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Addressing the CCSS for Kindergarten in Developmentally Appropriate Ways, Part Two

by Nell K. Duke
 | Jun 04, 2015

This post continues a rebuttal to the claim from a recent report that “To achieve them [the CCSS for kindergarten] usually calls for long hours of drill and worksheets—and reduces other vital areas of learning such as math, science, social studies, art, music and creative play” (p. 6). In the previous post, I discussed one of six example standards listed after this claim. In this post, I discuss the remaining standards.

Print Concepts CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.1.D: Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

Being able to recognize and name alphabet letters has long been a focus of kindergarten. There are many ways to develop this knowledge with neither drill nor worksheets. Many teachers use children’s names as a tool for developing alphabet knowledge, so, for example, during morning meeting children learn that J is for Jamal, A is for Ava, and so on. Some teachers engage children in making personalized alphabet books, so that they associate each letter-sound with a word that is personally meaningful to them. For my son, D was for Dinosaur. There are many games, both online and off, that can develop and reinforce alphabet knowledge. A puppet, for example, might only want objects that begin with a certain letter. Piasta (2014) emphasizes that alphabet instruction can be differentiated so that children are learning in small groups about the particular letters they don’t yet know (which varies from child to child).

Phonics and Word Recognition CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.3.B: Associate the long and short sounds with common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.

Research supports being explicit with children: Sometimes this letter stands for the /ā/ sound, and sometimes it makes the /ă/ sound. Children and teacher can think of words with each of those sounds, stretching the sound as needed to support children. As children gain skill, we can sort pictures or objects on the basis of whether we hear the /ā/ or /ă/ at the beginning. Songs such as Apples and Bananas can reinforce the distinction among vowel sounds. Video clips from PBS programs such as Between the Lions and SuperWHY! can be helpful as well. Another tool that research supports involves drawing around the letter in a way that cues its sound (Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984). For example, lower case o has a picture of an octopus drawn around it. Writing provides a powerful tool for literacy development in kindergarten (Ouellette & Sénéchal, 2010). As children seek to write messages that are meaningful to them, they listen for sounds and words and think about which letters could represent those sounds. Children can be supported in this during interactive writing (Craig, 2003) and also during play. For example, in the housekeeping center the teacher can leave out paper and pen for children to write a grocery list; as children build block structures in a block center, the teacher can help them label their structures, listening for the vowel and other sounds within the words and representing them with letters.

What if a child doesn’t quite master the long and short vowel sounds by the end of K? There is actually an often-overlooked note on both pages of the Foundational Skills standards that states, “Note: In kindergarten children are expected to demonstrate increasing awareness and competence in the areas that follow,” providing some flexibility. By the end of first grade, children are expected to decode regularly spelled, one-syllable words, which provides additional opportunity to reinforce knowledge of short-vowel sounds and their associated letters. 

With these standards we again see that neither drill nor worksheets is needed, or advised to address the CCSS. Put another way, the CCSS are no excuse for those developmentally inappropriate practices.

Here, also, are my brief responses to the remaining three standards listed in the report.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.K.9: With prompting and support, identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

This is another standard that should in no way be addressed with drills or worksheets. A popular way to address this standard is to read aloud multiple texts on the same topic and lead children in a discussion of their similarities and differences. For example, the teacher might read aloud two books about the life cycle of butterflies and lead a discussion of what is similar and different in the two texts. Some teachers use hula hoops to make a Venn diagram on the floor, place a copy of the book at the top of each hoop, and then work with children to generate and then place sentence strips with the diagram. For example, children might decide that “has drawings,” goes in one circle, “has photographs” goes in the other circle, and “has pictures” goes in the middle. Note that the texts in this example are on a science topic and could be accompanied by the opportunity for students to watch live butterflies go through a life cycle, engage in artwork inspired by butterflies, write their own books about butterflies, and so on, again contradicting the claim that the CCSS necessarily reduce attention to science and other vital areas of learning.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.K.7: Participate in shared research and writing projects.

Drills and worksheets have no place in shared research and writing projects. In contrast, an example of a shared research and writing project for informational writing is children listening to texts read aloud and watching videos about penguins and then writing a class book about penguins, with each child contributing a page to the book with something interesting or important the child has learned about penguins. For narrative writing, an example of a shared research and writing project involves children taking a field trip and then writing a book about it for their families, drawing on their experiences during the field trip and with the materials (e.g., brochures, maps) they gathered there. Again, consider the possibilities for involvement of vital areas of learning beyond literacy alone.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.4.B: Use the most frequently occurring inflections and affixes (e.g., -ed, -s, re-, un-, pre-, -ful, -less) as a clue to the meaning of an unknown word.

Role-play can offer a powerful way to address this standard, from the Language strand of the CCSS. The teacher might start by presenting a word pair, for example, spot and spotless. and discussing the meaning of the affix. Then, children would have the opportunity to act out other pairs, for example, first pretending to feel fear and then pretending to be fearless, first creating a classroom full of noise, then creating a classroom that is noiseless. In my experience, young children delight in this kind of activity and grow in their interest in words.

Nell K. Duke is a professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Michigan, a member of the ILA Literacy Research Panel, and author of Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction.

The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect educators around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.


Craig, S.A. (2003). The effects of an adapted interactive writing intervention on kindergarten children's phonological awareness, spelling, and early reading development. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(4), 438–440.

Ehri, L.C., Deffner, N.D., & Wilce, L.S. (1984). Pictorial mnemonics for phonics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(5), 880–893.

Ouellette, G.P., & Sénéchal, M. (2010). Invented spelling: An intervention strategy for kindergarten. Canadian Council on Learning.

Piasta, S.B. (2014). Moving to assessment-guided differentiated instruction to support young children's alphabet knowledge. The Reading Teacher, 68(3), 202–211.


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