Concepts of Print

Printables Interactive

What are concepts of print?

Concepts of print are basic understandings about how written language and books “work.” These understandings include:

  • That written words convey a message
  • How books and print are oriented and the components they include
  • The differences between units of print (letters, words, and sentences)

Concepts of print are instinctive to proficient readers — they “just know.” In fact, it’s hard to remember not knowing these things! Many children acquire concepts of print through being read to regularly by a caregiver. For some children, though, these concepts must be directly taught.

Let’s explore how a child might show his or her knowledge about concepts of print.

Directionality and Book Orientation

In English, we read left to right and top to bottom. Children must learn:

  • To hold a book the right way up, with the cover in front
  • To turn the pages from beginning to end
  • Print on each page starts on the top left, moves across each line, and then back to the left side of the next line (the “return sweep”)

Book Components

The letters and words of written language convey a message to readers. Books usually include certain parts. Children must learn:

  • The difference between print and illustrations
  • A title is the name of the book and is usually found on the cover
  • Books often include a title page before the story or information starts
  • The cover and title page usually include the author’s and illustrator’s names
  • The author writes the words of a book and the illustrator makes the pictures; sometimes the same person does both

Alphabet Knowledge

Recognizing letters of the alphabet is a concept of print. Children must learn:

  • Letter shapes and names
  • Letters are different than numbers and other shapes
  • Letters can be uppercase or lowercase
  • Letters may differ in size or font type, but keep a relatively consistent shape (an A is always an A)

Concept of Word

We combine letters to create words. Children must learn:

  • A word is a group of letters that spells something
  • The letters in a word go in the same order every time
  • A word looks shorter or longer based on the number of letters it has

Sentence Knowledge

We combine words to create sentences. Children must learn:

  • A sentence is a group of words that conveys an idea
  • Sentences include a space between each word

Ways to Build Concepts About Print

Many pre-readers learn concepts about print by looking and listening as someone reads to them. Caregivers and teachers can help children build concepts about print in simple ways. You could:

  • Talk through getting a book to face the right way (“This isn’t right! It’s upside down!”)
  • Point out the cover, title, and title page before reading
  • Read the author’s and illustrator’s names and explain what each one did (“This person wrote the words and this person made the pictures.”)
  • Point out where the words start on a page
  • Move your finger across a line, then back to the start of the next one
  • Point out some individual letters
  • On pages with just a few words, point to each word while reading, lifting your finger between each word


A great way to explore concepts of print with young children is by making a book together. Here’s what to do:

  1. Choose a topic and format, such the story of a recent event or outing or information about a favorite subject, like frogs or soccer.
  2. Have children help arrange blank sheets of paper into a pile and staple them on the correct side to make a book. Have children help flip the book until the pages turn the “right” way. Compare to a favorite story book to check that it’s right.
  3. Make a cover. Ask questions like “What should the title be? Who is the author?”
  4. Write the words as children dictate. Ask questions like, “Where should the words start? How should they go? What should they say? I’m out of space on this line; what should I do?”
  5. Have children help illustrate each page with drawings or photos.
  6. After writing and illustrating the book, read it together. Move your finger under the words as you read. Give prompts like, “Where is the letter M for Mom? Where could the word ‘Mom’ be?” How many words are on this page? Let’s count them.”