From Stop Signs to the Golden Arches: Environmental Print
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Students are introduced to signs and other familiar environmental print through books, a Website, or an online gallery. Over the next several weeks, students bring in examples of environmental print and share them with their classmates. Once enough examples are collected, students sort them into categories such as food, traffic signs, etc., and create a book for each category. Artifacts that students bring in from restaurants can also be combined with photographs of the restaurants themselves to create a riddle book. Prominent display of the books created in this lesson gives students plenty of opportunities to practice their reading skills and view themselves as competent readers and users of print.
Street Sign Gallery: Use this online gallery to show students signs and have them explain what they mean.
Parent Letter: This letter prompts parents to share information about their child's reading of environmental print.
From Theory to Practice
In Month-By-Month Reading and Writing for Kindergarten, Cunningham and co-writer Dorothy Hall suggest using environmental print: "Young children enjoy showing what they have learned in school, and environmental print gives them that opportunity each day even if they do not come from homes with books and magazines." Marjorie Siegel points out that young children rely on complex multimodal systems as they read environmental print. Referencing a 1984 study by Harste et al., Siegel writes "As they observed children making sense of environmental print, they realized that for children, text is not limited to the printed marks but is part of a 'sign complex formed by print and other communication systems in relation to situational context' (p. 169)"
The primary goal of this lesson is to encourage children to see themselves as readers as they discover all of the environmental print that they are already capable of reading.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Signs by Susan Canizares and Pamela Chanko (Scholastic, 1998)
- I Read Signs by Tana Hoban (Scholastic)
- I Read Symbols by Tana Hoban (Mulberry Books)
- Camera and film
- Materials to assemble classroom books and bind them
- Choose one of the options for introducing this lesson and prepare the materials you will need: obtaining the books, bookmarking the Website, and/or teaching about traffic safety.
- Obtain a digital camera.
- Plan to use a bulletin board, large table, or other area easily accessible to the students to use to display the artifacts they collect.
- Assemble materials needed to make and bind class books.
- Obtain several examples of environmental print: a Happy Meal sack, a Burger King crown, a cereal box, a pop can, and so forth.
- Prepare two copies for each student of the Parent Letter.
- Test the Street Sign Gallery on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- help collect examples of environmental print.
- demonstrate their ability to read environmental print.
- display their examples of environmental print.
- sort and classify their examples of environmental print for inclusion in class books.
- spend time reading the books as individuals, in pairs, or in groups.
- become more aware of the environmental print in their community.
- celebrate their ability to read.
- revel in their identity as readers, members of the literacy club.
Instruction and Activities
- This lesson works best for me if it follows a theme on traffic safety. During that theme, children learn many of the traffic signs: stop sign, railroad crossing, handicapped parking, school crossing, bike routes, and so on. We often make individual books of those signs. Then children are already attuned to environmental print. Another option is to use the books: Signs by Susan Canizares and Pamela Chanko, I Read Signs by Tana Hoban, and/or I Read Symbols by Tana Hoban to introduce the concept of environmental print. These books contain many of the signs that students might see in their own neighborhood. A final option is to use the Street Sign Gallery to review and discuss street signs with your class.
- Show the students the examples of environmental print that you have collected. See how many of them the children can easily identify. Ask the students how they can "read" the signs and artifacts. What clues are they using? Many children will connect them with a place, an experience, or an advertisement. Others may recognize letters or words. Still others can identify the logos, read them, and even be able to sing or say parts of the commercials connected to the various items of environmental print.
- Explain that for the next several weeks, they may bring in examples like these of things they can read. I have often made this activity our Show and Tell for a two to three week period, and included this invitation in my weekly letter to parents encouraging them to help their children find examples of environmental print, and giving them the examples of what I brought to show the children.
- As they bring in the items, have them show what they have found to the class, demonstrate their ability to read them, and arrange for them to include them in your classroom display. As a class, we celebrate each child and the items they brought to share—and our growth as readers. The children are amazed at how many things they can read and spend lots of time at the display area discussing and reading the items.
- After several weeks, have the children sort the items they have collected into categories. (We often make a graph of the different types of artifacts we collected.) Make a class book of cereal boxes or foods, another of traffic signs, and so on. These books can be saved in the classroom library. I often laminate the pages before binding them together since I have discovered that these become favorite and beloved books that get lots of use.
- Take pictures of any restaurants or stores from which the children have brought artifacts. Create a riddle book. On one side of the page, display the artifacts, for instance, a Ronald McDonald, a Happy Meal sack or a picture of a toy from a Happy Meal. On the reverse side of the page, display the picture of the actual McDonald's restaurant from your neighborhood with its sign and the golden arches. Children love to look at the artifacts and guess the name of the restaurant, naming the letters on the sign, sounding out the words, and doing other phonemic awareness activities. These pages can be scanned into a HyperStudio stack to make a slide show for the children to use at your computer center or post on your school Website. Having an actual picture of the restaurant located in your own school neighborhood makes this more meaningful for the students. That way they will be looking for the signs and logos as they travel around their neighborhood, getting more and more reading practice almost daily and getting feedback from their grown-ups about what great readers they are becoming!
The lesson plan "Stop Signs, McDonald's, and Cheerios: Writing with Environmental Print" provides students with more practice with environmental print. This lesson encourages early readers to look beyond the color and context clues of environmental print to identify individual letters, to read words, and to write them.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- The students will self-assess as they read and reread the books they have created. Often during independent reading time, the children will read these books individually, in pairs, or in groups. They also like to read these books to parents, the principal, other teachers, and visitors—or even take them home to share with their families. If it is made into a HyperStudio slide show, it can be up and running during an open house or during conferences.
- I save these books from year to year as a permanent part of our classroom library. They remain favorites especially during individual reading time.
- To further involve parents, you may have them fill out the survey as both a pre- and post-assessment. This helps them share in the children’s excitement and helps them understand that this is an important stage in becoming a reader.
- As I encourage my students to reflect on their ability to read these books independently, they delight in their realization that they are indeed readers!