotional, etc. diversity in my classroom, this book is just perfect for my needs. I am loving the book study.

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